After an accident during shipbreaking operations killed one worker and injured another, Southern Recycling, L.L.C., brought a petition for exoneration or limitation of liability under the Limitation of Liability Act. Claimants Nestor Aguilar (the injured worker); Lorena Aguilar; Dora Mendieta (individually, as next friend of Jorge Loredo’s son, J.L. III, and on behalf of the estate of Jorge Loredo); and Jane Mary Loredo (collectively “Claimants”) moved to dismiss for lack of admiralty jurisdiction. They argued that the barge Aguilar and Loredo had been working on was no longer a “vessel,” and was instead a “dead ship.” The district court agreed and dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
The case was taken up on appeal. On December 7, 2020, the Fifth Circuit upheld the determination of the Southern District of Texas trial court in the case of “In re: In the Matter of Southern Recycling, L.L.C., as Owner of The M/V Viking and The Barge DBL 134, Praying for Exoneration from or Limitation of Liability”.
The main issue before the court was whether the barge could any longer be found to be a vessel in navigation. They concluded: “The precise moment a ship is withdrawn from navigation can be a difficult, fact-intensive inquiry. We are fortunate that we need not decide precisely how many rotted planks must be removed before Theseus’s ship ceases to be Theseus’s ship. When her bow has been severed, leaving a gaping hole open to the sea, her cargo tanks have been rendered inoperable, and the party asserting jurisdiction is unable even to allege any types of people or things that she is capable of carrying over navigable water, we can readily conclude that DBL 134 is no longer a vessel.”
Click here to read the decision in its entirety.