TOTE Maritime, the owner of American sunken cargo ship El Faro, filed a lawsuit asking the court to exonerate or limit liability if the families of crew member file for damages, CNN reported Monday. El Faro disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle on Oct.1 as Hurricane Joaquin battered the Bahamas.
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Florida Friday, stated that TOTE "exercised due diligence" to make sure the 40-year-old vessel was fit for sea and properly equipped for its Sept. 29 trip from Jacksonville, Florida, to San Juan, Puerto Rico. The company, therefore, should be "[exonerated] from liability for any and all losses or damages sustained during the voyage ... and from any and all claims for damages that have been or may hereafter be made," according to TOTE’s court documents, CNN reported.
The company also stated that the freight in the 790-foot ship was estimated to be worth $25 million and the cargo’s owners paid TOTE $2 million to transport it from Jacksonville to San Juan. El Faro’s owner also sought for a cap of more than $13 million as pay out to the families of all 33 crew members of the ill-fated ship, if TOTE was found negligent.
Furthermore, the company specified in the lawsuit a change of plan by Michael Davidson, the ship’s captain. "After departure and during the voyage, [Capt. Davidson] altered the planned course for [El Faro] to account for the hurricane's track,” the documents reportedly read.
However, Scott Wagner, a lawyer representing the family of one of the crew members, said that TOTE was trying to blame Capt. Davidson for the incident. "They [TOTE] are without question making a calculated move to shove this off to the captain," Wagner told CNN.
Daniel Rose, a maritime attorney not involved in any litigation related to El Faro, agreed and told CNN that TOTE’s lawsuit came "too soon" and termed it "highly insensitive to the families."
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said Saturday that they believe they have found the wreckage of El Faro.
"The wreckage hadn't even been identified, let alone retrieved," Rose reportedly said. "TOTE had six months to file a limitation action. They should have waited to see if the wreckage would be found, which appears likely, and loved ones retrieved, rather than slapping the families with a lawsuit," Rose added.
TOTE confirmed the lawsuit to CNN and said it focused on "providing care and support" to the families of crew members.
"We confirm that families have been contacted regarding compensation," TOTE's told CNN in a statement. "We do understand that in these difficult and tragic circumstances, a number of families may have pressing financial burdens and we want to ensure that we are there to help immediately. All details of these discussions are, of course, confidential among the parties as they should be,” the company added.