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  Maritime - Legal News


Israel’s Supreme Court on Sunday threw out four legal challenges to a landmark maritime agreement between Israel and Lebanon, clearing a major hurdle for the deal that could mark a major breakthrough in relations between the two countries.

The court did not immediately release its reasons for rejecting the challenges, which were submitted by an influential conservative policy group and an ultranationalist Israeli politician, among others. The court’s ruling paves the way for the agreement to be given final approval by Israel’s the government, a step expected later this week.

Lebanon and Israel both claim some 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea. At stake are rights over exploiting undersea natural gas reserves. Lebanon hopes gas exploration will help lift its country out of its spiraling economic crisis. Israel also hopes to exploit gas reserves while also easing tensions with its northern neighbor.

Critics of the deal who had appealed to the court said the current interim government should not be allowed to change Israel’s maritime border or make such weighty, strategic decisions without an electoral mandate.

“Israel has crossed a fundamental democratic line, with a lame duck government agreeing to give up the country’s sovereign territory to an enemy state days before an election,” said Eugene Kontorovich, of the Kohelet Policy Forum, the conservative think tank that had petitioned the court. Israel heads to the polls for the fifth time in less than four years next week.

Israel and Lebanon and formally have been at war since Israel’s establishment in 1948. In 2006, Israel and the Shiite militant group Hezbollah fought a monthlong, inconclusive war and tensions with the group remain high.

Israel says the deal will bolster its security, help stabilize the northern frontier and boost the economy with billions in revenue from any gas discovered.


The owner of a tugboat that collided with a ship last month, dumping nearly 170,000 gallons of oil into the Houston Ship Channel, claims in court filings the ship was speeding and being operated in a reckless manner.

Houston-based Kirby Inland Marine alleges in court documents filed earlier this month that the March 22 collision, which occurred after the ship struck a barge the tugboat had been pulling, was caused by gross negligence on the part of the ship's owner, Sea Galaxy Marine based in Liberia in West Africa. In its own court filings, Sea Galaxy says the collision was not its fault.

The U.S. Coast Guard, which is still investigating the cause of the accident, did not immediately return a call Thursday seeking comment on the claims being made by the companies.

Two barges that were being pulled by the Kirby Inland-owned tugboat Miss Susan had been leaving Texas City and heading for the Intracoastal Waterway while a Sea Galaxy-owned inbound ship, the Summer Wind, was traveling through the Houston Ship Channel. The collision happened when the barges made a left turn to enter the Intracoastal Waterway and were crossing the ship channel.

But Kirby Inland alleged in court documents filed earlier this month that the tugboat had broadcast its position to let all vessels in the vicinity know its position. At the time, the Houston Ship Channel was under a fog advisory.


A theater in Italy turned into a courtroom Monday, providing extra space for all those who needed to hear the evidence against the captain of a shipwrecked cruise ship.

The case of Francesco Schettino, 51, has generated such interest that the Tuscan city of Grosseto chose the larger space to accommodate all those who had a legitimate claim to be at the closed-door hearing.

Thirty-two people died after Schettino, in a stunt, took the Costa Concordia cruise ship off course and brought it close to the Tuscan island of Giglio on Jan 13. The ship then ran aground and capsized. Schettino himself became a lightning rod for international disdain for having left the ship before everyone was evacuated.

Schettino appeared at the hearing Monday, as well as passengers who survived the deadly shipwreck, the families of those who died in it and scores of lawyers trying to get more compensation for them.


Cruise passenger pleads guilty to dropping anchor

  Maritime  -   POSTED: 2011/08/22 09:09

A California man has pleaded guilty to dropping an anchor on a Tampa-bound cruise ship.

Federal prosecutors in Tampa said Friday that 45-year-old Rick Ehlert pleaded guilty to one count of attempting to damage a maritime facility. He faces up to 20 years in prison.

Authorities say the MS Ryndam was traveling from Costa Maya, Mexico, to Tampa on Nov. 27, 2010. A surveillance video shows Ehlert entering a restricted area and dropping the 18-ton stern anchor.

When confronted by authorities, Ehlert told them he was drunk at the time. He also said the cruise ship's anchor system was similar to the system on his own 50-foot boat. Investigators say the Holland America ship avoided damage because the anchor didn't hit the sea floor.

Court slashes judgment in Exxon Valdez disaster

  Maritime  -   POSTED: 2008/06/25 12:11

The Supreme Court on Wednesday slashed the $2.5 billion punitive damages award in the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster to $500 million.

The court ruled that victims of the worst oil spill in U.S. history may collect punitive damages from Exxon Mobil Corp., but not as much as a federal appeals court determined.

Justice David Souter wrote for the court that punitive damages may not exceed what the company already paid to compensate victims for economic losses, about $500 million compensation.

Souter said a penalty should be "reasonably predictable" in its severity.

Exxon asked the high court to reject the punitive damages judgment, saying it already has spent $3.4 billion in response to the accident that fouled 1,200 miles of Alaska coastline.

A jury decided Exxon should pay $5 billion in punitive damages. A federal appeals court cut that verdict in half in 1994.

The Supreme Court divided on its decision, 5-3, with Justice Samuel Alito taking no part in the case because he owns Exxon stock.

Exxon has fought vigorously to reduce or erase the punitive damages verdict by a jury in Alaska four years ago for the accident that dumped 11 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound. The environmental disaster led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of seabirds and marine animals.

Nearly 33,000 Alaskans are in line to share in the award, about $15,000 a person. They would have collected $75,000 each under the $2.5 billion judgment.

In dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens supported the $2.5 billion figure for punitive damages, saying Congress has chosen not to impose restrictions in such circumstances.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg also dissented, saying the court was engaging in "lawmaking" by concluding that punitive damages may not exceed what the company already paid to compensate victims for economic losses.

"The new law made by the court should have been left to Congress," wrote Ginsburg. Justice Stephen Breyer made a similar point, opposing a rigid 1 to 1 ratio of punitive damages to victim compensation.

Writing for the majority, Souter said that traditionally, courts have accepted primary responsibility for reviewing punitive damages and "it is hard to see how the judiciary can wash its hands" of the problem by pointing to Congress for a solution.

A jury decided that the company should pay $5 billion in punitive damages. A federal appeals court cut that verdict in half.

The problem for the people, businesses and governments who waged the lengthy legal fight against Exxon is that the Supreme Court in recent years has become more receptive to limiting punitive damages awards. The Exxon Valdez case differs from the others in that it involves issues peculiar to laws governing accidents on the water.

Overall, Exxon has paid $3.4 billion in fines, penalties, cleanup costs, claims and other expenses resulting from the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

The commercial fishermen, Native Alaskans, landowners, businesses and local governments involved in the lawsuit have each received about $15,000 so far "for having their lives and livelihood destroyed and haven't received a dime of emotional-distress damages," their Supreme Court lawyer, Jeffrey Fisher, said when the court heard arguments in February.



Exxon Mobil Corp urged the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday to overturn the $2.5 billion in punitive damages for the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off Alaska, arguing it should not be punished for the mistakes of the ship's captain. But the lawyer for about 33,000 commercial fishermen and others harmed by the nation's worst tanker spill replied that Exxon Mobil for three years had overlooked numerous reports that Captain Joseph Hazelwood had a drinking problem.

The 90 minutes of arguments before the high court occurred just several weeks after the huge Texas-based oil company reported the highest-ever quarterly profit for a U.S. company of $11.7 billion.

Exxon Mobil's lawyer, Walter Dellinger, told the high court the company already has paid $3.4 billion for the spill and cannot be held liable for additional punitive damages under federal maritime law.

"Exxon gained nothing by what went wrong in this case and paid dearly for it," said Dellinger, who argued that the company had no malicious intent or improper profit motive.

A key issue in the case is whether the company can be held liable for the mistakes of Hazelwood, who violated company rules when the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska's Prince William Sound in March 1989, spilling about 11 million gallons of crude oil.

The spill spread oil on more than 1,200 miles of coastline, closed fisheries and killed thousands of marine mammals and hundreds of thousands of sea birds.

The justices closely questioned both sides and gave no firm indication of how they would rule -- although in past cases they generally have imposed limits on huge awards of punitive damages imposed on corporate defendants.


Bush to Warn Cuba on Plan for Transition

  Maritime  -   POSTED: 2007/10/24 13:28

President Bush, ever pushing for a Cuba without Fidel Castro, wants allies around the world to offer money and political support so the island can be ready to transform itself. It is Bush's vision for Cuban regime change: providing help on the outside, prodding change on the inside. Seizing on Castro's fading health as a rare opening, Bush was to ask other nations Wednesday to help Cuba become a free society.

In remarks prepared for delivery at the State Department — his first standalone address on Cuba in four years — Bush looks to the day when Castro is gone. Bush describes a nation in which Cuban people choose a representative government and enjoy basic freedoms, with support from a broad international coalition.

For now, though, Castro is still the island's unchallenged leader, as he has been for almost 50 years. And he remains a nemesis to Bush, whom he accuses of being obsessed with Cuba and of threatening humanity with nuclear war. At the age of 81, Castro is ailing and rarely seen in public. But life has changed little on the island under the authority of his brother, 76-year-old Raul Castro, who has been his elder brother's hand-picked successor for decades.

Bush was expected to tout peaceful, pro-democracy movements in Cuba and call on other countries to get behind them. In a direct appeal to ordinary citizens in Cuba, he was to tell them they have the power to change their country, but the White House says that is not meant to be a call for armed rebellion.

Bush proposes at least three initiatives: the creation of an international "freedom fund" to help Cuba's potential rebuilding of its country one day; a U.S. licensing of private groups to provide Internet access to Cuban students, and an invitation to Cuban youth to join a scholarship program.

The latter two offerings help the Bush administration underscore the kind of real-life limitations that Cubans now face, from blocked Internet access to restricted information about their leaders to denial of legal protections. The creation of the international fund is meant to speed up societal transformation.

"We all know that Cuba is going to face very significant requirements to rebuild itself," said a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid pre-empting the president. "There's a whole set of challenges that Cuba is going to face. The United States will clearly want to help the Cubans as they define what it is they need, but we think the international community should be thinking that way as well."

Washington's decades-old economic embargo on Cuba prohibits U.S. tourists from visiting the island and chokes off nearly all trade between both countries. Bush will ask Congress to maintain the embargo, which has come under scrutiny and calls for reassessment from some lawmakers.

Cuba staged municipal elections on Sunday, the first step in a process that will determine whether Fidel Castro is re-elected or replaced next year. The Communist Party is the only one allowed, and while candidates do not have to be members, critics claim they are the only ones who ever win.

Bush, increasingly, is speaking of a Castro-free Cuba. As he put it earlier this month: "In Havana, the long rule of a cruel dictator is nearing an end."


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