A previous post provided a scenario wherein a foreign ship crashed into an American ship that was hauling cargo. The crash caused a gaping hole in the ship and the captain of the American ship ordered the entire crew to abandon ship. The American ship sank, together with all of its cargo.
A subsequent investigation revealed that the foreign ship was owned by a foreign sovereign. The investigation also revealed that the crew of the foreign ship was unhappy about their time at sea so they decided to drink, leading to the entire crew being drunk. The negligence of the foreign crew directly led to the sinking of the American ship.
The ship owner placed a claim for maritime insurance. The insurance company may cover some or all of the damage. If there is outstanding damage, the ship owner may want to sue the sovereign for negligence, or the insurance company may want to make an indemnity suit against the sovereign. Because the ship was owned by the sovereign, the ship and its crew would be considered agents of the sovereign, so the sovereign would have responsibility.
However, there are complicated issues involved when suing sovereigns in United States Federal Court.
Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act
Under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976, or FISA, the law provides: “Subject to existing international agreements to which the United States is a party at the time of enactment of this Act a foreign state shall be immune from the jurisdiction of the courts of the United States and of the States except as provided in sections 1605 to 1607 of this chapter.”
Under FISA, sovereigns generally have immunity from litigation in United States Courts. There are, however, exceptions to this rule. The law provides for the following scenarios where sovereign immunity would not be applicable:
In the above scenario, #5 would not be an issue because the collision did not occur in the territorial waters of the United States. #8 would probably be grounds for a lawsuit, provided that the American ship or insurance company placed a lien on the sovereign.
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(image courtesy of David Keegan)