Jan. 16–BOSTON — The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is suing an Australian government museum, an American trucking company, a truck driver and other defendants for damages caused to a deep-sea submarine while en route to Australia in 2015.
The one-man submersible that once dove more than 6 miles beneath the ocean’s surface was on a flatbed truck headed to Baltimore from WHOI on July 23, 2015, when a fire ignited in a portion of the trailer. The Deepsea Challenger was destined for Australia, where it was to be displayed at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney on a temporary loan.
The submersible, which in 2012 took ocean explorer and filmmaker James Cameron to the deepest part of the Mariana Trench, sustained “massive” damage in the fire, including harm to its aesthetics, structure, buoyancy and operational functionality, according to court documents. Before it was damaged, the sub was valued at more than $30 million.
Cameron donated the Deepsea Challenger to WHOI in 2013 so its engineers could examine the sub and find other uses for it.
In November, WHOI filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the Australian National Maritime Museum; ATS Specialized Inc., a trucking company based in St. Cloud, Minnesota; Ridgeway International USA Inc., an international shipping company specializing in the transportation of military equipment; Guy Tombs Limited, a Canadian shipping logistics company; Sam Broughton Wright Jr., the driver of the truck; Service Tire Truck Center Inc., a national company providing tire services to trucking companies; and TravelCenters of America, which operates highway travel centers throughout the U.S. and Canada.
WHOI’s insurance company, Eagle Underwriting Group Inc., has now assumed WHOI’s rights in the lawsuit. The insurance company is seeking awards for property damage to the sub, loss of use of the submersible and litigation expenses among other damages, documents show.
In July 2015, TravelCenters technicians inspected the truck that would transport the submarine to Baltimore and found an issue with the truck’s rear axle brakes, according to documents. They fixed the problem, but about an hour after picking up the sub and departing from Woods Hole, the truck, owned by ATS and driven by Wright, experienced a tire blowout on the highway. A technician with Service Tire Truck Center Inc. repaired the tire, and Wright continued on to Rhode Island, where he spent the night.
The next day, the truck caught fire on Interstate 95 in North Stonington, Connecticut.
The Australian National Maritime Museum, which entered into a two-year loan agreement with WHOI for the Deepsea Challenger, was responsible for the safe collection and return of the sub, according to court documents. The museum was also responsible for providing insurance coverage of $5 million for any damage in transit.
The museum and other defendants breached their agreement with WHOI by not returning the submersible in good condition, according to documents.
In an email, the communications manager for the Australian National Maritime Museum, Shirani Aththas, wrote, “As the matter is currently before the courts, the museum is not making any comments.”
Guy Tombs, who is listed as the president of both Ridgeway International USA Inc. and Guy Tombs Limited, declined to comment.
Before WHOI took its action, ATS filed its own complaint in U.S. District Court in Connecticut in May, arguing that it was not liable for the damage to the sub, according to documents.
In April 2016, WHOI and Eagle Underwriting Group filed a claim with ATS for damage to the submarine totaling $8.3 million, according to ATS’s complaint. The insurance company has since fully or partially paid WHOI for the damages, according to documents.
ATS contends that because it is a subcontractor of Ridgeway International USA Inc., the company through which the submarine’s trip was booked, it cannot be held liable, according to documents.
An attorney representing ATS, Andrew Fay, did not respond to requests for comment.
Christopher Land, general counsel for WHOI, said he could not comment in detail because the litigation is pending. He did confirm that WHOI has received a settlement from its insurance company for some of the losses, and the sub is in the process of being repaired.
— Follow Madeleine List on Twitter: @madeleine_list.
(c)2018 Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass.
Visit Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass. at www.capecodtimes.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.