A tanker vessel allided with an unmarked and submerged wreck of a jack-up drilling rig that was lost during Hurricane Ike. In the aftermath of the hurricane, the jack-up drilling rig owner discovered that the rig was no longer moored in the Gulf of Mexico. The rig owner timely searched for the rig using aerial searches of the Gulf of Mexico and subsea sonar searches within the estimated drift path of the rig. These search efforts proved unsuccessful, and the jack-up drilling rig owner concluded its search. Later evidence showed that within ten hours of Hurricane Ike’s passage, the jack-up drilling rig traveled 100.9 miles west-northwest, capsized, and came to rest in 115 feet of water in the South Sabine Point Lightering Area, approximately 65 miles south of Galveston, Texas. The tanker vessel allided with the wreck at this location approximately six months later, causing substantial damage.
The tanker owner asserted that the jack-up drilling rig owner was liable under 33 U.S.C. § 409 for failure to mark the wreck. The case proceeded to a bench trial. After all parties put on the majority of their evidence and the tanker owner rested its case, the district court granted the rig owner’s motion for judgment, finding it had conducted a full, diligent, and good-faith search for jack-up drilling rig, but was unable to find it. The tanker owner appealed to the U.S. Fifth Circuit.
The tanker owner’s primary argument was that the district court applied an incorrect legal standard in making its factual finding that the jack-up drilling rig owner conducted a full, good-faith search. The tanker owner argued that the district court should have placed greater weight on the fact that the drilling rig owner did not search in the area where jack-up drilling rig ultimately rested, because that was an area where the wrecked rig would constitute a hazard to navigation.
The Court found no reversible error based on the evidence presented at trial, that the search the jack-up drilling rig owner did conduct was full, diligent, and in good faith, even though the jack-up drilling rig owner did not search the area 100 miles away considered a hazard to navigation.
ENSCO Offshore Co v. M/V SATILLA