By Joel Rosenblatt and Teresa Xie (Bloomberg) –
US and Canadian officials are investigating what went wrong in a deep-sea commercial adventure and whether any crimes were committed that led to it titanium submersible that would implode and kill all five people on board.
The probes in the titanium The disaster, which unfolded in international waters on June 18, may be complicated by questions about which country should take the lead and doubts about whether the 22-foot (6.7-metre) watercraft meets the legal definition of a seagoing vessel become. With the death of the CEO of the onboard dive company, potential criminal responsibility could fall on OceanGate’s other employees, operations managers or inspectors.
The US Coast Guard announced it would continue its investigation at the highest level after a search and rescue mission found debris from the submersible on the seabed near titanic wreck in the North Atlantic. The investigation will examine “accountability aspects” of the implosion, Coast Guard Capt. Jason Neubauer said at a Sunday news conference in Boston, adding that it “could result in recommendations for appropriate authorities to impose civil or criminal penalties if necessary.”
Canada’s Transportation Security Agency has launched its own investigation as parts of the submersible, owned and operated by US company OceanGate, continue to be collected in the port of St. John’s, Newfoundland.
“If I were representing someone who has anything to do with this and they were a US citizen or a US resident, I would jump back and forth and say, ‘You need to get a lawyer on right away and a really good analysis catch up.’ what the potential liability might be,” he said George Chalosa maritime defense attorney.
“Prosecution is doable — that’s a simple answer,” he said. “The question is where?”
OceanGate did not respond to a call or email asking for comment.
Legal experts said safety concerns about the submersible before the implosion are evidence of gross negligence that could lead to civil lawsuits from passengers’ families. If the negligence were so serious that the US Department of Justice could institute criminal proceedings, it would likely be tried under the Seaman’s Totslaughter Statute.
The law dates back to the 19th century and can apply to ships’ officers, engineers and pilots, but can also extend to the owners, inspectors and managers of the company operating the ship. Although the hurdle to establishing criminal responsibility under the law is relatively low, any prosecution in the United States would first have to establish jurisdiction.
OceanGate is based in Everett, Washington. His dive boat was registered in the Bahamas. The titanium was used by a Canadian ship that polar princefrom St. John’s to international waters in the Atlantic to the wreck of the Titanic.
Stockton Rush, OceanGate Chief Executive Officer, 61, who piloted the ship titanium, was American; The other passengers came from Pakistan, France and Great Britain. French and British officials are also investigating.
Guillermo Söhnlein co-founded Oceangate with Rush in 2009. He was the company’s CEO, expedition leader and submarine pilot, he said a Facebook post Thursday. He left the company in 2013 but remains a minority shareholder.
Söhnlein did not respond to a request for comment.
One of the five killed was Rush. Also on board were Hamish Hardingthe billionaire British founders of a private equity firm, Shahzada and Suleman Dawood, father and son from one of Pakistan’s wealthiest families, and Paul-Henri Nargeolet, a famous French diver.
“Even if it feels like a US operation, looking closely at all the elements, it may not be enough for a criminal prosecution,” he said Martin Davis, director of the Maritime Law Center at Tulane University. “If you ask me which country clearly has jurisdiction, it’s Canada.”
Canadian investigators from the Transportation Safety Board were dispatched to St. John’s on Saturday to gather information and conduct interviews, the agency said. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police confirmed they are considering whether a criminal investigation is warranted, but declined to comment further.
Another important question for any US case is whether OceanGate titanium corresponds to the definition of a “ship” in maritime law for unlawful killings. Legal experts are skeptical, partly citing the fact that the submersible was unable to navigate the sea surface.
“If it’s not a ship, it doesn’t fall under the law for manslaughter of seafarers,” Chalos said.
The definition came up in a US criminal lawsuit related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, in which BP Plc agreed to pay $4 billion under a settlement that included 14 felonies – 11 of them for involuntary manslaughter. A federal appeals court denied US prosecutors’ attempt to bring criminal charges under the Seaman’s Totslaughter Statute against two BP employees on the grounds that they operated an oil rig that later blew up, not a ship.
Chalos said the court’s ruling “shows that it’s not just a catch-all for anything that tastes salty.”
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