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U.S. Department of Justice Files Suit to Arrest MOL's Cruise Ship

Nippon Maru
Nippon Maru (MOL file image)

Published Mar 6, 2023 11:01 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Department of Justice is suing Japanese shipping giant MOL to recover damages from the allision of the company's sole cruise ship with the U.S. Navy fuel pier in Apra, Guam. 

On December 30, 2018, the Japanese-flagged cruise ship Nippon Maru left Apra, bound for Saipan with 372 passengers and 252 crewmembers. As she departed the harbor, she struck the U.S. Navy's Delta fuel pier. No injuries or pollution were reported, but Nippon Maru sustained a large hole near her stern, above the waterline. The fuel dock was also damaged. 

In an after-accident investigation, the vessel's master told the National Transportation Safety Bureau (NTSB) that when he had attempted to pivot the vessel in the turning basin, he had mistakenly moved the joystick that controlled the Nippon Maru’s engines and rudder to the full astern position and left it there. He also reported that he drank one and a half cans of whisky and soda 3-4 hours before the accident, along with a beer 2-3 hours after the accident. 

The master's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) tested at 0.071 g/dL about five hours after the accident, in excess of company policy and U.S. Coast Guard limits. NTSB found that he had likely consumed more alcohol than he reported, and that it was likely that impairment from alcohol contributed to the accident.

Courtesy NTSB

MOL and the U.S. government have been negotiating in an attempt to reach a settlement for the damage to the dock, but so far have been unsuccessful. On Friday, the U.S. Department of Justice petitioned a federal court to order the arrest and sale of Nippon Maru in an attempt to secure $8 million to cover the damage to the pier at Apra. The suit alleges that MOL and its employees were negligent in allowing the Nippon Maru to strike a stationary object, and it references the suspicions that the master was operating under the influence of alcohol. 

The suit seeks a warrant for the U.S. Marshals to pursue Nippon Maru's arrest, condemnation and sale. The proceeds would be used to cover repairs to the fuel pier, plus interest, costs and punitive damages. 

Nippon Maru is currently anchored in the harbor at Chichijima, a Japanese outlying island located about 900 nm to the north of Guam. In the post-COVID era, her itinerary has focused primarily on Japanese coastal voyages. The 1990-built vessel is getting older, and MOL's executives have announced plans to build two replacements and eventually retire Nippon Maru.