A shipowning affiliate of Germany’s Conti has filed a new lawsuit against Mediterranean Shipping Co (MSC) in a bid to press the liner giant to pay some $200m in arbitration awards over the deadly blast that rocked a container ship in 2012.

The legal manoeuvre is the latest shot in a decade-long legal battle over the incident on the 6,732-teu MSC Flaminia (built 2001) that killed three seafarers and damaged the vessel and its cargo.

The ship’s owner, Conti 11 Container Schiffahrts, filed the new litigation in a US federal court in New Orleans, where MSC controls a container terminal.

The case centres on an arbitration fight launched in London between the owner and Geneva-based MSC, which had the vessel on time charter at the time that a cargo of divinylbenzene (DVB) exploded on a journey across the Atlantic from the New Orleans Terminal.

In a series of awards, the arbitration panel found last year that MSC breached its time charter of the vessel and was liable to Conti for the incident.

“MSC has refused to fully satisfy the award,” said Conti’s lawyers, led by Gary Hemphill at New Orleans firm Phelps Dunbar.

They alleged in the new lawsuit that some $200m is outstanding once compounding interest is tallied up.

The lawsuit seeks to have the arbitration awards recognised in the US as a judgment, in an apparent step toward enforcing the awards by targeting MSC’s significant assets in the Louisiana city.

“MSC and its insurers reject any suggestion that any sums owed to Conti – the owners of the container ship MSC Flaminia – in the ongoing proceedings concerning the vessel’s 2012 fire accident have not been paid promptly,” MSC said in a statement to TradeWinds.

“MSC expects outstanding matters to be resolved in English courts in accordance with the procedural timetable agreed to by the vessel’s owners and any further sums adjudged by those courts to be owing to the owners will be paid in a timely manner.”

In another strand of litigation in New York, US District Judge Katherine Forrest found in 2018 that Deltch, the chemicals company that produced the DVB, was 55% liable for the MSC Flaminia blast. And she determined that Stolt Tank Containers, the Stolt-Nielsen subsidiary that moved the cargo, should bear the remaining liability.

Conti has filed its case at the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, which is housed in the Hale Boggs Federal Complex. Photo: Tony Webster/Creative Commons 2.0

Both companies have appealed that decision, but the panel of judges that heard arguments in the case in May 2020 have yet to decide whether to overturn Forrest’s judgment.

Also in New Orleans’ federal court, Conti and Germany’s NSB Group, the technical manager of the MSC Flaminia, are suing the New Orleans Terminal for its alleged role in the incident, although that case has been on hold pending the outcome of litigation in New York.

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The MSC Flaminia, which underwent costly repairs following the July 2012 explosion and resulting fire, is now named the CMA CGM San Francisco and is operated by France’s CMA CGM.

After nearly a decade, the litigation over the incident still has some way to go. In the main New York fight, the case management schedule stretches out into January 2023, with a trial on damages faced by Stolt Tankers and Deltech yet to be held.