Union disputes barge accident lawsuit

LIHUE — A mariner’s union said a lawsuit filed against a tug operator for negligence is full of errors.

Additionally, the union said, four of the unnamed crew members in the Young Brothers lawsuit hadn’t been drinking and should be praised for their rescue efforts after the tug barge accident — yet they still haven’t been assigned work since the Oct. 31 mishap in Nawiliwili Harbor.

Young Brother’s lawsuit accuses a tug captain and chief mate of negligence, including drinking, that led to a barge breaking from the tug and crashing into the breakwater. 

Inland Boatmen’s Union Hawaii Regional Director Donovan Duncan said the four other crewmen aboard the ship weren’t drinking but have been unfairly punished.

“The four other crewmen are not defendants in this lawsuit and were not fired,” he said. “They were unjustly put on a no-work available status and were told to use their accrued time off until the USCG investigation is completed.”

Arbitration is being scheduled on behalf of the four crew members by IBU, in the Mariner Division of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, and Foss Maritime, the parent company of Young Brothers. IBU claims Young Brothers has no reason to leave the workers out when they schedule crews.

“Many of the allegations in the complaint are untrue,” said Charles K.Y. Khim, an attorney and spokesman for IBU at a press conference. “The chief allegation that others were drunk is just wrong.”

The complaint was filed Jan. 7 in U.S. District Court, District of Hawaii. It alleges negligence, breach of contract and violation of federal maritime law when the tug Moana Holo departed Nawiliwili with at least one crew member under the influence of an intoxicant, who was responsible for allowing the barge Makaala to break free of its tow and crash into the breakwater.

Capt. Arthur Takushi was dismissed by Young Brothers for disembarking with a tug not seaworthy because of a crew member drinking, IBU stated. The chief mate, Elia Long, was also dismissed for failing a urinalysis test.

“Captain Takushi knew Chief Mate Long and others of the crew had consumed alcohol and were unable to carry out their duties,” the complaint states.

Duncan said that part is not true.

In addition, the complaint states the crew refused to take a blood-alcohol test after the accident when the reason for that was because tests weren’t readily available and had to be shipped from Oahu, he said.

“The delay was solely the problem of management to deliver the tests,” Duncan said.

The complaint also doesn’t tell the story of a crew responding to an emergency in heroic fashion, Khim added. They managed to pull a barge off the breakwater before it broke apart and prevented an environmental disaster where hazardous materials could have spilled and the harbor could have been closed indefinitely.

“They all pitched in regardless of the threat to their safety,” he said.

IBU is not a party to the case and doesn’t have plans to petition the court regarding the case, Khim said.

Young Brothers is represented by Frame & Nakano. The Honolulu law firm did not return calls regarding the accusations against the complaint.

Young Brothers media representative Kevin Cockett said Thursday the company is not able to comment on a pending lawsuit. 

The case is assigned to Judge Barry Kurren. A scheduling conference was ordered for April 13.

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