The owners of a cruise ship that ran into a rock shelf in Nunavut will have to pay nearly $500,000 in environmental costs to the Canadian government after a Federal Court judge ruled they were responsible for the grounding.

In the same decision, Justice Sean Harrington dismissed a $13.5-million claim from the MV Clipper Adventurer and its Bahamas-based owners, Adventurer Owner Ltd., who alleged that the Canadian government should have given them more information that could have prevented the crash.

The decisions stem from an August 2010 incident, when the Clipper Adventurer, carrying 128 passengers and 69 crew, struck an uncharted rock shelf near Kugluktuk, Nunavut.

The Canadian Coast Guard's Amundsen icebreaker rescued the passengers after the Clipper Adventurer's crew was unable to dislodge the vessel. It was eventually freed by four tugs and taken to Poland for repairs.

The Clipper Adventurer and its owners claimed Ottawa failed to inform mariners about the rock shelf, and were seeking to be reimbursed for repair and salvage and loss of business, among other costs.

The government's lawsuit sought damages to prevent, repair or minimize pollution from the ship's grounding. 

'Nonchalant attitude' put lives at risk

In his decision, Harrington said the Coast Guard properly warned the Clipper Adventurer's crew of the rock shelf through a notice to shipping, which was not on board the ship.

Harrington said the fault lies with the Clipper Adventurer for not seeking out the information, rather than a local Coast Guard station in Iqaluit for not providing it unprompted.

"Had Officer Mora … taken serious note of the publications with which he was required to be familiar, he would have known perfectly well that there were written NOTSHIPs [notices to shipping], and that if he could not get them by visiting the Canadian Coast Guard website, all he had to do was call MCTS Iqaluit," the decision reads.

"As it was, this nonchalant attitude put the lives of close to 200 souls at risk."

The Clipper Adventurer's owners argued that the crew could not have asked about potential problems, as they did not know there were hazards in the area.

Harrington refuted that argument, saying "Captain Grankvist and Mr. Mora did not know they had a problem because they had not properly prepared for the voyage.

"They were under a legal obligation to update Chart 7777 to take into account NOTSHIPS and failed to do so. They should have made it their business to make sure that all NOTSHIPs were on hand and consulted. They did not."

Liable for cleanup costs

The decision to award damages to the Crown was more straightforward.

Harrington awarded $445,361, plus interest, writing that Canada's Marine Liability Act states "a ship owner is liable for the costs and expenses incurred … in respect of measures taken to prevent, repair, remedy or minimize oil pollution damage," and that "liability does not depend on proof of negligence."

The Canadian Coast Guard said when the ship was grounded, 13 tanks aboard were breached, some holding fuel, freshwater and sludge.

Harrington's decision said if the owners of the Clipper Adventurer fail to pay the damages, the ship must be sold to cover them.