A recent “unpublished” decision from the U.S. Fifth Circuit addressed the issue of whether a maritime lien can attach to on offshore floating production platform. In Warrior Energy Services Corp. v. ATP Titan M/V, Action No. 13-30587 (5 Cir. 2014), several oilfield contractors, Warrior and others, contracted with ATP Oil & Gas to provide certain services and supplies to the ATP TITAN M/V (”TITAN”), a floating oil and gas production facility owned by ATP Titan, LLC. The TITAN is moored on the Outer Continental Shelf, miles offshore from Louisiana.
ATP Oil & Gas filed for bankruptcy and did not pay the contractors for their services. Warrior and the other contractors then filed a USDC action against platform owner ATP Titan and asserted a maritime lien against the TITAN. ATP Titan filed a motion to dismiss the USDC action as well as the maritime lien on the basis the TITAN was not a vessel and the court lacked jurisdiction. Warrior et al conceded that its claims before the court were dependent upon the TITAN’s status as a vessel. On motion for summary judgment, Judge Sara Vance ruled the TITAN was not a vessel and she dismissed the contractors’ lawsuit on jurisdictional grounds.
Addressing the issue of vessel status, the 5th Circuit panel looked to the U.S. Supreme Court’s vessel status decisions in Stewart v. Dutra and Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach. The dispositive question was whether the TITAN’s “use as a watercraft as a means of transportation on water is a practical possibility or merely a theoretical one.” (citing Dutra). The court went on to note that the TITAN is moored to the OCS floor by 12 mooring chains connected to 12 anchor piles imbedded over 200 feet into the seafloor. It is further immobilized by “an oil and gas production infrastructure”. The TITAN has not been moved since it was installed in 2010 and it has no means of self-propulsion, apart from the ability to reposition itself within a 200 foot range by manipulating its mooring lines. Moreover, moving the TITAN would require 12 months of preparation, at least 15 weeks for its execution and would cost more than $70-million. Based on these factors, the 5th Circuit ruled that the TITAN was not practically capable of transportation on water and, therefore, as a matter of law, was not a vessel.
Editor’s Note: The contractors complained to the 5th Circuit that Judge Vance relied on its unpublished opinion in a similar case: Mendez v. Anadarko Petroleum Corp. By way of a footnote, the panel acknowledged that Mendez was not “controlling precedent” but could be cites as “persuasive authority” given its factual similarity with the subject ATP case.