CHAPTER 311

- SUITS INVOLVING PUBLIC VESSELS

The following information is from The Office of the Law Revision Counsel document, which prepares and publishes the United States Code.

Sec. 31101. Short title

This chapter may be cited as the “Public Vessels Act”.

Sec. 31102. Waiver of immunity

(a) In General. – A civil action in personam in admiralty may be brought, or an impleader filed, against the United States for –

(1) damages caused by a public vessel of the United States; or

(2) compensation for towage and salvage services, including contract salvage, rendered to a public vessel of the United States.

(a) Counterclaim or Setoff. – If the United States brings a civil action in admiralty for damages caused by a privately owned vessel, the owner of the vessel, or the successor in interest, may file a counterclaim in person, or claim a setoff, against the United States for damages arising out of the same subject matter.

Sec. 31103. Applicable procedure

A civil action under this chapter is subject to the provisions of chapter 309 of this title except to the extent inconsistent with this chapter.

Sec. 31104. Venue

(a) In General. – A civil action under this chapter shall be brought in the district court of the United States for the district in which the vessel or cargo is found within the United States.

(b) Vessel or Cargo Outside Territorial Waters. – If the vessel or cargo is outside the territorial waters of the United States –

the action shall be brought in the district court of the United States for any district in which any plaintiff resides or has an office for the transaction of business; or
if no plaintiff resides or has an office for the transaction of business in the United States, the action may be brought in the district court of the United States for any district.

Sec. 31105. Security when counterclaim filed

If a counterclaim is filed for a cause of action for which the original action is filed under this chapter, the respondent to the counterclaim shall give security in the usual amount and form to respond to the counterclaim, unless the court for cause shown orders otherwise. The proceedings in the original action shall be stayed until the security is given.

Sec. 31106. Exoneration and limitation

The United States is entitled to the exemptions from and limitations of liability provided by law to an owner, charterer, operator, or agent of a vessel.

Sec. 31107. Interest

A judgment in a civil action under this chapter may not include interest for the period before the judgment is issued unless the claim is based on a contract providing for interest.

Sec. 31108. Arbitration, compromise, or settlement

The Attorney General may arbitrate, compromise, or settle a claim under this chapter if a civil action based on the claim has been commenced.

Sec. 31109. Payment of judgment or settlement

The proper accounting officer of the United States shall pay a final judgment, arbitration award, or settlement under this chapter on presentation of an authenticated copy. Payment shall be made from any money in the Treasury appropriated for the purpose.

Sec. 31110. Subpoenas to officers or members of crew

An officer or member of the crew of a public vessel may not be subpoenaed in a civil action under this chapter without the consent of –the Secretary of the department or the head of the independent establishment having control of the vessel at the time the cause of action arose; or

the master or commanding officer of the vessel at the time the subpoena is issued.

Sec. 31111. Claims by nationals of foreign countries

A national of a foreign country may not maintain a civil action under this chapter unless it appears to the satisfaction of the court in which the action is brought that the government of that country, in similar circumstances, allows nationals of the United States to sue in its courts.

Sec. 31112. Lien not recognized or created

This chapter shall not be construed as recognizing the existence of or as creating a lien against a public vessel of the United States.

Sec. 31113. Reports

The Attorney General shall report to Congress at each session thereof all claims settled under this chapter.