NEW YORK (CN) – The 2nd Circuit found that PPG Industries was not strictly liable for the 1998 explosion of a ship called “M/V DG Harmony,” which burned for three weeks, destroying the ship and its cargo.
While en route from New York to ports in South Africa, the “Harmony” picked up dangerous cargo made by PPG, including 10 containers of hydrated calcium – also called calhypo – the industrial bactericide that caused the explosion. Each drum contained 16,000 kilograms of the volatile substance. Calhypo is prone to a process called “thermal runaway,” where external heat amplifies the heat naturally produced by the chemical, creating a circular snowball reaction that results in an explosion.
The district court found PPG solely liable for the explosion because it failed to warn the ship owners about their unstable cargo and had carelessly packaged it in a way that increased the risk of thermal runaway.
But the appeals court said the ship-owning interests bore some liability for stowing the calhypo near a heated bunker tank. Though plaintiffs might have a case for general liability, they cannot prevail on a theory of strict liability.
The court also affirmed that PPG had breached its duty to warn about the dangerous cargo, but the judges remanded to determine if a warning would have prevented the explosion.