Court papers are flying in Puerto Rico over a 2019 cruiseship crash that damaged a pier in San Juan.

The Puerto Rico Ports Authority filed a lawsuit in the territory's US federal district court earlier this month to recoup $9m in losses from the crash.

The case targets a series of defendants: the 4,200-berth Norwegian Epic (built 2010), the cruise line's Bahamas subsidiary, two McAllister Towing companies and two of their tugs, the San Juan Bay Pilots Corp and the pilot who was steering the ship.

Alleged negligence

This was followed by a case where Norwegian Cruise Line sued the McAllister defendants and the pilots alleging their negligence led to the crash.

"In the course of the docking and berthing manoeuvres, the Epic’s port bow allided with the first mooring dolphin of pier 3 east which collapsed and sank into the harbour together with the connecting catwalk," the ports authority said in the complaint.

"A short time later, the Epic then struck the mooring dolphin that was closer to shore, which also collapsed into the harbour with its connecting catwalk."

The Norwegian Epic was headed to the British Virgin Islands in February 2019, when it suffered propulsion issues with its port side propeller, according to the legal complaints and a report from the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

The ship was diverted to San Juan, where it was determined that a port pilot Carlos Ramos would guide the vessel near to the berth and the Norwegian Epic's master would guide it the rest of the way.

The ship arrived on 12 February and was guided by the McAllister tugs Dorothy McAllister (built 2006) and Beth M McAllister (built 2003).

The crash left a nearly 2-metre-long gash in the side of the Norwegian Epic.

Probable cause

In its report in January 2020, the NTSB said the probable cause of the crash was a lack of coordination and communication between the master and the pilot.

In its lawsuit, the Puerto Rico Ports Authority said the Norwegian Epic's protection and indemnity club, Steamship Mutual, had issued a letter of undertaking for up to $22m related to the crash.

Norwegian's lawsuit accuses McAllister, the port pilots and Ramos of failing to provide services in a workmanlike manner, including failure to communicate.

"[Norwegian Cruise Line] had relied on the tugs to respond to the proper commands and relied on the defendant, Capt Carlos Ramos, to provide proper commands in English and to have requisite local knowledge of the conditions," Norwegian's lawsuit said.

The NTSB report noted that Ramos' commands to the tug captains were in Spanish when they should have been in English.

An NTSB photo shows damage to the hull of the Norwegian Epic. Photo: NTSB

Norwegian and McAllister declined to comment. McAllister Towing and Transportation and McAllister Brothers are named as defendants in both lawsuits.

The port pilots were unable to be reached.

Mapfre Praico Insurance is also named as a fellow plaintiff in the Puerto Rico Ports Authority lawsuit.

The ports authority complaint said $1.4m of the $9m has been paid out in damages by the Puerto Rico Ports Authority's insurance.