The Bremen v. Zapata Off-Shore Company

RESPONDENT: Zapata Off-Shore Company
LOCATION: United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana

DOCKET NO.: 71-322
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 407 US 1 (1972)
ARGUED: Mar 21, 1972
DECIDED: Jun 12, 1972

David C. G. Kerr -
David C. G. Kerr - for petitioners
James K. Nance - for respondent

Facts of the case


Media for The Bremen v. Zapata Off-Shore Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 21, 1972 in The Bremen v. Zapata Off-Shore Company

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in Bremen and Unterweser against Zapata Off-Shore Company.

Mr. Kerr you may proceed.

David C. G. Kerr:

Mr. Chief Justice, if it please the court.

The petitioner here is Unterweser Reederei, a German corporation, domiciled in Bremen, Germany, the owner of the Seagoing tug Bremen.

The respondent is Zapata Off-Shore Company, a multinational drilling company, owner of the drill rig self-elevated drill rig Chaparral.

Very briefly the facts and circumstances which bring this case to this Court, have their genesis in a drilling contract, executed by and between Zapata or through it's wholly owned foreign subsidiary and Italian company by the name of (Inaudible) calling for presence of the drill rig Chaparral, off of Ravenna, Italy at the Adriatic.

This necessitated of course, towing the Chaparral from it's sites off of Louisiana to the Adriatic, off of Ravenna.

The Zapata solicited this for this towage voyage and several companies responded, including the petition here Unterweser.

Unterweser was the low bidder and subsequently was requested to submit a contract and it did so, submitted a contract to Zapata in Houston and several changes were made in that contract.

It was executed by Zapata, Houston and the contract was then forwarded to Bremen where the changes were accepted and the contract was executed.

The tow voyage commenced on about January 5, 1968 from the (Inaudible) Mississippi and some 5 days later in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, a casualty occurred which precipitated a number of losses, very briefly the nature of casualty was a collapse of the three drilling legs and a parting of the tow line.

The tow was reestablished by the tug Bremen and on orders from Zapata, it proceeded to the port of Tampa, Florida which was a nearest port of refuge.

On arrival, at Tampa, the tug Bremen was met by United States Marshal and arrested in conjunction or in connection with a complaint which had been filed by Zapata the previous day, alleging negligent towage and basically a complaint in admiralty based on towage.

That is the first litigation in this particular matter and very briefly, the complaint was filed.

In that litigation, I indicated the day prior to the arrival of the flotilla in Tampa and subsequently, Unterweser filed a motion in the district court at Tampa, seeking among other things that the action in Tampa be stayed, pursuant to a foreign clause in a towage contract which provided that all disputes should be heard by the London Court of Justice in England.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Do I understand that, that clause was subject to negotiation before he finally agreed upon, wasn't it?

David C. G. Kerr:

Yes sir.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Between the parties there had been some discussion, what law should apply, had they not?

David C. G. Kerr:

The record is devoid of indication that was discussion between the parties.

The only thing we have in the record, Mr. Justice Brennan, is the fact that the Director of Unterweser said that without that clause, they would not have entered into this contract.

The contract was submitted, as I have indicated, by the Unterweser to Zapata in Houston, was reviewed presumably by Zapata in Houston.

They made several changes and initialed and sent back to Bremen.

That clause was not changed in anyway.

Potter Stewart:

That clause is in the original submission?

David C. G. Kerr:

Yes sir, it was in the original submission and obviously in the --

Potter Stewart:

I thought I read somewhere that there had been some consideration of other law besides--

David C. G. Kerr:

What you're referring to Mr. Justice Brennan is the fact that the director from Unterweser, that's the affidavit of Eric Oswegon (ph), in which he said that normally Unterweser applies German law and German forums to their contracts but here, recognizing that this tow voyage would traverse many jurisdictions and as a compromise, they selected the London forum and then submitted that to Zapata and Zapata executed the contract.

Potter Stewart:

In other words, that decision that was made by Unterweser?

David C. G. Kerr:

Yes sir.

Warren E. Burger:

Well is it your view that the parties each having one national court to which it -- for which it would have a preference and agreed upon a neutral court?