By Laurel Brubaker Calkins

March 25 (Bloomberg) –- Kirby Inland Marine LP and Cleopatra Shipping Agency Ltd. were sued by commercial and sport fishermen claiming damages from a March 22 oil spill caused by a collision of the companies’ vessels in the Houston Ship Channel.

The proposed class-action suit was filed yesterday in federal court by Houston-area commercial fishermen, charter-boat operators and bait shops on behalf of “hundreds or thousands of individuals and businesses” facing economic losses and property damage because of the spill, according to the complaint.

The fishing interests seek to sue as a class, or group, to ensure the boat owners “pay for the economic and environmental costs of their misconduct and that there is a fair distribution of compensatory and punitive damages” among victims and for the “benefit of society and the environment,” their lawyer Sean O’Rourke of Houston-based Simon-O’Rourke Law Firm PC, said in the complaint.

If required to sue individually, the spill victims say, they will be forced “to compete in a race for judgments in order to claim against a diminishing resource, resulting in recoveries for some victims and worthless judgments for the rest,” according to the complaint.

Oil Leak

About 168,000 gallons of oil leaked into Galveston Bay from a barge owned by the Kirby Corp. unit, after it collided with a bulk cargo ship owned by Cleopatra Shipping of Greece, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

The spill closed the entrance to one of the nation’s busiest ports and refinery complexes, restricted fishing in Galveston Bay and threatened bird sanctuaries at the start of the spring migration and nesting season.

The case is 3G Fishing Charters LLC v. Kirby Inland Marine LP, 3:14-cv-00107, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas (Galveston).