The opinion of the court was delivered by: BYERS
All hourly references herein are to daylight saving time.
At about 9:11 p.m. on July 1, 1933, the S. S. Black Gull, running light, was proceeding easterly through the Kill Van Kull, bound for Weehawken, and came to anchor during heavy weather off the B. & O. piers 6 and 7 at St. George, Staten Island. In that position, she was caused, by the force of the wind against her port side, to sag broadside to against a carfloat off pier 5, and then over against pier 6, and carfloat #187 made fast at the end of that pier, thus causing the damage for which the libel was filed in the first cause. The owner of the steamer made claim, and impleaded the owner of two Standard Oil barges which were at anchor in the fairway, and filed a separate libel against the same corporation, to recover for the damages suffered by the steamer, in the second cause.
The theory upon which these two pleadings rest is that the presence of the barges caused the steamer to come to anchor to avoid collision with them, and thus to sag down upon the properties of the first libelant.
It becomes important to seek to discover the position of the barges, and the effect of their presence upon the maneuvers of the steamer, and whether in any case the barges are shown to have been at fault.
The weather conditions prevailing between 8:45 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. should be briefly described. At about the earlier time, a rain began to fall which rapidly became so heavy as to constitute a curtain which reduced visibility in all parts of this area to from 50 to 100 feet. The sky became black, and there was thunder and much lightning, and the wind rose rapidly to a velocity of 69 miles an hour, and the consensus is that it was of a force of about No. 9 on the scale. It seemed to veer between the northeast and northwest, so that there is no certainty in the testimony on that subject, but probably its greatest force was from the northeast.
These conditions succeeded a number of hours of fair, clear weather, during which a light southwest breeze had been blowing. In other words, it was a typical summer evening in these parts.
The mean temperature starting at 12:01 a.m. was 80 degrees, with the highest at 90 degrees between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m., which fell slowly to 86 degrees between 8:00 and 9:00 p.m.
The humidity was 95 at 1:00 a.m., and fell to 44 between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m., and gradually rose to 50 between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m., 58 in the next hour, 64 in the next, and to 73 between 8:00 and 9:00 p.m.
Sunset was at 8:32 p.m., and was cloudy.
The weather report states that the oppressive heat of the day came to and end in the evening when a violent thunderstorm swept the city. "During the squall which lasted only 10 minutes the wind suddenly attained an extreme velocity of 69 miles per hour causing damage. * * * Lightning was especially intense and fired an oil plant in Elizabeth, N.J. After the gale rain fell at the excessive rate of one inch an hour."
From 6:00 to 9:00 o'clock, the sky was partly cloudy.
The handling of the oil barges is to be considered in the light of what should have been done under the conditions shown to have prevailed.
During these hours the tide in the kills was ebb, and is understood to have affected all vessels involved.
The oil barges were numbers 111 and 12 of the Socony-Vacuum fleet, and they were light when anchored in their anchorage grounds off Constable Hook at 6:35 p.m. They were made fast securely, side by side, with double bow and stern 6 inch lines and 5 inch spring lines, with #111 to port, heading toward Constable Hook; that is, the #111 was nearer St. George. A 2,000 lb. anchor was dropped from the bow of #12, and they tailed in the tide of 30 fathoms of anchor chain, toward the east. The depth of water was 18 feet at this place.
Under the conditions then prevailing, this is found to have been a proper and customary way of anchoring the barges, and there is no evidence to the contrary.
#111 is 251.5X40 feet, and #12 is 225X36.1 feet, and their bows were flush. The former is rounded fore and aft, and the latter has square ends. The barges were of about 9 feet freeboard as they lay at anchor. Each had two men on board, the Captain as to #111 and a deckhand, and the mate and cook as to #12.
On each barge, a bow and stern light, i.e., a ship's lantern, 8 inches in diameter, burning kerosene, was lighted and hoisted into position shortly after 8:00 o'clock. The lights were proper and adequate, and, in position, were about 25 to 30 feet above deck. This was done as darkness began to fall, around 8:30 o'clock.
At that time and during the succeeding quarter hour, there was no reason to suspect that events of more than passing moment were in the making. At about 8:45 p.m. rain began to fall, with rapidly increasing intensity, as has been stated. The bargees started ringing bells as soon as they realized that the rain was interfering with visibility. The wind began to blow with great force, and in a short time the Captain of #111, suspecting that the barges were or might be drifting, let go his port bow anchor of 2500 lbs., and in a short time the barges came to rest and rode out the storm without further incident. During the time that the storm was at its height, one light on each barge blew out, or was put out ...