The opinion of the court was delivered by: BYERS
The barge Sanday, the last vessel in a northbound tow of six light barges, was in collision with the southbound motor vessel Michigan in the Oswego River section of the barge canal on July 24, 1938, and her owner seeks to recover for her damage.
The towing vessel was the Craig, owned by the libelant, and an impleading petition was filed by the claimant of the Michigan; in lieu of answer thereto, it was stipulated at the trial that any fault attributable to the towing vessel should be visited upon the libelant.
The collision occurred between 3:00 and 3:30 p.m. (D.S.T.) on a day when atmospheric conditions played no part, save that there was a light easterly breeze which may have taken slight effect on the high sides of the light barges; however, the evidence fails to establish that it contributed to the collision.
The tow was about 500 feet in length, and there is no criticism as to the power of the Craig; about 20 feet separated her stern from the bows of the two barges in the first tier, which were being towed abreast, as were the two in the second tier; under the stern of the latter were the Hadley and Sanday, in tandem.
The canal follows the winding course of the Oswego River, and this collision occurred about 1,500 feet or so southerly from the southerly end of Walters Island, which lies northerly from Phoenix (lock 1); the winding course of the river from the latter place inclines northwesterly and then northerly until about opposite buoy 30 on the easterly side of the channel, from which it inclines gradually northwest to the southerly tip of Walters Island where the inclination is distinctly westerly for about 1,000 feet.
The foregoing has been taken from claimant's Exhibit A rather than Exhibit B, which is useful only for the purpose of indicating the channel buoys.
As the tow left buoy 27 on her port hand, her course would be slightly west of north, toward buoy 30 on her starboard hand, and that is roughly a distance of 3,000 feet; when the Craig passed the latter, she inclined toward the west, which caused her tow to circle somewhat, as it followed, and such was the appearance of the tow to the Michigan, which had rounded the bend at the south of Walters Island, when she sighted the flotilla at a distance, as stated by her navigating officer, of 1,700 to 1,800 feet.
The captain of the Craig said that he saw the Michigan as he was about abreast of buoy 30, so that they came into mutual sight at a distance of from 1,700 to 2,000 feet, and it is thought that the only question for determination is whether the navigation of the Michigan was prudent, and calculated to avoid the striking which actually happened.
The latter is 254 feet long by 36 feet in beam, and being laden, she drew about 10 feet; she was proceeding at full speed, which her navigating officer put at from 4 to 4 1/4 miles an hour. There can be no criticism of her for maintaining that headway until sighting the tow, because at a distance northerly from the southerly end of Walters Island of about 1,750 feet (i.e., 4 to 5 minutes, as her mate said, before emerging from Walters Island cut) she had blown a bend whistle, to which no answer was given.
The westerly banks are about 25 feet high in that reach of the river, and the bend signal was required of the Michigan, but it is not necessarily a cause for wonder that it was not heard on the Craig which was then about 3,750 feet distant, hidden from the view of the Michigan.
The Craig is criticised for not having also blown a bend whistle when she was about off buoy 30, which is near enough to half a mile below the bend to have required her to do that (Title 33 U.S.C. § 203, Rule V, 33 U.S.C.A. § 203, rule V) but if the Michigan signal was not heard on the Craig, it is reasonable to infer that the same lack of result would have attended the Craig's performance of her statutory duty.
Rounding the bend opposite buoy 32 on the easterly edge of the channel, the Michigan saw the Craig and her tow in the position which has been stated, with the last vessel tailing over to her own port hand and in the expectable path of the Michigan.
It is presently the view that there was nothing inevitable about this collision, and that it could have been avoided, had the ...