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MENTE & CO. v. ISTHMIAN S.S. CO.

November 25, 1940

MENTE & CO., Inc., et al.
v.
ISTHMIAN S.S. CO.; Petition of COURT LINE, Limited; THE QUARRINGTON COURT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: COXE

COXE, District Judge.

This litigation grows out of the sinking of the British steamship "Quarrington Court" in the Red Sea on December 7, 1937. The disaster was caused by the flooding of the vessel following a break in the main injection pipe and the concurrent jamming of the main injection valve.

The vessel was owned by Court Line, Ltd., an English corporation, and was under charter to Isthmian Steamship Corporation, a Delaware corporation. She was on a voyage from Calcutta to ports in the United States with a cargo of manganese ore, jute, burlap and Hessian cloth. As a result of the sinking the vessel and the entire cargo became a total loss.

 The litigation consists of (1) an admiralty suit brought by cargo owners and underwriters against Court Line, Ltd., and Isthmian Steamship Company to recover $439,587.41 for cargo loss; and (2) a limitation proceeding instituted by Court Line, Ltd., for exoneration from or limitation of liability. In the cargo suit, Isthmian Steamship Company has filed a cross-petition against Court Line, Ltd., claiming indemnity in the event that it should be found liable to the cargo claimants. The cargo claimants have filed claims in the limitation proceeding and challenged the right of Court Line, Ltd., to exoneration as well as limitation. Isthmain Steamship Company has similarly reasserted in the limitation proceeding its claim against Court Line, Ltd., for indemnity; it has, in addition, made a further claim against Court Line, Ltd., for $75,260 for lost freight, and has denied the right of Court Line, Ltd., to limitation of any of the Isthmian claims.

 The cargo suit and the limitation proceeding were tried together, and will be disposed of in one opinion. In the subsequent discussion, the cargo owners and underwriters will be referred to as "Cargo", Court Line, Ltd., as "Owner", and Isthmian Steamship Company as "Isthmian".

 The "Quarrington Court" was a shelter deck vessel with five lower holds, three forward of the machinery space and two aft. She had a gross tonnage of 6,900 tons; was 434 feet 11 1/2 inches long, 56 feet 6 inches beam, and 28 feet 4 1/2 inches in depth; and she had triple expansion reciprocating engines.

 The vessel and the engines were built in England, under Lloyd's supervision, by concerns of the highest standing. The construction was completed in November, 1928, and the vessel at once received the highest class rating, which she maintained until her loss in 1937. She was always kept in good repair, and regularly passed her periodic surveys.

 The main injection pipe was in two sections, each constructed of a sheet of copper with a thickness of .128 of an inch, rolled into a circle and lapbrazed. The two sections were joined by a flange. The pipe ran from the main injection value athwartships to the circulating pump -- a distance of about 13 feet. In the outboard section there was a bend with an expansion joint, which gave the pipe added flexibility. The pipe was 12 inches in diameter, and rested on chairs fastened to the tank top. It was made by the same concern which built the engines, and was standard in design, material and manufacture.It was about nine years old, and had never given any trouble. The witnesses on both sides were agreed that such a pipe usually lasted the life of the ship. There was testimony also from the surveyors that they rarely ever renewed such a pipe, and had never known one to open in the way this one did.

 The main injection valve was also constructed by the same concern which built the engines. The outer casing was to cast iron and was attached to the shell plating. The value proper consisted of a valve lid, a valve seat and a spindle. The valve lid was 12 inches in diameter, was made of gun metal, and had four wings which served to guide the valve lid into place in the valve seat. The valve lid was forced up and down by means of the spindle, which was threaded and worked in a horseshoe on the upper face of the valve lid. It required 11 turns of the spindle to open the valve fully. Such valves frequently last the life of the ship.

 The valve lid on the "Quarrington Court" passed its first four-year survey in 1932. In December, 1934, the vessel was drydocked at Cardiff, and a new valve lid and a new spindle were installed by Mountstuart Drydocks, Inc. The valve lid was renewed at that time because of leakage, and the work was done under Lloyd's supervision. In February, 1936, the vessel was again drydocked at her second periodic survey at South Shields, and a complete new valve lid was installed under Lloyd's supervision by Brigham & Cowan, Ltd. This new valve lid was required because the surface of the mitre had become marked or scored. Both Mountstuart Drydocks, Inc., and Brigham & Cowan, Ltd., were shown to be ship repairers of high standing.

 There is one other part of the vessel which needs description. This is the strainer plate through which the water flows into the main injection valve chest. This plate was rectangular in shape, its dimensions were about 24 by 14 3/8 inches, and it was located on the port side about 150 feet from the stern and above the line of the bilge keel. It was secured to the shell plating by bolts, and was recessed about 3/4 of an inch inside the line of the shell plating. It was about 3/4 of an inch thick, and had oblong slots. Its lower edge was 2 feet 9 inches above the base line of the ship. The plate was originally made of brass, and although there is some uncertainty as to whether a different type was later installed, I think it is highly probable that the original plate remained. There was testimony that when the vessel was drydocked in May, 1937, the plate was given a visual examination and found to be in godd condition.

 The charter-party under which the vessel was chartered to Isthmian was entered into at London on July 28, 1937. It is on the usual "government form" of time charter, and charters the vessel for "one Far Eastern round voyage including India via U.S.A. and/or Gulf and/or Suez and/or Panama and/or Cape of Good Hope". It states that the vessel is "tight, staunch, strong and in every way fitted for ordinary cargo service", and there is a maintenance clause providing that the owner will "keep the steamer in a thoroughly efficient state in hull, machinery and equipment for and during the service". It further provides that the owner is to continue in possession, operate and control the vessel; that nothing in the language shall be construed as a demise; that the captain shall "sign Bills of Lading for cargo as presented, in conformity with Mates' or Tally Clerks' receipts"; that disputes shall be referred to arbitrators in London; and that the charter "is subject to all the terms and provisions of and all the exemptions from liability contained in the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act of the United States approved on the 15th April 1936". 46 U.S.C.A. §§ 1300-1315. With respect to this last quoted language, the original shows some words of the printed form crossed out and the insertion in handwriting in the margin of "Carriage of Goods by Sea Act" and "15th April 1936".

 The vessel was delivered to Isthmian under the charter at Liverpool on July 31, 1937. From Liverpool she proceeded to Mobile, arriving there on August 18, 1937. She remained at Mobile until August 29, 1937, when she sailed for Japan with a cargo of steel products.

 The vessel went aground on October 10, 1937, at 8:49 P.M., as she was entering the port of Yokohama. The sea at the time was dead calm, the vessel was running at reduced speed of 4 or 4 1/2 knots, and she brought up gently without any bumping or shock. Prior to the strand, the draft was 24 feet 6 inches forward and 25 feet 6 inches aft. The engines were at once placed full astern but the vessel moved forward about a quarter of a mile before coming to rest. Soundings were then taken around the vessel and showed that there was 22 feet of ...


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