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NATIONAL BULK CARRIERS, INC. v. UNITED STATES

July 22, 1948

NATIONAL BULK CARRIERS, Inc.
v.
UNITED STATES et al. BURNS STEAMSHIP CO. v. THE NASHBULK et al. THE RUTGERS VICTORY



The opinion of the court was delivered by: KENNEDY

On September 27, 1946, at 4:33 1/2 P.M., Eastern Standard Time, S.S. Nashbulk collided with S.S. Rutgers Victory on the high seas at a point about 225 miles south by east of New York. Nashbulk's port bow struck the starboard side of Rutgers Victory abreast of No. 4 hatch aft of the amidship house at a point about 175 feet from the stern. The angle of collision was about 45 degrees. It caused the fore peak of Nashbulk to be holed, and several plates to be ripped on the port bow. Rutgers Victory was holed on her starboard side abreast the No. 4 hatch. Her No. 4 hold was completely flooded and part of her coal cargo was lost through the gash in the side of the ship. She later made a port of refuge.

Prior to the collision Rutgers Victory, bound from Philadelphia to Antwerp with a cargo of coal, was on a course 080 degrees true, speed 14 1/2 knots. Her draft was 28' 6 3/4'. This ship is listed in Lloyds Register as a steamship 439.1 feet long, 62.1 feet beam, 34.5 feet moulded depth, 7607 gross tons. She was built at Los Angeles, California, in 1945 and is powered by two General Electric steam turbines geared to a single shaft. She was at the time of the collision owned by the United States and operated under bare-boat charter by libelant Burns Steamship Company.

Nashbulk, on September 27, 1946, was bound from Venezuela to Portland, Maine, with a cargo of petroleum products in bulk, her draft being 31' 7'. She was, just prior to the collision on a course 356 degrees true, and was making 16 knots. Nashbulk is a tanker 542.6 feet long, 80.2 feet beam, 40.1 feet moulded depth, 14164 gross tons. She was built at Norfolk, Virginia, in 1945, and is powered by two Westinghouse double reduction steam turbines geared to a single shaft.

 Just before the watch on Nashbulk was changed at 4:00 P.M., Eastern Standard Time, Rutgers Victory was sighted by Nashbulk 7 or 8 miles away, 4 points on her own port bow. The weather was find and clear, the wind from northeast, force 2 and the sea calm. Nashbulk's chief mate took over the watch at 4:05 P.M. and kept Rutgers Victory constantly under observation until 4:15 P.M. When at that time he saw that the bearing of Rutgers Victory had not altered, he shifted to hand steering on the chance that he might have to change course. At 4:25 P.M., the bearing being still the same, he called the master and informed him of the situation. At that time two miles separated the two ships.

 It later developed that Rutgers Victory had no lookout. *fn1" The officer on Rutgers Victory charged with the watch had left the bridge and was working out a sight at a desk in the rear of the wheelhouse. Thus, to reiterate, at 4:25 P.M. the Rutgers Victory, the burdened ship, was sailing blindly into the jaws of collision. Nashbulk, the privileged ship, was two miles away

 At 4:32 P.M. when Rutgers Victory was less than a half a mile away, still bearing 4 points on the port bow of Nashbulk, the master of the latter reduced his engines to slow ahead and put his rudder hard right. He sounded no whistle signal at this time. One minute later (4:33 P.M.) he sent his engines full speed astern. Ten seconds still later he blew three blasts. The collision, as I have described it, occurred at 4:33 1/2 P.M.

 The only maneuvers made by Rutgers Victory commenced at the sounding of the three-blast signal by Nashbulk. At this point her watch officer woke up and went out on the bridge. His first order was 'hard left rudder'. No order whatever was given to the engine room. Seconds before the actual collision the rudder of Rutgers Victory was shifted to hard right. The prior movement of the helm had, nevertheless, then taken effect, because the master of Rutgers Victory was able, by looking at her wake, to see that there had been a visible alteration of course to port.

 Rutgers Victory is not able to deny that certainly until 4:25 P.M. she was grossly at fault. The conduct of her watch officer in failing to post a lookout, no matter how fine the day was, and in secluding himself in the chart house while the ship drove blindly on cannot be explained or condoned. But Rutgers Victory urges that this 'inadvertence' is 'insulated' by the plain fault of the Nashbulk.

 In the brief of Rutgers Victory, it is said:

 (1) that the collision was directly caused by failure of Nashbulk to sound a one-blast signal at 4:32 P.M. when she put her rudder hard right.

 (2) that between 4:15 P.M. and 4:33 1/2 P.M. Nashbulk had ample opportunity to avoid collision, but failed to take timely or appropriate action; that even as late as 4:32 P.M. Nashbulk could have avoided collision had she had at that instant reversed her engines.

 (3) that Nashbulk is disabled to argue that her maneuvers were made in extremis.

 I proceed to an analysis of these contentions in the order in which I ...


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