The opinion of the court was delivered by: HULBERT
These suits in admiralty arose out of a collision which occurred in the Hudson or North River, as it is locally designated, at about 7:15 A.M. on May 7, 1943. The S.S. Chagres, owned by the United States Lines, and the S.S. Ocean Vagrant, owned by the British Ministry of War Transport, were two of the vessels involved.
The libel of the United States Lines against the S.S. Ocean Vagrant was filed on May 13, 1943, and the tugs Madeline Meseck, Eugene Meseck and Edward Meseck, and Meseck Towing Lines, Inc., were impleaded by The Ocean Vagrant only on October 19, 1945.
The cross-libel of the British Ministry of War Transport against The Chagres was also filed on October 19, 1945. Although the suits have not been consolidated, they were tried together and will be disposed of in one opinion.
At the outset, the impleaded tugs and towing company moved to dismiss the libel as to them on the ground of laches. It was contended that the position of the impleaded respondents was prejudiced in that during the period this case was pending before the tugs and towing company were impleaded, seven depositions were taken at which the impleaded respondents, of course, were not represented. However, after they were impleaded, the tugs and towing company participated in the taking of additional depositions, and the Court denied that motion.
The North River is approximately 2800 feet wide between the pierhead lines on the New York and New Jersey shores respectively at the point of collision. Both vessels were approximately the same length, The Chagres being 427 feet long and The Ocean Vagrant 425 feet in length.
On the morning of the collision, The Chagres had no cargo aboard, and was moored at the south side of Pier 62, N.R., bow in, close to the bulkhead. There was another ship, the S.S. Calobre, moored astern of The Chagres in the outer berth on the south side of Pier 62, her stern extending about 50 feet beyond the end of said pier. There were two ships moored on the north side of Pier 61 occupying the length of that pier. On the river of that pier there were moored, each abreast of the other, some eight to ten barges, occupying about 300 feet of the river beyond the end of said pier. At the time of the collision, a tug, The Mary Meseck (not here involved) was moored to the outermost of said barges. The clear space in the slip between the two vessels moored on the south side of Pier 62 and the north side of Pier 62 was about 150 feet.
The weather conditions prevailing at the time of the collision were as follows: broad daylight; clear, although somewhat hazy over the land; visibility was such that objects could be distinguished at least one-half mile away; the tide was ebb with no significant wind.
During the undocking maneuver of The Chagres, the tug Madeline Meseck was on a hawser aft, The Eugene Meseck was head on the starboard quarter, and The Edward Meseck head on the starboard bow of The Chagres. When the lines to the dock were let go, The Chagres, with the aid of the tugs, was breasted out into the center of the slip and straightened up. Paulson, the shore boatswain of the United States Lines, proceeded to the stern of The Calobre, looked up and down river, and signalled to Captain Ball, the harbor pilot of Meseck Lines on The Chagres, that all was clear. This signal was acknowledged by Captain Ball. Thereupon, The Chagres blew a prolonged slip whistle, and The Madeline Meseck did likewise. During this time, The Chagres was being slowly towed out into the river by The Madeline Meseck, the other two tugs being employed to keep The Chagres straight in between the vessels moored at Piers 61 and 62.
When The Chagres was approximately abreast of The Calobre, she commenced to back under her own power. Her engines were put full astern, and she sounded a three blast backing signal. The deck log of The Chagres puts the time of this full astern movement at 7:10, and the engine bell book indicates 7:11 A.M. The testimony is that it took approximately one minute for The Chagres' screw to build up to its full revolutions astern, and since part of the screw was out of the water, it did not have its full thrust therein. Both the deck log and the engine bell book put the time of stopping the engines at 7:13, full ahead at 7:14, and collision at 7:14 1/2 (deck log) and 7:15 (bell book).
While The Chagres was backing under her own power, no one of the tugs aided her in such movement but, under orders from Pilot Ball, they were engaged in holding the ship against the ebb tide, which was running at about two knots. The Madeline Meseck on the hawser aft had then swung around the stern of The Chagres and headed up river; The Edward and Eugene Meseck were still on the starboard bow and quarter, all tugs approximately at a right angle with The Chagres.
The Ocean Vagrant left her berth at Pier 88 (West 48th Street, Manhattan) at about 6:59 A.M. She had a full cargo and was destined for an ocean crossing to Europe. The ship was undocked by a tug pilot and was turned over to Captain Warner, a Hudson River pilot serving as an auxiliary to the Sandy Hook Pilots Association because of the great need at that period for pilot service. After The Ocean Vagrant was well clear of the pier at which she had been berthed, her bow was swung around to starboard and she headed down stream. The tugs which had assisted her in her undocking maneuver had been released before the pilot took over. Captain Warner and Captain Wilson, The Vagrant's master, were on the flying bridge. The third officer and helmsman were in the pilot house, below the flying bridge, ...