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March 2, 1950


The opinion of the court was delivered by: LEIBELL

The libelant, William T. Bohannon, was injured when struck by a sea, while crossing the forward well deck of the S.S. Four Lakes about 11:30 A.M. on December 19, 1947. The vessel was a tanker of the T-2 type and was owned and operated by the respondent. She was proceeding off the Florida coast, in the vicinity of Jupiter Lighthouse, on a voyage with a full cargo of oil, from Beamount, Texas, to Staten Island, New York. Libelant was eighteen years old at the time. He had been going to sea about two years and had served on other tankers of this type. This was his fourth round trip on the S.S. Four Lakes.

The vessel was on a course of almost due north and was making about 15 knots. The wind was north and northeast, with a force of about 5-6 at 8 A.M. and a force of 4 at noon. At 7 A.M. the weather was overcast, there were 'rain squalls and choppy seas'. At noon the weather was cloudy and the vessel was 'taking seas fore and aft'. During the morning the seas had gradually increased in intensity and at the time of the accident seas were breaking across the forward main deck at an angle from the starboard side and spray was blowing over the bow.

 The S.S. Four Lakes had a forepeak structure which was about 10 feet higher than the main deck, or well deck. A steel catwalk, with a grilled walk, and railings on the side, extended about 8 feet above the main deck, from the forepeak back to the midship house, a distance of about 125 feet. From aft of the midship house another similar catwalk extended back to the poop at the stern. The tanker was fully loaded and had a freeboard of about 6 feet.

 On the main deck there were various tanks, about 5 feet high. A photograph (Ex. 2C) plainly shows three of the four on the port side of the forward well deck. The No. 2 tank was near the foot of a steel ladder which extended down from the catwalk at a point about 58 feet from the forepeak, a little more than half the distance between the midship house and the forepeak. Tank No. 3 was about 35 feet forward of the midship house. Tank No. 4 was near a ladder that came down the midship house, as shown on the photograph, Exhibit 2H.

 There were two steel ladders that led down from the forepeak to the well deck; one was about 9 feet to the left of the forward end of the catwalk at the forepeak. There was a railing all around the forepeak. The railing joined up with the railing of the catwalk and the railings of the ladders which led down to the well deck. There was a door leading into the forepeak, about 10 feet from the foot of the ladder. On the morning of the accident, it was open, as shown on the photograph, Exhibit 2C.

 That morning the bosun put some of the crew to work in the forepeak chipping and painting. Bohannon was one of them. About 10 o'clock several of them started aft over the well deck to have coffee. The Captain shouted at them and gestured, that they should use the catwalk. They turned back and went up to the catwalk and followed his orders.

 Bohannon saw the Captain gesticulating at them. He said he did not hear him. But he must have known what the Captain meant. He says the men did not turn back, but continued on across the well deck. That is contrary to the Captain's version and does not seem probable.

 After Bohannon had coffee, he used the well deck from the midship's house to the forepeak to get some paint. After getting his paint pots and brushes he came back from the forepeak over the well deck at about 10:30 10:30 A.M. As he approached the midship house the third officer came out to the after end of the bridge and shouted to him to use the catwalk. Bohannon admits this warning.

 About 11:20 that morning, Bohannon told the bosun that spray was coming around to the port side of the poop deck of the after house, where he was painting. It was not advisable to continue painting. The bosun told Bohannon to take his pots of paint and his brushes and take them to the paint locker in the forepeak and to tell the men there to knock off. The bosun did not tell Bohannon which route to follow in going to the forepeak. The following findings of fact describe what happened:

 '14. Libelant proceeded from the afterhouse to the midship house by crossing on the elevated catwalk between those two structures. He walked around the port side of the midship house on the officers' deck and paused at the top of a ladder leading from the port forward side of the midship house down to the forward main deck or well deck.

 '15. As libelant paused watching the seas breaking over the main deck, there were three routes by which he could proceed to his destination, the paint locker in the forepeak on the main deck level.

 '(a) One route was to descend the ladder where he was standing and run the entire length of the forward main deck to the forepeak, a distance of about 120 feet. The waves breaking over the forward main deck made this route hazardous and libelant had been warned twice by the officers of the vessel on that morning not to use it.

 '(b) An alternative route was for libelant to proceed from the midship house to the foc's'le head on the catwalk between those two structures. The catwalk had a grilled steel walk-away and two steel hand rails on either side. It was elevated about 8 feet above the forward main deck. At the foc's'le head, which was 10 feet above the main deck, libelant could turn to his left, walk about 9 feet with another railing for protection and descend a ladder to the main deck only 10 feet from the door to the forepeak. That ladder was sheltered by the sheer of the ship's skin from the main deck up to the forepeak level and by the 10 feet break at the aft end of the foc's'le head deck. That route was safe.

 '(c) A third alternative was for libelant to go up the forward catwalk a little more than half way, and descent a ladder leading off the catwalk at that point to the port main deck in the vicinity of No. 2 port tank. From the bottom of the ladder to the forepeak door, a distance of about 58 feet, the port main deck was sheltered by the ship's line handling winch, the pump house and the raised forepeak. This ...

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