The opinion of the court was delivered by: COXE
These suits grow out of a collision between the steamship William S. Halsted, owned by the United States and operated under bareboat charter by Moore-McCormack Lines, Inc., and the tank steamship Esso Camden, owned and operated by the Standard Oil Company (N.J.)
The collision occurred in Chesapeake Bay, a short distance below Sandy Point, Maryland, which is on the western shore of the Bay, during dense fog, on the night of November 2, 1946. The Halsted was at the time proceeding down the Bay from Baltimore, bound for Baltic ports, and the Camden was proceeding up the Bay from Sewell's Point, near Norfolk, bound for Baltimore. In the collision the port quarter of the Camden came into contact with the port side of the Halsted at the break of the forecastle head, causing fires to break out on both vessels, with considerable damage.
A short distance off shore from, and a little to the northeast of, Sandy Point, is a major lighthouse, 51 feet high, with a flashing light having a visibility of 13 miles, and equipped with a foghorn. Southwest of Sandy Point is a ferry slip from which a ferry runs across the Bay to and from Matapeake, on the eastern shore. The Bay, at this point, is about four miles wide, and on the night of the collision there were two ferryboats engaged in making the run, each about 200 feet in length, and each leaving one of the slips hourly, on the hour, the crossing requiring from 25 to 30 minutes.
The Halsted is a Liberty Ship of 7191 gross tons, 441.7 ft. in length, 57.1 ft. beam, and having engines of 2500 horsepower. The Camden is a tanker of 10296 gross tons, 504 ft. in length, 68.2 ft. beam, and having engines of 6000 horsepower. The full indicated speed of the Halsted was 10 1/2 knots, and that of the Camden, 15 knots. On the night of the collision the navigation of both vessels was in charge of licensed Maryland State pilots; the tide was flood, with a velocity of a knot to a knot and a half, and the wind was northeast, with a velocity of from three to six miles an hour.
All of the witnesses for both vessels, with the exception of Davis, the pilot on the Halsted, testified by deposition, and Davis testified at the trial.
The story of the collision, as told by the Halsted's witnesses, is as follows: The vessel left Baltimore at 8:43 PM on November 2, 1946, loaded with 6000 tons of coal in the lower holds, and with cattle and their fodder in the 'tween decks and in pens on deck. The weather was clear at the time, and after getting out into the channel, the vessel proceeded down the Bay at full speed. She passed Sandy Point Light, which was clearly seen, abeam to starboard, and about three-quarters of a mile distant, at 11:02 (deck time), at which time her course was set at 195 degrees true, and she continued on that course until just before the collision. At 11:10 (deck time), or eight minutes after passing Sandy Point Light, a light haze was seen coming in from the northeast in streamers- a patchy fog. The engines were thereupon placed on stand-by and the vessel commenced sounding fog signals at intervals of every 30 seconds. At about the same time, the Sandy Point Lighthouse started blowing fog signals.
Captain Maynard, the master of the Halsted, had been in his room since the vessel cleared Baltimore channel, and when he heard the Halsted's fog signals he immediately came to the bridge and found that the fog was 'coming about the vessel', with visibility reduced to 'a mile, mile and a half'. From then on until the collision the Halsted's navigating personnel consisted of Maynard, the master; Davis, the pilot; Olsen, the third mate, and a helmsman, all of whom were on the bridge, and a lookout on the forecastle head.
After Maynard reached the bridge, the engines were put on half speed ahead at 11:11 (deck time), and at 11:12 (deck time) they were stopped upon hearing fog signals from two vessels ahead, one bearing on the starboard bow and the other on the port bow. These vessels turned out to be the ferryboats John M. Dennis and Governor Harry B. Nice, plying between Sandy Point and Matapeake. Maynard testified that at the time the engines were stopped the Halsted was making 'in the neighborhood of perhaps 7 knots' through the water.
The first of the ferryboats to come into view was the Dennis, which had left Sandy Point for Matapeake at 11:02, and appeared off the Halsted's starboard bow, about a quarter of a mile away. By that time the fog had increased so that the visibility was only a quarter of a mile. The Dennis blew a three- blast signal, indicating that she was backing to enable the Halsted to pass, and at 11:13 (deck time) the Halsted's engines were put back at half speed to facilitate the crossing. The clearance between the two vessels when they passed was estimated by Davis at 500 feet, and by Maynard at a quarter of a mile.
After the Halsted had passed the Dennis, the red running light of the Governor Nice, which had left Matapeake for Sandy Point at 10:59, came into view off the Halsted's port bow, and at 11:15 (deck time) the Halsted's engines were put full speed ahead to clear her. The Governor Nice had stopped her engines in the meantime, and, as testified by Maynard, the Halsted crossed her bow at an estimated distance of a little more than a quarter of a mile, and at a speed 'in the neighborhood of five and a half to six knots: through the water.
The stern of the Halsted had hardly cleared the Governor Nice when the white masthead light of the Camden loomed up ahead, through the fog, bearing two to three degrees on the Halsted's starboard bow, followed almost immediately by the red and green running lights of the Camden. The visibility was then still only about a quarter of a mile, and the Halsted's rudder was at once placed hard right, and her engines were kept at full speed ahead, in an effort to avoid collision. The Camden, in turn, swung to her starboard, and the collision occurred at 11:17 Halsted deck time (11:20 Camden's time), about a minute after the white masthead light was first seen by the Halsted, the Camden's port quarter striking the port side of the Halsted a glancing blow, as already stated.
No signals other than fog signals were sounded by the Halsted at any time, and no signals were heard by the Halsted from the Camden except a single loud and long blast just before the collision.
The Camden's version of the collision is as follows: The vessel left Sewell's Point at about 1:00 PM on November 2, 1946, partly loaded with a cargo of gasoline and naptha, destined for Baltimore. The navigation north through Chesapeake Bay to within a short distance of the place of collision was without incident. About a half-hour before the collision, the weather conditions were 'absolutely clear'; the vessel was then below Thomas Point, proceeding at full speed of 16 knots over the ground, and there was no difficulty in observing the various navigational lights. The 16-knot speed continued up to the time of the collision. As the vessel proceeded on a course of 10 degrees true, Sandy Point Light was picked up, about 10 miles away. At about 11:08 the course was changed to 19 degrees true, and, according to the gyro compass course record, the vessel steadied on that course at 11:10, and so continued until just before the collision. The collision occurred at 11:20, according to the Camden's time.
The navigational personnel of the Camden, during the period just prior to the collision, consisted of Malm, the master; Worthington, the pilot; Filliaux, the third mate, and Hahn, the helmsman, all of whom were on the bridge, and ...