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GREENE v. UNITED STATES

June 17, 1952

GREENE et al
v.
United States et al



The opinion of the court was delivered by: WRIGHT

This is a claim for salvage arising out of the torpedoing of the S.S. Thomas G. Masaryk while in convoy in the Mediterranean with a cargo of war materiel consigned to Russia. The vessel was subsequently beached and a portion of the cargo salvaged with the help of the libelants, who were members of the crew of the S.S. William M. Meredith, which vessel was in the same convoy with the Masaryk. The court, after due consideration of the pleadings, the evidence and the arguments of counsel, now makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.

Findings of Fact.

 1. On April 20, 1944 the S.S. Thomas G. Masaryk, a Liberty ship owned and operated by the United States of America, and carrying a cargo of Lend-Lease goods destined for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, was proceeding in the Mediterranean Sea about 100 miles east of Gibraltar when she was struck by a torpedo in the No. 3 hold. She commenced to burn and dropped out of the convoy. Thereupon her master and drew abandoned ship, were picked up by a British escort vessel and brought into Alexandria, Egypt. At the time her cargo consisted of airplanes, armored scout cars, ammunition, machine guns, jeeps, trucks, half-tracks, chemicals, food stuffs and steel rails.

 2. After the Masaryk dropped out of the convoy she was shelled at the water line by a British destroyer to allow sea water into her holds to extinguish the fire. Thereafter she was towed by the British Tug Wahlmouth and beached in 29 feet of water at the Bay of Bomba near Tobruk, North Africa. The Wahlmouth, a vessel 100 feet in length, carried a complement of ten men.

 3. The master of the Masaryk, Captain Robert Sloan, remained in command of his crew while they were temporarily at Alexandria. On April 27, 1944 eleven officers and crewmen in charge of Chief Mate Anthony J. Esposito rejoined the Masaryk where she lay in the Bay of Bomba. On May 2, 1944 Captain Sloan and seven officers and crewmen rejoined the Masaryk in the Bay of Bomba, bringing to a total of nineteen of the ship's company who had rejoined the vessel for the purpose of assisting in transferring cargo and lightening the Masaryk.

 4. H.M.S. Captive is a deep sea tug approximately 130 feet in length valued at $ 150,000 and especially equipped for salvage work. She carried a complement of approximately forty officers and men. From April 27, 1944 to June 7, 1944 the Captive remained alongside the Masaryk supplying her with steam, the use of her salvage equipment and the services of a diver. By using steam from the Captive, water in the holds of the Masaryk was constantly pumped out so as to enable cargo discharging operations to proceed; through the service of the Captive's diver and the use of her salvage equipment the opening in the side of the Masaryk caused by the torpedo and the shell holes were closed up and plugged. On June 7, 1944 the Masaryk was towed by the H.M.S. Captive from the Bay of Bomba to Port Said, Egypt, arriving there on June 10, 1944.

 5. H.M.S. Favourite, a deep sea tug valued at $ 150,000 and carrying a crew of some forty officers and men, stood by the Masaryk for approximately a week during the unloading operation.

 6. Throughout the period from May 2, 1944 to June 7, 1944 the nineteen crew members of the Masaryk worked in the holds of the vessel breaking out cargo to her deck from which it was loaded into the holds of the S.S. William M. Meredith, as will hereinafter appear.

 7. On May 4, 1944, fifty British colonial troops under the command of a British captain and sergeant came aboard the Masaryk and from that date until June 7, 1944 these colonial troops were engaged in stevedoring work unloading cargo from the holds of the Masaryk and loading it into the holds of the Meredith.

 8. The S.S. William M. Meredith, a Liberty ship owned and operated by the United States of America and valued at $ 1,500,000, was in the same convoy as the Masaryk. She completed her voyage with the convoy to Alexandria, Egypt, where she discharged her cargo. The libelants herein, Captain Leonard J. Greene and the crew of the Meredith, volunteered to return with the Meredith to the Bay of Bomba and assist in transferring the cargo aboard the Masaryk into the Meredith's holds. On April 30, 1944 the Meredith proceeded to the Bay of Bomba arriving alongside the Masaryk on May 2, 1944. The Meredith, in command of Captain Greene, carried a complement of forty-four officers and men.

 9. The Meredith used her booms and rigging for the purpose of transferring cargo from the deck of the Masaryk into the holds of the Meredith. Various of the forty-four members of the crew worked aboard the Meredith assisting in stowing cargo. From time to time members of the Meredith's crew worked on the deck of the Masaryk engaged principally in hosing down cargo taken from the Masaryk's hold.

 10. Aboard the Meredith throughout this operation and guarding the personnel and vessel engaged was a United States Navy armed guard crew of approximately twelve officers and men.

 11. Cargo aboard the Masaryk at the time she was loaded in an American port in April, 1944 totaled 6,700 tons, the sound condition value of which was in excess of $ 5,000,000. Of this cargo 3,040 tons were transferred to the Meredith. The interest of the United States in the salved cargo is found to be $ 1,000,000.

 12. The record does not clearly demonstrate who had legal title to the cargo of the Masaryk at the time in question. It was purchased by the United States for Russia and was being delivered in a United States vessel to Korhhamshar in the Persian Gulf for trans-shipment as directed by Russia. It further appears that in accordance with Article 5 of the Master Lend-Lease Agreement between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United States had a right to the return of such cargo as was not destroyed, lost or ...


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