The opinion of the court was delivered by: RAYFIEL
Det Forenede Dampskibs-Selskab, A/S, as owner of the Colombia, and as bailee of her cargo, filed a libel against The Excalibur and her owner, American Export Lines, Inc., to recover the damages to her hull and cargo resulting from a collision between the two vessels. Thereafter the above-named respondent filed its libel against The Colombia and her owners to recover the damages which were sustained by The Excalibur as a result of the said collision. The libelant then filed its petition for exoneration from or limitation of liability. The claims of the owners of both vessels and of the cargoes carried by them at the time of the collision are covered by either the libelant's suit or the limitation proceeding. Without objection the two cases were tried together.
The Colombia, a single screw steel cargo vessel, with accommodations for some passengers, is about 146 feet long, 57 feet beam, 24 feet depth, 5,146 gross and 2,978 net tons register.
The Excalibur, a single screw steel combination passenger and cargo vessel, is about 452 feet long, 68 feet beam, 29 feet depth, 9,644 gross and 6,190 net tons register.
The Colombia was under the command of Captain Mikkelsen and was being directed by Pilot Jones, a licensed Sandy Hook pilot. The Excalibur was under the command of Captain Groves and was being directed by Pilot Beinert, also a licensed Sandy Hook pilot.
The collision between the vessels occurred at about 12:33 P.M. Eastern daylight saving time, on June 27, 1950, in the Main Ship Channel, at a point off Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, New York, several hundred yards northwest of the Junction Buoy. The Main Ship Channel is a chartered channel running from the mouth of the Hudson River, on the north and northeast, to the Narrows, on the south.
The weather was clear, the visibility excellent, the wind light, from the south, and the tide was ebbing at about 2 knots.
Reconstructing from the testimony, as I believed it, and the documentary evidence, the movements of the vessels involved and the events which occurred prior to the collision this is what happened.
Shortly after noon on June 27, 1950, The Colombia, inbound from Philadelphia, and headed for Pier 24, Brooklyn, passed through the Narrows, leading into New York Harbor. At about the same time The Excalibur, having left Pier D, Jersey City for Mediterranean ports, was headed toward the Narrows.
The Colombia, under the direction of Pilot Jones, passed through the Narrows, entered the channel, and proceeded along the starboard or Bay Ridge side thereof, following a course considerably east of midchannel. Her speed was about 12 knots, but owing to the aforementioned ebb tide she was traveling over the bottom at about 10 knots.
The Excalibur was then proceeding on her starboard (the westerly) side of the channel, the course usually followed by outbound vessels proceeding to the Narrows. Her speed was also about 12 knots but due to the said ebb tide she was traveling over the bottom at about 14 knots.
Just before The Excalibur reached Robbins Reef, in the upper harbor, where outbound vessels turn to port slightly to continue their course down the west or Staten Island side of the channel, Pilot Beinert first observed The Colombia, which at that time was entering the Narrows. At about the same time Pilot Jones observed The Excalibur for the first time. The ships were about three miles apart at the time. Their aggregate speed was about 24 knots.
When The Colombia passed through the Narrows she altered her course slightly to starboard so as to conform to the east channel line formed by the aforementioned Junction Buoy and Buoy 24, sometimes called the Owl's Head Buoy.
When The Excalibur reached a point approximately abeam of Robbins Reef it began a slow swing to port, which was the usual maneuver for outbound vessels, but, instead of straightening her course to continue down her starboard (the Staten Island) side of the channel, she continued to swing to port until she was almost dead ahead of The Colombia, even showing, as Pilot Jones testified, 'a little bit of her starboard side' and finally crossed over to the east or Brooklyn side of the channel. That was the first of the navigational faults committed by The Excalibur, since the Narrow Channel Rule, 33 U.S.C.A. § 210,- there is ample authority for holding that the waters herein involved constitute a narrow channel- required her, since it was safe and practicable so to do, to keep to her starboard side of the channel. Beinert testified that Captain Groves, the master of The Excalibur, had asked him to keep as close to Brooklyn as he could so that he might salute his home as he was going by.
In the La Bretagne case, 179 F. 286, 287, the Court of Appeals of this circuit, referring to the Main Ship Channel extending from Governor's Island to the Narrows, said: 'It is a well-known channel, charted and buoyed, and a steam vessel navigating it should follow the rule which requires her 'when it is safe and practicable' to keep to that side of the fairway ...