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AMERICAN TRADING & PROD. CORP. v. THE ST. JOHN

July 30, 1953

AMERICAN TRADING & PRODUCTION CORPORATION
v.
THE ST. JOHN (Amboy Towboats, Inc., claimant-respondent.) THE BALTIMORE TRADER. THE ST. CHARLES



The opinion of the court was delivered by: INCH

In this admiralty suit libelant, American Trading & Production Corporation, as owner of the SS Port Republic (now named SS Baltimore Trader), seeks to recover damages sustained by said vessel on December 31, 1947 when it went aground at Steep Rocks in the vicinity of Hell Gate east of the Triborough Bridge. The libel alleges in rem liability of the attending tugs St. John and St. Charles, and in personam liability of their owner, the respondent Amboy Towboats, Inc.

Libelant engaged the services of Amboy Towboats, Inc. for two tugs to attend and assist the Port Republic from her anchorage off Pier 13, Stapleton, Staten Island up the East River and through Hell Gate to a dock at 138th St., Bronx, New York. Amboy Towboats, Inc. also furnished a licensed pilot, Captain Finley, one of its tugboat captains, to act as pilot of the vessel under a contract which expressly provided as follows:

'Pilotage: When the captain of any tug furnished to or engaged in the service of assisting a vessel which is making use of her own propelling power, goes on board such vessel, or any other licensed pilot goes on board such vessel, it is understood and agreed that such tugboat captain or licensed pilot becomes the servant of the owner of the vessel assisted in respect to the giving of orders to any of the tugs furnished to or engaged in the assisting service and in respect to the handling of such vessel, and neither those furnishing the tugs and/or pilot nor the tugs, their owners, agents, charterers, operators or managers shall be liable for any damage resulting therefrom.'

 The Port Republic was a T-2 tanker approximately 525 feet in length, 68.2 feet in breadth and 39.2 feet in depth. The vessel was loaded with a cargo of fuel oil, shipped aboard at Texas.

 The Port Republic left the Stapleton anchorage at 11:23 a.m. on December 31, 1947. The tugs, which were steam tugs of the Shipping Board class, took a position alongside the tanker at about her midships, the St. John on the tanker's port side and the St. Charles on the starboard side. Each tug had one manila line out from its bow to a bitt in the well deck on its side of the tanker, immediately forward of the bridge. The line put out by the St. John was 6 inches in circumference, and the St. Charles' line was 7 inches.

 It was agreed between the master of the Port Republic and Captain Finley, the pilot furnished by respondent, that for this trip full harbor speed for the vessel would be 60 revolutions, half speed 40 revolutions and slow speed 20 revolutions. According to both her deck and engine room bell books, the vessel proceeded generally at slow speeds, that is slow ahead or half ahead, from the time she left Stapleton at 11:23 a.m. until 12:54 p.m. However, at 12:54 p.m. her engines were increased to full ahead and remained at that speed for at least 33 minutes, or a few minutes before she stranded at 1:30 p.m.

 The ship with the tugs alongside, hanging on, proceeded up the East River and at Blackwell's Island held to the channel to the west of the Island. Throughout the entire trip from Stapleton to the point of stranding, the Port Republic used her own engines and steering gear.

 There is substantial testimony from the tug crews that while the tanker proceeded up the channel to the west of Blackwell's Island against an ebb tide both tugs experienced considerable difficulty in maintaining their positions alongside the tanker, and this is borne out by the subsequent events. It was their testimony that despite the efforts of the tug captains at their wheels, the excessive speed of the Port Republic caused the tugs to list, pitch and roll and at times to 'climb' the side of the tanker.

 When the Port Republic reached a point in the East River, which the witnesses variously described as somewhere between 62nd Street and 81st Street, Manhattan, the line from the St. John parted. The tug attempted to again catch up with the Port Republic, but was unable to do so. Shortly thereafter, and before the Port Republic reached the Hallets Point light, the master of the St. Charles blew an alarm and caused his line to be cast off the Port Republic. Fearing that his tug could not pass between the tanker and submerged rocks off Hallets Point, he stopped the tug's engines, but because of the suction of the Port Republic or the ebb tide, or both, the forward end of the St. Charles was drawn toward the Port Republic. The master of the St. Charles then reversed his engines full astern, but the bow of the tug came into collision with the starboard side of the tanker near the stern. This contact damaged the tug's superstructure and cracked the throttle valve on the tug's main engine, permitting steam to escape, and disabling the tug.

 It is clear from the deposition of Captain Hicks, master of the Port Republic, that the collision occurred before the tanker made the first turn at Hallets Point, that is the first of two turns going through Hell Gate. He stated:

 'A. As I visualize it in my mind and as I see it, it required the execution of two turns, one slightly to the right, and then one much more pronounced to the port.

 'Q. And that was some time prior to the execution of those two turns that this occurrence (the collision) occurred? A. Yes, just prior.'

 As to what transpired after the tugs left the ship the Captain testified:

 'A. After we found ourselves without tugs in discussion between Captain Finley, the pilot, and myself he told me we would need more revolutions on the engine to negotiate the turns if we were at all to come through Hell Gate. As I am reminded by my statement to the Coast Guard, her maneuvering speed was sixty revolutions for full speed. At the moment I was advised by Captain Finley of needing more speed I called the engine room by telephone, as I recall, and advised them to ...


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