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GRACE LINE, INC. v. THE C. HAYWARD MESECK

February 28, 1957

GRACE LINE, Inc., as owner of THE SANTA ROSA, Libelant,
v.
THE C. HAYWARD MESECK, Respondent, Meseck Towing Lines, Claimant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: HERLANDS

This opinion states the findings and conclusions upon which the judgment is based. In dictating this opinion from the bench while the evidence and issues are fresh in mind, the Court is following the suggestion made by Circuit Judge Lumbard in Hecht, Levis & Kahn, Inc. v. S.S. President Buchanan, 2 Cir., 1956, 236 F.2d 627, 629.

In this admiralty cause, the libelant, Grace Line, Inc., as owner of the S.S. Santa Rosa, has brought an action against the Tug C. Hayward Meseck and its chartered owner, Meseck Towing Lines, Inc. Grace Line, Inc., is a Delaware corporation with a place of business in New York, and was at all material times the owner of the steamer Santa Rosa.

The action is based upon an accident which occurred on the afternoon of August 25, 1954, in the North River, New York. At that time, the Santa Rosa was engaged in maneuvers in order to dock at the north side of Pier 58. In this docking operation, the Santa Rosa was assisted by three tugs, Thomas Meseck, Eugene Meseck and C. Hayward Meseck. The libelant claims that, due to the negligence of the Tug C. Hayward Meseck, the port propeller of the Santa Rosa was damaged.

 The Santa Rosa had been at sea and its engines had been running continuously for several days. It arrived in New York Harbor on August 25, 1954, and was inbound for the purpose of docking on the north side of Pier 58. The North River runs north and south, while Pier 58 runs east and west. In its moored position, the bow of the vessel would be pointing eastward, toward Manhattan, and the starboard side of the vessel would be alongside of the north side of Pier 58.

 At all material times, the docking of the Santa Rosa was being carried on under the direction of a pilot furnished by Meseck, pursuant to a contract containing the New York Harbor Pilotage clause, whereby the pilot became an employee of Grace Line, Inc., while engaged in the performance of pilotage work.

 The pilot, Captain Alfred Rowohlt, has been employed by Meseck and its successor, Moran Towing, for about eleven years. He has served under unlimited master and pilot licenses for thirty-four years.

 As a docking master, he docks and undocks 500 to 700 vessels annually in New York Harbor. He is an experienced and competent master pilot.

 He has had specific familiarity with both the Santa Rosa and her twin sister ship, the Santa Paula, by virtue of his having docked and undocked both vessels 'on many occasions' prior to August 25, 1954, using the very same Meseck tugs as were used on August 25, 1954 (trial record pp. 94, 107). Captain Rowohlt made a persuasive and credible witness.

 The testimony of Captain Adler and Third Mate Lee, both of the Santa Rosa, likewise established that the Tug C. Hayward Meseck had, on a number of prior occasions, served as the aft assisting tug to the Santa Rosa (trial record pp. 15, 60). Captain Adler and Mate Lee impressed the Court with their reliability and credibility as witnesses.

 On the day in question, Captain Rowohlt took over the conn of the Santa Rosa at 4:30 p.m. In doing so, he relieved the Sandy Hook pilot. As was usual, when he came on the bridge, he conferred with the Santa Rosa's captain and made routine inquiries of the Sandy Hook pilot with regard to such matters as the engine room controls and tide conditions.

 Captain Rowohlt had assigned the three Meseck tugs to their respective positions before he boarded the Santa Rosa. The C. Hayward Meseck was assigned to the port stern quarter. The other two tugs were assigned to the port bow. The prearranged assignments of tugs represented a standard type of operation.

 Aside from the occurrence of the accident, all of the docking arrangements and maneuvers on August 25, 1954, were handled in the normal and routine manner. The overwhelming weight of the credible evidence establishes that there was nothing unusual or abnormal about any phase of the tugs' or ship's activities, operations and maneuvers, except for the negligence of the Tug C. Hayward Meseck. The Santa Rosa was handled in accordance with the normal practice and procedure (trial record pp. 104, 107).

 The C. Hayward Meseck has over 2,000 horsepower and it is considered one of the most powerful tugs in New York Harbor. The three tugs were in the assigned positions at the beginning of the docking operation, which started at about 1629 (4:29 p.m.).

 When Captain Rowohlt took over, the vessel was about 600 feet off the New York shore and in the neighborhood of Pier 45. At that time the vessel was going slowly. There was no necessity for giving the tugs any additional orders, for it was to be assumed that they would follow the usual procedure. Captain Adler, the captain of the vessel, was also at the bridge. The quartermaster was at the wheel. The weather was partly cloudy and hazy. According to the weather report for that day dealing with conditions at 17 Battery Place (Exhibit B), rain began at 1631 (4:31 p.m.) and ended at 1655 (4:55 p.m.). Pier 58 is located around 17th Street, which is a few miles from Battery Place. According to Captain Rowohlt, the weather actually encountered by the vessel during the same period consisted of two rain squalls lasting five or ten minutes. The evidence establishes that this rain had no effect whatsoever upon the operations with which we are concerned. There were no unusual tide or wind conditions. After the docking operation started at about 1629, the steamer's engines were used as follows: Port Engine Time Stbd. Engine Stop 1629 1/2 Stop Slow Ahead 1631 1/2 Slow Ahead Stop 1634 Stop Full Astern 1635 Full Astern Slow Ahead 1636 1/2 Slow Ahead Stop ...


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