The opinion of the court was delivered by: BYERS
This case involves a collision between two tows proceeding in opposite directions in Newark Bay on September 6, 1951 at about 1:35 a.m. The night was dark, but visibility was good, and weather conditions played no part in the happening; the waters were calm and if both navigators had been alert to their duties, the collision should not have occurred.
The exact place is not in dispute, namely at the northeast abutment of the Central Railroad bridge as it crosses Newark Bay, on its northerly side.
Both tows were endeavoring to pass under the easterly span of that bridge, the width of the channel being 134 feet.
The southbound tow consisted of the libelant's tank barge Hygrade No. 16 (fully laden with fuel oil) which was being pushed by the diesel tug Carmelite II.
The Hygrade is 214.5 feet in length and her beam is 43.15 feet. The tug is 83.4 feet in length and has a beam of 22.5 feet; thus the tow was about 300 feet long.
The northbound tow consisted of the steam tug Jackson which was pushing the dump scows 57 and 56, that is, the latter was made fast to the starboard of the former, and the tug was pushing the 56. These scows were fully laden with sand, and their dimensions as to length cannot be stated because the record was never clarified on this subject. The oral stipulation was that the 57 was 120 feet long by 42.5 beam, and the 56 was 165 feet long with a beam of 42.6.
The captain of the tug, who professed entire familiarity with the subject for persuasive reasons, stated that the scows each were 225 feet long. The fore and aft dimensions of the scows is important only with reference to the actual difference in the ability of the navigator of the Jackson to accurately state the distance of his tug south of the bridge at the time he made certain observations later to be referred to.
Fortunately there is no dispute as to the width of the scows as above stated, but since they were made up alongside there was probably a foot or two of water between them, making the over-all width of the Jackson tow somewhat in excess of 85 feet.
The Jackson is 77 feet long with a beam of 20 feet, and thus the length of this tow cannot be clearly stated.
Both tows were of course navigable but somewhat unwieldy.
There is no criticism of the horsepower of either tug and it is agreed that all proper lights were showing, namely running lights as to each tug and staff lights as to the Carmelite tow and corner lights on the outside corners of the Jackson tow.
The sum of the respective widths of these tows is somewhat in excess of 128 feet, and while a safe passage in a channel 134 feet wide was mathematically possible, as a practical matter it was a perilous thing to undertake.
The master of the Jackson expressed the situation with engaging frankness:
'Q. Is it customary to pass through that draw? A. Well, everybody that does that is a damned fool to my estimation, and I don't mean to insult anybody -- not in a draw that is only one hundred and thirty-four feet wide.'
The westerly draw of the bridge was closed to navigation at this time by reason of dredging operations being conducted in that channel. This fact was known to Masso, the mate who was navigating the Carmelite, but was not clearly understood by Ulrich, the captain of the Jackson until he was within less than 1,000 feet of the bridge. Since he would not in any case have tried to use the west draw, he was following customary practice in heading for the east draw.
There was a flood tide favoring the Jackson, with a force of about one-half knot.
The foregoing conditions are not in dispute, and therefore no ...