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MOORE-MCCORMACK LINES, INC. v. S.S. PORTMAR

January 12, 1966

MOORE-McCORMACK LINES, INC., Libellant,
v.
S.S. PORTMAR, her engines, etc., and Calmar Steamship Corporation, Respondent. CALMAR STEAMSHIP CORPORATION, as owner and operator of the S.S. Portmar, Cross-Libellant, v. S.S. MORMACGUIDE, her engines, etc., and Moore-McCormack Lines, Inc., as owner of the S.S. Mormacguide, Cross-Respondent


Bonsal, District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: BONSAL

BONSAL, District Judge.

These consolidated libels in admiralty *fn1" were brought as a result of the collision of the S.S. MORMACGUIDE and the S.S. PORTMAR, which occurred in the East River in the late evening of January 24, 1961. The starboard buff of the bow of the PORTMAR came into contact with the starboard side of the MORMACGUIDE about midships, causing damage to both vessels, which is the subject matter of the libels here involved. The collision took place on a clear, cold evening with unlimited visibility at approximately the middle of the eastern half of the channel in the East River between the Bronx shore and North Brother Island. *fn2" The libels were tried in admiralty, October 4-7, 1965.

 As to be expected when two ships collide on a clear night with unlimited visibility, the stories of the respective vessels are in sharp conflict. But, for the reasons hereinafter stated, the court finds that the collision was caused by the negligence of both vessels and that, accordingly, the damage must be borne equally by the libellants. The Catharine v. Dickinson, 58 U.S. (17 How.) 170, 15 L. Ed. 233 (1854).

 The Collision

 The MORMACGUIDE, *fn3" owned and operated by Moore-McCormack Lines, Inc., was proceeding from New Haven, Connecticut, bound for Camden, New Jersey. At the times here involved, her navigation was in charge of her master and the coast pilot, and with them on the bridge were the third mate and an able seaman, who was at the wheel. A lookout was stationed at the bow. The MORMACGUIDE had passed Barretto Point and was proceeding down the middle of the channel. As she approached the green light on the north end of North Brother Island at 23:19 p.m., she reduced her speed from full throttle to half ahead and commenced a port swing around the island. At 23:20 she observed the tug CELTIC (with a tow on her starboard side) proceeding northward in the eastern half of the channel and exchanged one-blast signals with the tug to indicate a port-to-port passing.

 Immediately following this exchange of signals with the CELTIC, Captain Drobish of the MORMACGUIDE observed the green light of a vessel (which later proved to be the PORTMAR) proceeding northward "near the Bronx shore " off Stony Point. *fn4" Drobish reported to the pilot, Hildreth, who blew a two-blast signal to indicate a starboard-to-starboard passing. No reply was heard from the PORTMAR, and approximately 30 seconds after the first two-blast, a second two-blast signal was blown. *fn5" Again no reply was heard.

 By this time, approximately two minutes before collision, the MORMACGUIDE had completed her port swing around North Brother and was passing the CELTIC. The MORMACGUIDE was on a steady course proceeding west of south down the East River. She was still in midchannel and could see only the green starboard light of the PORTMAR. Assuming that the vessels would pass starboard-to-starboard, the MORMACGUIDE again altered her course to the port at 23:21.25.

 The PORTMAR, *fn6" in the meantime, was proceeding east of north up the channel and was slightly west of midchannel. Her navigation was in charge of the master and a coast pilot, and on the bridge with them were the third officer and a man at the wheel. A lookout and the first mate were stationed at the bow. As the PORTMAR passed Lawrence Point at 23:20, *fn7" she observed the CELTIC and tow proceeding northward along North Brother Island and the tanker TERNOY discharging oil at Port Morris. Because of these observations, the PORTMAR reduced her speed at 23:21 from full speed to half ahead and blew a two-blast signal to the CELTIC requesting permission to overtake her on the tug's port side. No reply to this signal was heard.

 It appears that at 23:21 the PORTMAR had not yet observed the MORMACGUIDE nor had she heard the first two starboard-to-starboard passing signals from the MORMACGUIDE. It was not until after 23:21.5 that she sighted the MORMACGUIDE, which was then showing both her red and green side lights. *fn8" Just before 23:22 the PORTMAR blew a one-blast signal to the MORMACGUIDE proposing a port-to-port passing *fn9" and simultaneously put her helm hard right for the purpose of making such a passing. Since the MORMACGUIDE had begun her second port swing almost a minute earlier, collision became inevitable.

 The MORMACGUIDE did not hear the PORTMAR's one-blast, but observing the latter's swing to starboard, gave a third two-blast signal (a minute before the collision). The PORTMAR heard this signal and responded with her danger signal and put her engines full astern, and signalled the MORMACGUIDE that she had done so. The MORMACGUIDE put her engines full ahead and her helm hard right in an attempt to swing her stern clear of the PORTMAR. The collision followed at 23:23, when the PORTMAR struck the MORMACGUIDE amidships at a 45 degrees angle.

 The MORMACGUIDE

 It is undisputed that the Narrow Channel Rule (Art. 25 of the Inland Rules, 33 U.S.C. ยง 210) applies to the waters in which the collision occurred. See The Lexington (Transfer No. 15), 79 F.2d 252 (2d Cir.1935). The Narrow Channel Rule provides as follows:

 
"Art. 25 [33 U.S.Code 210.]
 
In narrow channels every steam vessel shall, when it is safe and practicable, keep to that side of the fairway or mid-channel which lies on ...

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