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AMERICAN PRESIDENT LINES, LTD. v. THE TOWBOAT SENE

December 21, 1966

AMERICAN PRESIDENT LINES, LTD., as owner of the S.S. PRESIDENT GRANT, Libelant,
v.
The TOWBOAT SENECA, her engines, etc., and the James McWilliams Blue Line, Inc., Respondent-Claimant. UNITED STATES of America, Libelant, v. S.S. PRESIDENT GRANT, her engines, etc., and American President Lines, Ltd., Claimant-Respondent-Petitioner, v. TOWBOAT SENECA, her engines, etc., and James McWilliams Blue Line, Inc., Impleaded Respondent


Ryan, District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: RYAN

RYAN, District Judge.

There are two suits in the Admiralty before the Court for trial.

 A libel has been filed by AMERICAN PRESIDENT LINES, LTD., as owner of the SS PRESIDENT GRANT against the Towboat SENECA and owner JAMES McWILLIAMS BLUE LINE INC., for damage to the propeller of the SS PRESIDENT GRANT (61 Admiralty 1449).

 A libel has also been filed by the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA against the SS PRESIDENT GRANT and AMERICAN PRESIDENT LINES, LTD., in which the Towboat SENECA and JAMES McWILLIAMS BLUE LINE, INC., were impleaded for damages and statutory penalty (33 U.S.C. §§ 411, 412) resulting from the sinking of the Lighted Bell Buoy, Light List #1868, at the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal Junction on July 26, 1961 (65 Admiralty 955).

 Both suits were consolidated by the Court at trial for all purposes. By stipulation, orally stated on the record, the claim of the Government was admitted by concession that the SS PRESIDENT GRANT on July 12, 1961 sustained some possible damage to her propeller, by striking and damaging the buoy in suit to the amount of $3,757.00 for which it was primarily liable and that it had incurred a statutory penalty of $500.00 for which judgment was to be entered in favor of the Government against the SS PRESIDENT GRANT and her owner without interest or costs. This left for trial only the issue as to the liability of the respective ships and owners.

 The SS PRESIDENT GRANT is 465.25 feet long, 69.5 feet wide, and 33.9 feet deep to bulkhead deck, 29.3 feet maximum draft with 8500 SHP. She has one propeller, with right handed screw when turning ahead, of a diameter of 21.4 feet and pitch of 21.083 feet. Her maximum speed with engines on "full ahead" is 60 rpm maneuvering (or about eight knots); half ahead, 40 rpm maneuvering; slow ahead 20 rpm maneuvering.

 The SS PRESIDENT GRANT, with its Master Leon S. Goltzer on the bridge, was proceeding from Baltimore to New York via the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal; the actual conning was done by Captain Robert G. MacIntyre, a licensed Delaware Bay and River and Chesapeake and Delaware Canal Pilot. The ship struck the buoy as she was exiting from the eastern end of the Canal, while under way into the Delaware River.

 The Towboat SENECA is 89.2 feet long, 23 feet wide, and 11 feet deep; the forward part of the wheelhouse to the stem of the vessel is 15 feet 8 inches. The distance between the deck of the wheelhouse and the main deck is 2.3 feet (plus 4 inch portable platform upon which the navigator stands); and the distance from the waterline abeam the wheelhouse to the main deck is 3 feet 8 inches. She has a right handed screw when turning under speeds ahead. Her maximum speed full ahead is 7-7 1/2 knots; half ahead 4 knots; and slow ahead 2 1/2-3 knots. The SENECA's power in reverse is approximately 80% as compared with full power ahead, and it takes about 9 seconds for her propeller to move to full power astern from full ahead when full astern is ordered from the bridge.

 The SENECA had a barge close along her port side attached by a head line, a tow line and a stern line. The barge was square ended, 1039 gross tons, 215.1 feet in length, 42.1 feet in breadth and 13.1 feet in depth. The SENECA was a tugboat designed for towing and her maneuverability was in no way affected by having the barge attached close to her port side.

 Traffic through the canal is controlled through radio telephone by the tug patrol boat "Escort", which issues traffic instructions for vessels entering the canal. Both the SS PRESIDENT GRANT and the SENECA are equipped with radio telephone and both ships were in communication with the ESCORT; the SENECA, at Pea Patch Island (which is north of the Canal) prior to the incident, concerning the order of her entry in to the canal, and the SS PRESIDENT GRANT after the incident to report her striking the buoy.

 It is the contention of the SS PRESIDENT GRANT and her owner that at about 22.51 hours on July 12, 1961, she was exiting the eastern end of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal into the Delaware River. The Towboat SENECA and her tow were observed to the south of the fairway channel and clear of it. At the time, the tug was showing a green sidelight and regulation white lights. Still showing the same sidelight, the tug and tow suddenly moved into the fairway. To avoid collision, the SS PRESIDENT GRANT came hard left and was forced to strike Junction Buoy Light List #1869. As a result of negligent crowding of the fairway by the tug, it is contended the buoy was sunk and the SS PRESIDENT GRANT incurred damage to her propeller.

 It is the contention of the tug SENECA that she remained clear of the entrance channel of the canal and at no time did either the SENECA or her tow in any way crowd or embarrass the navigation of the SS PRESIDENT GRANT, which was on a collision course with the buoy.

 The SENECA intended to proceed westbound through the canal. She reached waters in the vicinity of Reedy Island with barge in tow about 22.30 hours on July 12, 1961. Captain Churchill contacted the ESCORT for clearance to enter the canal and was informed that five ships were eastbound through the canal and that clearance for the SENECA to enter would be given after the first two had left the eastern end of the canal. The SS PRESIDENT GRANT was the second of these ships (the first exited and proceeded without later incident). After receipt of clearance advice, the SENECA and her tow proceeded to a ship's anchorage area which lies westward of the main Delaware River Channel and Reedy Point Range and to the south of the entrance channel leading to the canal, to await its turn and the passage of the two ships, the second of which was the SS PRESIDENT GRANT. There were two or three ships anchored in the anchorage area. The SENECA came to a position north of the stern of the ship anchored furthest to the north in the anchorage. She cut down the forward speed of her engines and planned to maintain only sufficient forward power to keep her position against the northwesterly 2 knot current in the area positioning her self in a southwesterly heading 50 to 75 feet off the stern of the anchored vessel. This was at about 22.45.

 It was a dark but clear night; the visibility was good; the wind was light southerly; the tide was flood in a northwesterly direction of about 2 knots. While in the anchorage according to the Master, the SENECA had clear sight of canal traffic to a point in the vicinity of Biddle Point, which her Master testified he would not have seen had he been in or near the entrance of the canal because at that point the bridge blocks the view up the Canal. Although he had no occasion to check his time, he testifed that he was in the anchorage as above described a total of 5 to 10 minutes, but that within a few minutes of his arrival, he sighted the lights of the SS PRESIDENT GRANT proceeding east through the Canal. It was the purpose of the SENECA to remain astern the anchored vessel while waiting for the SS PRESIDENT GRANT to exit from the Canal before the SENECA would drift northward to enter the canal ...


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