The opinion of the court was delivered by: COOPER
This libel is brought to recover damages allegedly sustained by libelant's tanker, the National Defender, as a result of respondent's negligence during docking operations at the Port of Ras Tanura, Saudi Arabia. Jurisdiction of the Court is not disputed.
During the early morning hours of September 3, 1961, the National Defender
was being docked at Ras Tanura, a port operated by respondent Arabian American Oil Company, Inc. (hereinafter Aramco).
Harbor Pilot Smith, employed by Aramco, boarded the tanker at 0030 hours on September 3, 1961. The docking operation was completed and the vessel was secured portside to the dock at 0320 hours. Two tugs, Abqaiq I and Abqaiq II, owned by Aramco and operated by its employees, assisted in the docking. The Abqaiq I was on the starboard bow of the National Defender while the Abqaiq II positioned itself on the starboard side at the stern (Pre-Trial Order, P3(a), May 25, 1965).
The National Defender loaded a full cargo of fuel oil at Ras Tanura and departed near midnight on September 4th for Sasebo, Japan. The tanker arrived there on September 20, 1961, and commenced discharging its cargo later that same day. On September 21st, Virgil Hall, a consulting marine engineer and naval architect, while on inspection in a launch circling the vessel, observed damage to the hull of the vessel on its starboard side forward of the break of the forecastle head.
Libelant contends that the tug Abqaiq I, while assisting in docking operations at Ras Tanura, negligently struck the National Defender causing damage to its starboard side. The evidence adduced at trial before this Court, sitting without a jury, on the sole issue of liability indicates three significant factual areas of controversy.
Respondent, relying in the main on the testimony of tugboat Captain Jaber Mohammed, contends that the position of the Abqaiq I was such that it could not possibly have caused damage to the vessel in the area alleged.
Mohammed testified that he made his tug's front lines fast forward of the bridge, "about eight feet from the bridge"
When ordered to push by Aramco's Pilot Smith, he brought the tug forward until its lines were taut and then maneuvered the tug so that it was at a right angle to the vessel.
The distance between the bridge and the forecastle head is approximately 250 feet (Tr. 55). The lines on the tug were 150 feet in length (Tr. 147), and the distance from the water line to the main deck forward of the bridge was approximately 40 feet (Tr. 57). Relying on Mohammed's testimony that the lines were secured to the bitt forward of the bridge, respondent concludes that its "tug could not have gone forward at a greater distance than the midpoint between the bridge and the forecastle head,"
and therefore could not have caused damage to the hull forward of the break of the forecastle head.
The validity of respondent's conclusion depends entirely on where the tug's lines were fastened to the National Defender. For the reasons set forth below, we are convinced that the Abqaiq I positioned itself at a point further forward than that testified to by Mohammed.
Master Maycroft, Third Mate Florence, and Pilot Smith all agree that the tug came alongside the vessel in the vicinity of the break of the forecastle head and tied up through the chock just aft of there.
Smith testified that this was the normal position for the tug to take,
and had it positioned itself anywhere else he would have been informed (Smith depo. pp. 5, 42). It was Smith who determined how many tugs were to be used in docking and where they should be applied with respect to the vessel (Smith depo. p. 39).
There appear to be three chocks between the bridge and the forecastle head. Florence testified that "there is one down just where the forecastle head comes down to the main deck level. There is one just aft of there. Then the next one aft of that would be some distance * * *." (Florence depo. p. 43). The latter appears to be the chock ("C") marked on Exhibits 6 and 11, and alleged by Mohammed and respondent to be the one through which the tug's lines were secured.
We credit the testimony of Maycroft, Florence, and Smith on this particular issue, and in so doing disregard all of Mohammed's testimony which is inconsistent. We find that the tug's lines were fastened through the chock near the break of the forecastle head, and that ...