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IN RE BLOOMFIELD S.S. CO.

April 11, 1969

Petition of BLOOMFIELD STEAMSHIP COMPANY, as Owner of the LUCILE BLOOMFIELD, for exoneration from or limitation of liability. Petition of A/S J. LUDWIG MOWINCKELS REDERI, as Owner of the MOTOR VESSEL RONDA, for exoneration from or limitation of liability. BLOOMFIELD STEAMSHIP COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
A/S J. LUDWIG MOWINCKELS REDERI, Defendant


MacMahon, District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: MACMAHON

MacMAHON, District Judge.

The SS Lucile Bloomfield ("Bloomfield"), owned by the Bloomfield Steamship Company, collided with the M/V Ronda, owned by A/S J. Ludwig Mowinckels Rederi, in international waters outside LeHavre, France on October 1, 1963. The Bloomfield, outbound, continued on her voyage to Antwerp. The Ronda, inbound, proceeded to LeHavre where she capsized the following day. Her entire cargo, valued at over $2 million, was lost.

 The petitions of both vessels for exoneration from, or limitation of, liability have already been consolidated, and we grant the Bloomfield's post-trial motion for consolidation of her action against the Ronda for collision damages. Since the Ronda has already settled with cargo claimants, the questions presented for decision are limited to whether the Bloomfield is entitled to exoneration from, or limitation of, liability and to whether the Ronda is liable to the Bloomfield for collision damages and for indemnification for claims asserted against the Bloomfield by the cargo claimants in this proceeding.

 The legal ramifications of this collision have been litigated in a number of jurisdictions. The English courts have held, in a suit commenced by the Ronda against the Bloomfield, that both vessels are jointly liable for the collision and consequent loss of the Ronda. *fn1" The Ronda and cargo claimants argue that the English judgments should collaterally estop the Bloomfield from relitigating the issue of her liability. The competency of the English courts to determine liability on the part of both vessels has not been challenged. We therefore hold that the English judgments bar a relitigation of the issue of liability between the parties to those judgments, the Ronda and the Bloomfield. *fn2"

 In light of the recently developing case law removing the barrier of mutuality of estoppel, *fn3" we also hold that the English judgments bar a relitigation of the issue of liability between the Bloomfield and cargo claimants.

 These propositions, however, were presented to us by motion for summary judgment on the eve of trial. The cases are complex, have been pending in this court for more than five years and already have been litigated in many other tribunals. The availability of collateral estoppel to a nonparty to the former judgment is an evolving, rather than an established, doctrine. The judicial time and effort necessary to thorough analysis of the facts as a prerequisite to summary judgment would equal or exceed the time and effort necessary for trial and decision. Summary judgment, with ever-lurking issues of fact, is always a treacherous shortcut and, in cases like these, too fragile a foundation for so heavy a load. Such relief is always discretionary, and in cases posing complex issues of fact and unsettled questions of law, sound judicial administration dictates that the court withhold judgment until the whole factual structure stands upon a solid foundation of a plenary trial where the proof can be fully developed, questions answered, issues clearly focused and facts definitively found. *fn4" These considerations impelled us to deny the motion for summary judgment and to proceed to trial with a view to bringing finality to this already protracted litigation.

 The cases essentially raise four questions, and we will consider them in the following sequence: (1) liability for the collision; (2) post-collision liability; (3) limitation of liability and (4) Bloomfield's claims against the Ronda.

 LIABILITY FOR THE COLLISION

 In mid-evening on October 1, 1963, the Bloomfield left the port of LeHavre outbound for Antwerp. A pilot was aboard conning the vessel. The Bloomfield left the breakwaters of LeHavre at 2159 proceeding on a westerly course at an estimated speed of 11 knots.

 Captain Webb of the Bloomfield first sighted a ship, later identified as the inbound Ronda, when the Bloomfield was approaching the A1-B1 entrance buoys to LeHavre. He estimated the Ronda was four or five miles away, 10 degrees off the Bloomfield's port bow, about one and one-half to two miles southeast of the LeHavre light vessel. *fn5" All estimates of the distance and bearing of the Ronda were visual. At no time were bearings taken by instruments, although the Bloomfield had fully operative radar equipment aboard. *fn6"

 The Bloomfield then proceeded under a slow ahead order along a westerly course aiming for the position where she was to disembark the pilot. The point was midway between B1 and C2 buoys. The Bloomfield was moving along at approximately nine or ten knots with the foul ground on its port side. Before reaching the pilot vessel, the Bloomfield proceeded under a stop bell for five minutes.

 The Bloomfield now made ready to disembark the pilot by making a slow turn to starboard, and at completion was heading about 10 degrees east of north, dead in the water. The Bloomfield did not signal to indicate the starboard turn. *fn7" According to Captain Webb's testimony, the turn altered the Bloomfield's course in relation to the Ronda from a starboard passing to a crossing situation. *fn8" Captain Webb and the pilot once again sighted the Ronda. They could see her mast lights and range lights open and could also see her green side lights. They estimated that the Ronda was about one and one-half miles away and 45 degrees, or four points, off the Bloomfield's port bow. No estimate was made of her speed. *fn9"

 Captain Webb and the pilot then left the bridge. Captain Webb took a position on the forward extreme of the starboard bow in order to watch the pilot descend into the pilot boat. There were floodlights rigged behind him focusing on the ladder and pilot boat and booms and rigging in front, making it virtually impossible for him to keep a watch on the Ronda. *fn10" He neither ordered, nor was there given to him, a report from the lookout, stationed further forward in the bow, as to the bearing of the Ronda. *fn11"

 Approximately four or five minutes after the pilot left the bridge, Captain Webb once again sighted the Ronda. He observed that the mast lights and range lights had opened further, and he also observed the green side lights. He estimated the Ronda to be one-half mile away still four points off the port bow. *fn12" He then became apprehensive that a collision was imminent and became concerned that the Ronda was not reacting in full appreciation of the danger. *fn13" He did not, however, blow the danger signal. *fn14" The captain admitted on cross-examination that at this point, the vessels may well have been on a course that would have allowed them to pass without colliding if the Bloomfield had remained dead in the water. *fn15" It all depended, he stated, on their proximity, and since the sightings were all visual he could not be sure of the exact distance separating the two vessels. *fn16"

 Concerned about the imminence of a collision and not certain about the proximity of the two vessels, he ordered a hard right in order to allow the vessels to pass parallel. The Bloomfield sounded one blast indicating a turn to starboard. It was answered immediately with a two-blast signal. The captain then quickly ordered full astern and the Bloomfield blew a three-blast signal. *fn17" One minute later, the ships collided. Captain Webb estimated the speed of the Bloomfield at one or two knots astern and the Ronda at six or eight knots forward at the time of the collision. He further estimated that the angle of collision was 80 degrees between the starboard bow of the Ronda and the port bow of the Bloomfield. *fn18"

 The ships remained together for less than a minute. The Bloomfield put her lights on the Ronda, exchanged identification by radio and offered assistance. The Bloomfield, after ascertaining the extent of her damage, proceeded on her voyage to Antwerp. *fn19"

 The Ronda, in the period of time immediately prior to the collision, was proceeding inbound to pick up a pilot in order to enter LeHavre. Her course was 125 degrees true, 126 degrees by gyro. The captain laid out a course of 109 degrees true, 110 degrees by gyro. *fn20" Feeling pain from a knee injury sustained on a prior voyage, he decided to go below and instructed the second officer to call him when the vessel was approaching the LeHavre-2 light buoy, in the vicinity of the pilot ship. The time was 2200; he did not return to the bridge until 2210. *fn21"

 Upon returning to the bridge, the captain ordered full ahead, followed within thirty seconds by slow ahead. Also upon his return at 2210, the captain ordered the lookout to leave his post to aid in the pickup of the pilot. So, from 2210 until collision, it is undisputed that the ship did not have a lookout either on the forecastle head or on the bridge. It is equally undisputed, indeed admitted, that during this period no one else reported to the captain as to the distance and bearing of any ship. *fn22" The Ronda, a mile north of the LeHavre-2 light buoy, was proceeding toward the pilot vessel intending to keep the vessel 15 degrees to 20 ...


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