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MYSTIC S.S. CORP. v. M/S ANTONIO FERRAZ

March 26, 1973

MYSTIC STEAMSHIP CORPORATION, Plaintiff,
v.
M/S ANTONIO FERRAZ, her engines, etc. and Navegacao Mercantil S.A., Defendants. Action No. 1. NAVEGACAO MERCANTIL, S.A., Plaintiff, v. The TUG BETTY MORAN, her engines, tackle, apparel, etc., Midland Enterprises, Inc. and Moran Towing Corporation, Defendants. Action No. 2


Bonsal, District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: BONSAL

Bonsal, District Judge.

These consolidated actions in admiralty *fn1" were brought as a result of a collision of the Barge EASTERN NO. 2 (the "Barge") and the M/S ANTONIO FERRAZ ("Ferraz") which collision occurred in the early morning of June 11, 1968 at the entrance of Chesapeake Bay off Cape Henry, Virginia. The place of the collision was just outside of the area where Navigation Rules for Inland Waters (33 U.S.C. §§ 151-232) ("Inland Rules") apply. The starboard quarter of the Barge came into collision with the bow of the Ferraz, causing damage to both vessels. The collision took place on a clear morning with visibility of at least 8 miles. *fn2" The actions were tried in admiralty on November 15 and 20, 1972.

 As is to be expected when two ships collide, the stories of the two vessels are in sharp conflict. However, for reasons hereinafter stated, the court finds that the collision was caused by the negligence of both vessels and that, accordingly, the damage will be borne equally by the parties. The Schooner Catharine v. Dickinson, 58 U.S. (17 How.) 170, 177, 15 L. Ed. 233 (1854); Moore-McCormack Lines, Inc. v. SS Portmar, 249 F. Supp. 464 (S.D.N.Y. 1966). See Weyerhaeuser Steamship Co. v. United States, 372 U.S. 597, 603, 83 S. Ct. 926, 10 L. Ed. 2d 1 (1963).

 The Collision

 At approximately 12:15 a.m. on June 11, 1968, the Tug BETTY MORAN (the "Tug") *fn3" which was under bareboat charter to and operated by the Moran Towing Corporation ("Moran"), a New York corporation, picked up the Barge from Lamberts Point, Norfolk, Virginia for a voyage to New York City. At the times here involved, the Tug was under the navigation of her mate, James Brogan, and with him on his watch were a deckhand, Mr. John Buban, and an engineer. The deckhand served as the lookout and was stationed in the wheelhouse. The Barge, owned by the Mystic Steamship Corp. ("Mystic"), a Delaware corporation, and certified to sail unmanned, was a converted liberty ship with no propulsion machinery or crew space. She had a length of 444 feet and a beam of 57 feet. For this voyage, she was loaded with a cargo of 13,000 tons of coal and had a draft of 27 feet 7 inches forward and 31 feet and 4 inches aft. The towing means consisted of a chain about 60 feet long which ran from the bow of the Barge through a bull nose and which was shackled onto a steel wire hawser about 2 1/4 inches in diameter. The hawser was wound onto a drum on the steering engine at the stern of the Tug.

 The Tug and Barge proceeded out of Norfolk around Sewell's Point and down Thimble Shoal Channel at a speed of about 8 knots. When the Tug and Barge got to the end of Thimble Shoal Channel, an area where the Inland Rules apply, the hawser was let out to 1500 feet and the Tug set a course of 105 degrees true. Just before the Tug got abeam of buoy R "2" Horn, it slowly changed its course to starboard to 135 degrees true. When the Tug steadied on this course, Captain Brogan noticed the green starboard running light and the white range lights which were open to the right of a vessel (which later turned out to be the Ferraz) about 5 to 10 degrees off the starboard bow of the Tug, in the vicinity of buoy "2 CB," which distance he estimated to be 7 miles. When he first noticed the Ferraz, he thought that she was on a diversion course from the Tug and that if both vessels continued to hold their respective courses, the ships would pass starboard-to-starboard with approximately 1/2 to 3/4 mile apart.

 Meanwhile, the Ferraz, *fn4" owned and operated by Navegacao Mercantil, S.A. ("Navegacao"), a Brazilian corporation, was proceeding northwest at a speed of about 12 1/2 knots and on a course of 273 degrees true towards Cape Henry, Virginia, where arrangements had been made for the ship to take on a pilot for Baltimore. The navigation of the Ferraz was in charge of her master; with him on the bridge were the first, second, and third mates and a helmsman. There were also two lookouts on the prow of the ship, and the bosun and a seaman were stationed on the bow. At about 3:45 a.m., in preparing to take on the pilot, the Ferraz changed her course to starboard *fn5" and put her engines on standby. Between 3:45 and 4:00, the speed of her engines varied between a complete shutdown and slow forward. At about 4:00 a.m., the watch on the Ferraz changed as she navigated to pick up a pilot.

 Captain Brogan, of the Tug, testified that when the Ferraz was about 3/4 mile away, he observed both her red and green sidelights and that her range lights were in line, indicating that the Ferraz had altered her course to starboard. He flashed his light twice at the Ferraz to indicate a starboard-to-starboard passing and to show that he had a tow. Receiving no reply, he repeated the signal 15 seconds later, but again received no reply. Captain Brogan then gave two blasts from his horn, repeating this again, but still received no reply. Noting that the Ferraz would miss the Tug, Captain Brogan slowed down to let the towing hawser fall to the bottom, and turned his searchlight on the Barge for about 6 to 7 seconds.

 The evidence indicates that the Tug was first observed by the Ferraz at about 4:03 a.m., approximately 3 minutes before the collision, and those on the Ferraz observed the Tug crossing the bow of the Ferraz from port to starboard at about 4:04 a.m., approximately 2 minutes before the collision. *fn6" By their depositions, the crew of the Ferraz testified that they did not see or hear any signals from the Tug, and that they did not signal to the Tug. They also testified that when the Tug was first observed, the engines of the Ferraz were stopped and she was proceeding on her own momentum at not more than 3 knots. About 2 minutes before the collision, the crew of the Ferraz first observed the Barge, and her engines were reversed at half speed. About half a minute later, her engines were stopped, but after another half minute (which was one minute before the collision) her engines were reversed at full speed. The helmsman of the Ferraz was ordered to alter course slightly to starboard approximately one minute before the collision.

 The collision occurred at about 4:06 a.m. when the Barge came into contact with the bow of the Ferraz at an angle of about 60 degrees. *fn7"

 The Tug

 Captain Brogan testified that the Barge was less maneuverable with a long hawser than with a short hawser since the Barge would swing out more when the Tug turned and that with a long hawser he estimated that it would take four minutes to change the course of the Barge 10 degrees. Therefore, in lengthening the hawser to 1500 feet at the end of Thimble Shoal Channel, the Barge became less maneuverable. As Captain Brogan testified that he had towed barges between Norfolk and New York at least 60 times and perhaps a hundred times, he should have known that his course passed the area off Cape Henry where vessels coming into the Bay picked up pilots for Norfolk or Baltimore. The total length of the towline which was about 1560 feet (1500 ft. hawser plus 60 ft. chain) exceeded the maximum length of 450 feet as provided for in the Inland Rules, which applied to the area at the end of Thimble Shoal Channel. (33 U.S.C. § 152; 33 C.F.R. § 84.10). The total length of the flotilla (Tug and Barge) was about 2160 feet, and such a length made the flotilla more vulnerable to collision in the pilot area.

 The Tug and Barge proceeded into international waters, and when the Ferraz was about 3/4 mile off the starboard bow of the Tug, Captain Brogan testified, he thought that the situation would be a crossing one. Under Rule 19 of the International Rules (33 U.S.C. § 1081): *fn8"

 
"When two power-driven vessels are crossing, so as to involve risk of collision, the vessel which has the other on her own starboard side ...

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