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MATTER COMPLAINT GRACE LINE INC. (05/20/75)

decided: May 20, 1975; As Amended June 11, 1975.

IN THE MATTER OF THE COMPLAINT OF GRACE LINE INC., PLAINTIFF, AS OWNER OF THE STEAMSHIP SANTA LEONOR, FOR EXONERATION FROM OR LIMITATION OF LIABILITY. IMPERIAL COMMODITIES CORP., ET AL., CLAIMANTS-APPELLANTS. THE TUPMAN THURLOW CO., INC., W. WEDDEL & COMPANY, LTD., FRIGORIFICO MEATEX, SAMPCO INC., LIEBIG'S EXTRACT OF MEAT CO., LTD., OXO FOODS LIMITED, MEAT PACKING DIVISION OF INTERNATIONAL PRODUCTS CORP. AND TILLIE LEWIS FOODS, INC., CLAIMANTS-APPELLANTS. SEED & FEEDING CORPORATION, SUB-PRODUCTOS GRANDEROS, S.A., HATHAWAY ALLIED PRODUCTS, MOHAWK INDUSTRIES LTD. AND BOYD, PHILLIPS & CO., LIMITED, CLAIMANTS-APPELLANTS. GRACE LINE INC., APPELLEE


Appeal from a judgment of the District Court for the Southern District of New York, Thomas P. Griesa, Judge, granting plaintiff's petition for exoneration from liability for loss of cargo resulting from the sinking of one of its ships. Affirmed.

Hays, Gurfein and Van Graafeiland, Circuit Judges.

Author: Van Graafeiland

VAN GRAAFEILAND, Circuit Judge:

On March 31, 1968, as the Santa Leonor was working its way through the narrow and tortuous Patagonian Channels off of the southwest coast of Chile, it stranded on a shoal. Although no lives were lost, the ship and its cargo were beyond salvage.

As a result, claims for lost cargo in excess of two million dollars were made against Grace Line, the owner of the ship; and it is the district court's allowance of that company's claim for exoneration from liability which we now affirm.

The Carriage Of Goods By Sea Act (COGSA), 46 U.S.C. § 1300 et seq., is applicable, and the owner, in making its claim for exoneration, relied on § 1304(2)(a) which provides that neither the carrier nor the ship shall be responsible for loss resulting from the "act, neglect, or default of the master, mariner, pilot, or the servants of the carrier in the navigation or in the management of the ship". Specifically, the owner contended that the sinking resulted from an error in navigation by the Chilean pilot who was on the bridge or a misunderstanding of the rudder commands given by the pilot to the helmsman.

The district court accepted the proof offered by the owner and found that the pilot misjudged the turn and gave the wrong commands or directions and these commands produced too wide a turn, causing the vessel to run aground. We believe this finding has ample support in the evidence.

There was a direct conflict between the pilot and the helmsman concerning the former's commands. The ship, which was proceeding through a narrow channel only 2400 feet in width, was required to make a sharp left turn around an island. The pilot testified with some inconsistency that he commenced this turn with 15 degrees port rudder, reduced it to 10 degrees and then ordered either hard port rudder or more port rudder. The helmsman, on the other hand, steadfastly maintained that the pilot first ordered 10 degrees port rudder and then ordered rudder amidship. The district court found that the pilot never gave a command of hard port rudder or of sufficient rudder to execute the turn properly and that such commands as he gave were indefinite and inadequate for a situation which called for precise directions from the pilot to the helmsman.

This was a finding of fact peculiarly within the province of the trial court and which we do not find to be clearly erroneous. McAllister v. United States, 348 U.S. 19, 99 L. Ed. 20, 75 S. Ct. 6 (1954). The ship owner having thus sustained its burden of proof of negligent navigation, the burden then shifted to the cargo owners to establish that the Santa Leonor was unseaworthy and that the unseaworthiness concurred with the negligence to cause the loss. J. Gerber & Company v. S. S. Sabine Howaldt, 437 F.2d 580 (2d Cir. 1971); Director General of India Supply Mission v. S. S. Maru, 459 F.2d 1370 (2d Cir. 1972).

In their efforts to sustain this burden below, appellants made numerous claims of unseaworthiness, including defective steering mechanism, improper stowage and trim, defective hatch covers, incompetent lookout and helmsman and inadequate and unqualified pilotage. All of these were rejected by the district court, and none is urged in this court except as relates to the pilot.

In brief, it is the contention of appellants that the Santa Leonor should have had two pilots instead of one for its passage through the Straits of Magellan and the Patagonian Channels and that the single pilot who was provided was incompetent because he did not know the turning radius of the vessel.

The voyage of the Santa Leonor commenced at Rio de Janeiro on March 16, 1968. Cargo was loaded at that port and also at Santos, Paranagua and Buenos Aires. The ship arrived at Possession Bay on the Atlantic Ocean entrance to the Straits of Magellan on March 30, 1968 where it took on a pilot assigned to it from a rotation list maintained by the Department of Litoral of the Chilean Navy. The request for the pilot was made to the Director of Litoral by appellee's agent in Valparaiso.

COGSA imposes upon a carrier the duty to exercise reasonable diligence to have its ship seaworthy and properly manned, "before and at the beginning of the voyage". 46 U.S.C. § 1303. As to specific cargo, a voyage is generally held to begin when that cargo is lifted. Union Carbide & Carbon Corp. v. United States, 200 F.2d 908 (2d Cir. 1953).

An exception to this rule was spelled out in May v. Hamburg-Amerikanische Gesellshaft, 290 U.S. 333, 78 L. Ed. 348, 54 S. Ct. 162 (1933), where the carrier resumed the management of the ship at a subsequent port. Cases which follow May have had some difficulty in determining what constitutes such intervening management and control by the carrier as would destroy the continuity of the voyage. See, e.g., Mississippi Shipping Co. v. Zander & Co., 270 F.2d 345 (5th Cir. 1959), vacated as moot, 361 U.S. 115, 80 S. Ct. 212, 4 L. Ed. 2d 148 (1959) and Isthmian Steamship Co. v. California Spray-Chemical Corp., 290 F.2d 486 (9th Cir. 1961).*fn1 However, if any such problem existed in the instant case, it did not seem to concern either counsel or the court below, all of whom apparently concluded that the last voyage of the Santa Leonor began when it left Possession Bay. Cf. The Oritani, 40 F.2d 522 (E.D. Pa. 1929), ...


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