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MOUNTEER v. MARINE TRANSP. LINES
January 12, 1979;
John C. MOUNTEER, Plaintiff,
MARINE TRANSPORT LINES, INC. and United States of America, Defendants
The opinion of the court was delivered by: GOETTEL
ADDENDUM TO OPINION NO. 48084
The Court is in receipt of a letter from defendants' attorney stating that the opinion in this matter dated January 12, 1979, is in error in stating that the United States is the owner of the USNS SEALIFT ATLANTIC. He advises that the Government has chartered the vessel from an unidentified owner.
The complaint in the action alleges that the United States owns the vessel. The answer admits:
"that at all times mentioned in the complaint, defendant, United States of America, operated, managed and controlled under bareboat charter the USNS SEALIFT ATLANTIC, a public vessel of the United States, by and through its public vessel operating agent, Marine Transport Lines, Inc., which, pursuant to contract, manned, victualed, supplied and navigated the USNS SEALIFT ATLANTIC at its own expense and by its own procurement subject to reimbursement by the United States of America, for and on behalf of the United States Navy, exclusively, on national defense missions and in the public service of the United States."
The statement of material facts submitted on the motion, as to which the defendants contended there was no genuine issue, stated that:
"The USNS SEALIFT ATLANTIC is a tank vessel bareboat chartered by the United States of America and operated exclusively for the United States by its agent Marine Transport Lines, Inc. (MTL)."
The rather convoluted language of the foregoing, coupled with a failure to indicate the identity of the owner of the vessel, led the Court to conclude that the vessel was chartered by the Government to MTL, rather than to the Government by the unidentified owner.
Since the Government does not own the vessel, it might be argued that this eliminates one possible exposure to liability for plaintiff's claim. However, since there has been no demise of the vessel to MTL, it would not appear (as was considered in the prior opinion) that the Government was divested of responsibility for the seaman employed aboard the vessel. Indeed, in this sort of arrangement, the vessel being operated for the exclusive use of the United States, it is liable under the Jones Act even though it is not technically the seaman's employer. Petition of the United States, 367 F.2d 505 (3d Cir. 1966). Consequently, the correction of the ownership status of the vessel in no way affects the conclusions reached with respect to the defendants' motion. The decision is, with this addendum, adhered to in all respects.
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