The opinion of the court was delivered by: WERKER
Plaintiffs Reynolds Leasing Corporation (Reynolds), the owner of the containership S.S. SEALAND VENTURE (the VENTURE), and Sea-land Services, Inc. (Sea-Land), the bareboat charterer of the VENTURE, commenced this action against McAllister Brothers, Inc., owner of the tugboat PATRICE McALLISTER (the PATRICE), seeking an award for salvage services. The case was tried before the court without a jury on July 5 and 6, 1983. The court's findings of fact and conclusions of law follow. The parties have agreed upon many of the facts.
The VENTURE, an SL 18 type vessel, has a gross weight of 24773 tons, is 219.77 meters in length and was insured by her owners in 1980 for $20,700,000. The PATRICE is a twin-screw tugboat of 190 gross tons, is 37.50 meters in length and was insured by her owners in 1980 for $1,260,000.
While visiting Jacksonville, Florida on February 27 and 28, 1980, prior to her scheduled ocean crossing, the VENTURE was found to have her rudder dropping slightly on its post. In light of this condition, the vessel's operators decided to effect repairs prior to the vessel's intended trans-atlantic crossing. The nearest available dry dock capable of handling the VENTURE was the Bethlehem Steel Corporation's dry docking facility in Bayonne, New Jersey. The American Bureau of Shipping, the VENTURE's classification society, and the United States Coast Guard required the VENTURE to have a tug escort to Bayonne.
The tug escort was arranged in two shifts. The VENTURE departed Jacksonville at 1910 hours on February 28, 1980, and made her rendezvous with the tug ANN MORAN at the Jacksonville sea buoy at 0212 hours on February 29, 1980. The VENTURE and the Tug ANN MORAN began their transit north at 0230 hours on February 29, 1980. McAllister Brothers dispatched the tug PATRICE at or about 1900 hours on February 29, 1980 from New York harbor to proceed down the coast to meet the VENTURE. The PATRICE met the VENTURE and the tug ANN MORAN at 1115 hours on March 2, 1980 near Cape Hatteras. At this point, the ANN MORAN was relieved and returned to Jacksonville, and the VENTURE and the PATRICE began proceeding to Bayonne. The VENTURE had to operate at reduced speed so that the tugboat, capable of a maximum speed of twelve knots in calm weather, could keep pace with the VENTURE, which is capable of 24 knots in calm seas.
The VENTURE and the PATRICE encountered terrifying storm conditions shortly after their rendezvous. At 1200 hours on March 2, 1980, the weather was recorded on the VENTURE and overcast skies, very rough seas with deep swells. In this weather, the VENTURE was pitching and rolling easily. At 1600 hours on March 2, the weather conditions were recorded on the VENTURE as north-northeasterly winds at Beaufort Force 10 with heavy seas and swells. At or about 1630 hours, the PATRICE suffered a fire in the panel box in her wheelhouse. At 1650 hours, the VENTURE reduced her speed in order for the PATRICE to lower her speed. At 1652 hours on March 2, 1980, the PATRICE notified the VENTURE that heavy seas made headway impossible and asked the VENTURE to provide a lee. In response to this request, the VENTURE hove to and turned to port in order to provide a lee. It is agreed that both vessels moved slowly toward Cape Henry with the PATRICE in the lee of the VENTURE, until the vessels hove to at 2400 hours.
Between 1652 and 1845 hours on March 2, 1980, the PATRICE informed the VENTURE that she was taking on water and was unable to control the water in her bilge as only one of three bilge pumps was working, and that the master on duty was having difficulty steering due to a jammed port rudder. The rudder malfunction resulted in the PATRICE making sudden 90 degrees turns to the left on occasion. At or about 1700 hours on March 2, the chief mate of the VENTURE rigged life-saving equipment in case it became necessary to rescue the crew of the PATRICE. At or about 1845 hours, the PATRICE informed the VENTURE that she was in an emergency condition, could not continue the voyage and requested the VENTURE to assist her to port.
At 1845 hours on March 2, the VENTURE began a diversion to assist the PATRICE into Cape Henry, Virginia, the nearest port of refuge. The VENTURE, pursuant to this request, changed her course, which was heading directly into the storm, to a course heading for Cape Henry. The new course placed the full force of the storm on the starboard side of the VENTURE.
Keeping the PATRICE in the lee and the diversionary course required the VENTURE to use more rudder action to maintain her course against the force of the winds and seas maintain the lee also presented the risk that the VENTURE could sustain further rudder damage. At or about 1855 hours on March 2, a distress call was made by the VENTURE to the United States Coast Guard to ask if the Coast Guard could help the PATRICE.
Between 1700 hours on March 2 and for the duration of the night spanning March 2 and 3, the Master of the VENTURE had a crew standing by with life saving equipment ready to be ejected into the sea if the PATRICE went over. At or about 2100 hours on March 2, the PATRICE lost use of her gyro compass. At or about 2200 hours, the PATRICE lost use of her radar. One of the PATRICE's calling radios and the single side band radio were reported as not working beginning sometime after 1600 hours on March 2, 1980 and 1215 hours on March 3, 1980.
The storm encountered by the VENTURE and the PATRICE was reported to have been one of the worst storms in the area in over one hundred years. The Governor of Virginia imposed marshall law due to the storm.
Between 2400 hours on March 2, 1980 and 0410 hours on March 3, 1980, the vessels hove to due to the severity of the storm with the VENTURE continuing to stand by. At 2400 hours on March 2, 1980, the weather conditions consisted of a violent storm with northerly winds of Beaufort force 10-11, deep confused seas and swells, and heavy snow flurries. At or about 0830 hours on March 3, 1980, the vessels passed Cape Henry and entered Chesapeake Bay. At or about 0949 hours on March 3, 1980, the VENTURE anchored at Lynnhaven Naval Anchorage and the tug JANE McALLISTER commenced to escort the PATRICE to the McAllister dock at ...