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VANG v. JONES & LAUGHLIN STEEL CORP.

February 16, 1934

VANG et al.
v.
JONES & LAUGHLIN STEEL CORPORATION



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SCHOONMAKER

This is an admiralty case in which the libelants are seeking to recover damages from respondent, alleged to have resulted from the breaking away of Barge 608 from the South Side Landing of Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation in the city of Pittsburgh on the afternoon of March 14, 1933.

The defendant denies liability, but in event the court should find respondent responsible, the respondent then seeks limitation of its liability to the value of the barge and her freight pending.

 The case was heard on the libel, answer, and proofs. From these we find the following facts:

 Statement of Facts.

 On the afternoon of March 14, 1933, at about the hour of 3 o'clock, a large steel barge, known as Barge 608, owned by the Vesta Coal Company, broke away from her moorings at a landing maintained by the respondent at the foot of South 29th street, on the south side of the Monongahela river in the city of Pittsburgh. At this time there was no one aboard the barge, which then drifted down stream and struck and parted the headlines and cables with which a fleet of steel barges, river steamers, tow boats, derrick boats, and other floating equipment owned by the libelants was moored at the foot of South 23d street, on the south side of the Monongahela river, Pittsburgh, at a landing maintained at that point by the Iron City Sand & Gravel Company. The headlines and cables, with which this fleet was moored, parted and set it adrift. The fleet was carried down stream with the current. It became disorganized and scattered, tearing from their lashes a number of barges and other floating equipment on the outer edge of a second fleet of vessels moored between South 22d and South 21st streets, on the south side of the Monongahela river, at a landing which was also maintained at that point by the Iron City Sand & Gravel Company.

 At the time this barge broke away from its moorings, a gorge comprising an accumulation of drift in the Monongahela river, had lodged against the upstream end of the barge in the slip in which she was then lying at the respondent's 29th Street Landing. This gorge had assumed such menacing proportions that it was deemed necessary to remove the barge from the slip in which she was lying for unloading purposes. The purpose of removing the barge from the slip was to afford an outlet for the drift which had accumulated behind her.

 Employees of the respondent them undertook to shift the barge out of the slip, the first movement being accomplished by means of cables on the left-hand side of the barge, which were operated by a motor. The length of the cables permitted the barge to be shifted downstream in the slip about fifty feet. After that had been done, the barge was made fast on the right side by three hemp lines; the cables were then removed; and it was then the intention to slack out the three hemp lines by hand, while the current carried the barge some eighty feet down the slip where she was to be breasted out to her right and into a position made vacant for her by the removal of another barge. At the moment when this second operation of slacking out the three hemp lines was begun, the gorge which had accumulated in the slip suddenly broke, and after traversing the fifty feet of open water, struck the barge with such force that the first of the three hemp lines broke; the second one broke the mooring post to which it was secured; and the third one slipped off the mooring post to which the barge had been fastened. The current then carried the barge, now out of control, down the southerly bank of the river to the Iron City Sand & Gravel Company's landing at the foot of South 23d street, where it tore away from their lashings a number of barges and other floating equipment.

 At the time of these occurrences, the respondent was not the owner or the operator of said Barge 608, but merely had custody as bailee, for the purpose of unloading the barge at its unloading slip.

 Conclusions of Law.

 (1) On these facts, we conclude that the respondent is liable for the damages consequent to the drifting of this barge from her mooring in the slip, and her collision with boats and other gravel equipment of libelants, which were moored to their landings, because respondent failed to show affirmatively by their proof that the breaking away of this barge was the result of inevitable accident or vis major, which human skill and precaution and a proper nautical skill could not have prevented.

 (2) That the respondent is not entitled to the limited liability of the value of the barge and her freight pending.

 Discussion.

 The rule applicable to this case was clearly stated by the Supreme Court in the case of The Louisiana, 3 Wall. 164, 173, 18 L. Ed. 85, as follows: "Collision being caused by the Louisiana drifting from her moorings, she must be liable for the damages consequent thereon, unless she can show affirmatively that the drifting was the result of inevitable accident, or a vis major, ...


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