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THE RITA SISTER

April 23, 1946

THE RITA SISTER et al.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: KIRKPATRICK

These libels were filed to recover for damage to several shipments of rabbit skins and for damage and shortage in a shipment of brandy. All the merchandise in question was carried from Spain to Philadelphia, in the Spanish ship, Rita Sister, arriving May 11, 1944.

Findings of Fact.

 1. Shipments of rabbit skins totaling 428 bales, as set forth in the libels, were received by this ship, in good order and condition, at Barcelona, Spain.

 Comment: The undisputed testimony of the ship's officers is that these skins were in good order and appeared dry and that there were no marks or stains on the bales when received.

 2. The rabbit skins, when discharged at Philadelphia, were in a damaged condition.

 3. The damage was caused by ship's sweat and was not an inherent condition of the skins.

 Comment: When the skins were unloaded at Philadelphia the bales appeared moist and the burlap and ropes around some of them were stained and molded. An examination of the bales revealed that the exterior skins, to a varying depth, were molded and had 'hair slip,' while those in the interior were generally sound. See The Africa Maru, 2 Cir., 54 F.2d 265. Excessive moisture in the hold of a ship, unless the air is frequently changed, condenses into water, known as ship's sweat. Such a condition will cause hair slip in rabbit skins and is conducive to the growth of mold.

 4. These bales were stowed in the 'tween deck of holds 3 and 4, which, together, constituted a single large compartment with a tightly fitted wood deck, without scuppers.

 5. The bales were stowed without dunnage, directly upon the decking and, in some places, were stowed up to the beams of the weather deck. Where they were not so stowed, cases of cork were stowed on top of them.

 Comment: The respondent protests that there is no evidence that dunnage was not used. It is true that the officers did not mention directly either the use or non-use of dunnage but the absence of marks on the decking when the ship arrived in Philadelphia and was surveyed, indicated that it had not been used. There was no sign of dunnage in or about the ship, and the testimony of the officers, though not specific upon that point, leads me to believe that it was, in fact, not used.

 6. The stowage of the rabbit skins was improper and negligent.

 Comment: It appeared that 3 and 4 'tween decks were equipped with a total of 6 ventilators. These ventilators were 16 inches in diameter leading to the 'tween deck where a 12 inch pipe was telescoped into them, to ventilate the lower hold. Taking the most favorable view of the testimony as to the sufficiency of these ventilators, it can only be said that they 'looked all right.' There was, however, direct testimony that they were too small, and the ship's officers in their testimony greatly overestimated their diameter and stated that they regarded such overestimate as the minimum. I am not making a finding that the ship was unseaworthy because of the insufficiency of the ventilators, but it is clear that, under the circumstances, a prudent ship's officer would take every reasonable care that his stowage of cargo would not needlessly restrict the limited ventilation provided. Nevertheless, this cargo was stowed directly upon the tightly laid deck and in some places up to the deck beams. Such stowage, of course, would greatly restrict, if not prevent, the circulation of air under and through the cargo, even with the best ventilation, and lead to the creation of conditions under which an excessive amount of moisture and ship's sweat were inevitable in the hold.

 7. Two thousand cases of brandy were received by the ship in apparent good order and condition at Cadiz.

 Comment: The testimony of the ship's officers is clear that no leaking cases were brought aboard the ship and that the 'boat notes' referring to 20 leaking cases, in fact, referred to cases that began to leak during the ...


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