there are rocks on the bank and if I were to let the two of them go together the weight of the loaded barge might have punched a hole into the empty barge, especially when it hit the shore.' The cruiser towed or pushed the barges individually to safety on opposite shores. The empty barge was secured on the right-hand shore about 1 mile and the loaded barge on the left-hand shore about 1 1/4 miles from the loading dock. Later they were picked up undamaged by Serodino's towboat.
There was no contention or evidence that Serodino's employees (Barber on the barges and Pachoud at the loading dock) protested against libelant's efforts to recapture the barges and tow them back to their dock; in fact, Barber, at least tacitly, accepted the help offered and participated in untying the lines lashing the barges together.
Libelant's maneuver in separating the barges is the only impressive evidence of especial judgment and skill on his part to save the barges from possible damage and danger of sinking. This operation was premised on his belief that rocks were present on the shores, which fact is sharply disputed. However, respondent's witness, Barber, agrees that there were rock hazards downstream and that 'we got stopped in time' (T. 127).
The evidence is contradictory as to the other facts litigated. I find, however, that libelant prior to separating the barges was towing them diagonally downstream towards the right shore, and had developed momentum sufficient to enable the empty to drift to that shore after it was cut loose. There Ralston in his outboard was able to hold it. Libelant then pulled or pushed the loaded barge with the aid of the current toward the left shore at the bend in the river, where it was tied to a tree by Pyburn. The time consumed by libelant in his efforts was about 3 hours. I further find that rocks and other hazards
existed along the downstream shore lines of the river for several miles, but that their exact locations were unknown to libelant; that the barges were beached undamaged was a consequence of chance and not of skill.
Both Heuval and Charles Zubik are experienced seamen of expert status, but they disagreed on whether the drifting barges were in peril and a menace to navigation. Heuval was of the opinion that they would have drifted in the navigable channel and endangered the river traffic; and when they reached the bluffs and 'dredged channel' they would have collided with rocks and sunk, closing the river to navigation. Zubik was of the opinion that they would have drifted to the shore at the bend in the river at just about the place where the loaded barge was actually beached. He contends libelant's efforts accomplished nothing more than the river current itself would have accomplished.
Bearing upon libelant's judgment is the fact that early in the rescue effort the barges drifted onto a sandbar about one tenth of a mile from the loading dock. Pachoud for respondents contends that libelant could and should have held them there until the Company's towboat arrived, for to have done so would have been without risk of damage to the cruiser or the barges. But instead libelant pulled them off the sandbar toward midstream after which they were separately beached as above described. Since libelant should have known by that time that he could not tow the barges upstream, it is questionable whether he exercised good judgment in dislodging them from the sandbar.
No peril to life or limb was shown in the operation. The cruiser sustained damage to its running lights, air vents, rudder stocks and burned out one motor in beaching the loaded barge. The reasonable costs of repair amount to $ 308.14.
The barges, as they drifted slowly with the current in daylight, to a slight extent constituted a hazard to navigation, and to a slightly greater extent were in peril of colliding with rocks or other hazards and sinking. Certainty or imminence of their damage and destruction but for libelant's intervention cannot be found from the weight of the evidence. Libelant was unsuccessful in his effort to return them to their dock; his judgment in halting their progress downstream does not appear to have been of the best. Nonetheless, by his prompt and voluntary but fruitless endeavor to return the barges to their dock, he displayed meritorious motive, determination and persistence. He entertained a reasonable apprehension of their safety, and conceived it to be his duty to attempt a rescue. In addition he exhibited skill and judgment in separating and maneuvering them to shore where they were tied up in safety. This conferred sufficient benefit upon the barges and their cargo to entitle him to a salvage award. But in these circumstances towing the barges to safety is regarded as a salvage service of a low order of merit and is to be compensated by a comparatively small award. 78 C.J.S., Salvage, § 126 (1952); citing Costanzo Transportation Co. v. American Barge Line Co., D.C.W.D.Pa.1940, 35 F.Supp. 929; cf. Crescent Towing & Salvage Co. v. the MV 117, D.C.E.D.La.1949, 87 F.Supp. 257. The value of the cargo and cruiser, the damages to the cruiser and the time spent by libelant and his friends have been taken into consideration. I award to libelant the sum of $ 500.00, together with costs of suit.
The foregoing is intended to be the findings of fact and conclusions of law required under Admiralty Rule 46 1/2, 28 U.S.C. Libelant shall submit an appropriate order within 10 days.