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ZARRAGO v. TEXAS CO.

March 11, 1960

Joseph A. ZARRAGO
v.
TEXAS COMPANY. Martin D. LADD v. TEXAS COMPANY. George MARTIN v. TEXAS COMPANY



The opinion of the court was delivered by: DUSEN

The facts as developed in this case are not in dispute. The libellants, United States Merchant Seamen, joined the respondent's vessel, the SS. Illinois, at the port of Salem, Mass. On December 16, 1957, they signed on Articles in the presence of the United States Shipping Commissioner. The Articles provided, inter alia, as follows:

'It is agreed between the Master and the seamen, or mariners, of the SS. Illinois of which James W. McGulley, Lic. No. 191668 is at present Master, or whoever shall go for Master, now bound from the Port of Salem, Massachusetts, to one or more Atlantic Coast Ports and/or Gulf Coast Ports and/or one or more ports in the Caribbean and/or such other ports and places in any part of the world as the Master may direct, and back to a final port of discharge in the United States, for a term of time not exceeding twelve (12) calendar months.' (Exhibit L-2).

 Each of the libellants then commenced an action under 46 U.S.C.A. § 594 to recover one month's wages. The statute on which libellants' claims are based is one of many interrelated and correlated statutes, codified in Title 46 United States Code Annotated, Chapter 18, which deal exclusively with the shipment, wages and discharge of merchant seamen.

 Section 594 provides as follows:

 'Any seaman who has signed an agreement and is afterward discharged before the commencement of the voyage or before one month's wages are earned, without fault on his part justifying such discharge, and without his consent, shall be entitled to receive from the master or owner, in addition to any wages he may have earned, a sum equal in amount to one month's wages as compensation, and may, on adducing evidence satisfactory to the court hearing the case, of having been improperly discharged, recover such compensation as if it were wages duly earned.'

 While normally § 594 is not applicable to a coastwise voyage because of the limitation contained in § 544, *fn2" it is applicable to the voyage in question because of the provisions contained in § 563, *fn3" which reads, inter alia, as follows:

 '* * * shipping commissioners * * * may ship crews for any vessel engaged in the coastwise trade, or the trade between the United States and * * * the West Indies, * * * at the request of the master or owner of such vessel. (When this is done) * * * an agreement shall be made with each seaman * * * and such seaman shall be discharged and receive their wages as provided by * * * 593-595 * * * of this title; * * *.' (Emphasis supplied.)

 While it is true that shipping commissioners are not under obligation to ship crews on voyages to the West Indies or of a coastwise nature, once the master or owner of the vessel requests their presence, § 563 grants the seamen all rights which are conferred by § 594.

 This question has not been passed upon in this Circuit. In Newton v. Gulf Oil Corp., supra, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit expressly reserved decision on this matter, stating at pages 493-494 of 180 F.2d:

 'We have no doubt that the libelants in this case come within the terms of the statute. The voyage was changed and they were discharged before earning a month's wages. That they probably could not show, in an ordinary action of contract, damages which amounted to as much as a month's pay is not the question. They are suing for damages which have been liquidated by legislative enactment.

 'The libelee predicts that if the decree in this case is sustained, a ship owner will not be able to sign on men for a foreign voyage for less than a month in duration without becoming liable under the statute. The libelants reply that this case presents no such problem and has in it no such implications because this ship owner did not take the voyage which the articles called for. In other words, there was a technical breach of the contract. If this is not a sufficient answer to the libelee's fears we shall make the answer if and when the problem is presented for decision.'

 In Oeschler v. United States Navigation Co., D.C.E.D.Pa.1952, 106 F.Supp. 992, the court was again spared the necessity of deciding this question because there was another breach ...


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