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AL JOHNSON CONSTR. CO. v. S.S. RIO ORINOCO

December 20, 1965

AL JOHNSON CONSTRUCTION CO. et al., Libellant,
v.
S.S. RIO ORINOCO and Trans-World Carriers, Inc., Claimant-Respondent. TRANS-WORLD CARRIERS, INC., Cross-Libellant, v. DREDGE ATLAS et al., Claimants-Respondents



The opinion of the court was delivered by: KRAFT

 On June 23, 1960, at or about 5:30 P.M. (1730) the S.S. RIO-ORINOCO, moving upstream struck the dredge ATLAS while the latter, spudded down, was dredging a new channel in the upper Delaware River, known as the New Enterprise Channel. The dredge owners filed a libel against the RIO-ORINOCO in rem and her owner in personam. The vessel interests answered and filed a cross-libel against the dredge in rem and her owners in personam.

 After trial to the Court, oral argument and examination of the requests for factual findings, legal conclusions and briefs in support thereof, we make these

 FINDINGS OF FACT

 1. The libellants and cross-respondents, Al Johnson Construction Co. and Peter Kiewitt Sons' Co., Inc., corporations organized and existing under the laws of the states of Minnesota and Nebraska, respectively, were, at all relevant times, joint ventures doing business as Delaware River Dredgers and were the owners and operators of the dredge ATLAS.

 2. Trans-World Carriers, Inc., the respondent and cross-libellant, a Liberian corporation with its principal place of business in Nassau, British West Indies, was, at all relevant times, the owner of the S.S. RIO-ORINOCO.

 3. On June 23, 1960, and for some time theretofore, the libellants were engaged, under contract with the United States Corps of Army Engineers, in dredging a new channel in the upper Delaware River to a width of 400 feet and a minimum depth of 42 feet, to be known as the New Enterprise Channel.

 4. The New Enterprise Channel overlapped a portion of the existing Mud Island Channel in an area opposite Andalusia, Pa. and Delanco, New Jersey. Mud Island Channel had a mean low water width of 300 feet and a minimum depth of 25 feet.

 5. In addition to the dredge ATLAS, the dredge flotilla, all units of which were under libellant's operational control, consisted of a drill boat (HORNET), 3 tugs (NORTH STAR, JAMES A. and DOTSIE), a derrick ("3900") and a sweep.

 6. The ATLAS was a dragline dredge 175 feet long and 70 feet wide, with a 200 foot boom extending from its bow. Its boom, dragline and appended clam shell bucket were controlled by a dragline operator. This dredge was equipped with 3 spuds, which were lowered into the river bottom to secure it when it was digging. One spud was located at the stern and another on each side. The spuds were raised and lowered by machinery aboard.

 7. The sweep (a barge without means of self-propulsion) was also equipped with spuds to secure it in position. It was 100 feet long and 25 feet wide. Its function was to sweep the area already dredged by the ATLAS to verify the contract minimum depth of 42 feet, or, otherwise, to report any high spots encountered.

 The sweeping operation was accomplished by a series of 5 bars, each 20 feet long and 3 inches in diameter, suspended to the desired depth over one side of the sweep by cables attached to a rig, which could raise or lower the bars as the sweep was moved sideways across the channel.

 8. The HORNET (a barge incapable of self-propulsion) was used to drill holes in the river bottom for explosive charges.

 9. The S.S. RIO-ORINOCO was an ocean-going ore carrier 657 feet long, 87.4 feet wide, with a dead weight of 35,000 tons.

 10. On June 17, 1960, the Corps of Army Engineers gave written notice to all affected navigational interests of the presence of the HORNET and the ATLAS in the New Enterprise Range opposite Delanco, New Jersey. The notice regarding the HORNET read in part, as follows:

 
"Drillboat will be anchored in the ship channel 24 hours per day. Mariners are cautioned to slow down and proceed with care in this area. Radio and radar transmitters should not be used while in the vicinity of this plant."

 The notice further stated, in part:

 
"NOTE: The west half of the 25-foot channel, Mud Island Range, opposite the HORNET NO. 4 and the ATLAS, will be unobstructed by the plant and open for traffic at all times."

 11. On June 23, 1960, about 2:04 P.M. (1404), the S.S. RIO-ORINOCO, inbound from Venezuela, having stopped first at Philadelphia to lighten cargo, departed therefrom for Morrisville, Pa., with a cargo of iron ore. Richard Rutherford, a licensed Delaware River Pilot, was in charge of navigation.

 The draft of the vessel on departure upriver was 24 feet 6 inches. Then, and at all later relevant times, visibility was ...


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