engine telegraph by Third Mate Downs. The full astern order was promptly acknowledged by the First Assistant Engineer, George Zahar, who then executed the order.
Shortly thereafter, Pilot Sorensen ordered a "double jingle" which order was received and promptly acknowledged by the engine room. The order had little impact on the operation of the engines in that Mr. Zahar had already opened the throttle as far as he thought could be safely done. The rate of the Queeny's turn to the right was reduced as the propeller responded to the full astern order.
As the bow of the Queeny continued to ease closer to the Corinthos, Pilot Sorensen recommended that the starboard anchor of the Queeny be dropped. Captain Kellog apparently acquiesced in that he gave that order via his walkie talkie. No response was received because Arvie Harris, the Bow Lookout and the only person stationed at the windlass anchor watch position, had fled the extreme bow, seconds before, in the face of an impending collision.
Moments later, the Queeny came into contact with the Corinthos. The first contact produced sparks as a result of scraping between the two vessels. Due to the shock of the initial contact and the ships' rolling and pitching, there was an interval of intermittent non-contact and contact. It was during the subsequent contacts that the port fluke anchor of the Queeny punctured the port shell plating of the No. 4 and/or No. 5 cargo tanks of the Corinthos. During this time period, there was a series of explosions, followed by a conflagration.
Immediately after the collision and first explosion, third mate Downs instinctively rung up "Stop" on the engine telegraph. Shortly thereafter, Captain Kellog noted that the tachometer indicated 0 RPM's and called to Mr. Downs for full astern. That order was executed but not without a degree of confusion.
Captain Kellog, in an effort to emphasize the order, took the bridge telegraph control handle and signalled what he believed to be "Full Astern." Inadvertently, the telegraph was moved to "Bridge Control" following which the First Assistant Engineer called the bridge by telephone to confirm the request. Failing to receive a response from the bridge, the engineer moved the throttle control selector to the "Bridge Control" position. After some confusion, the bridge selector switch was moved from "Bridge Control" to "Full Astern", which signal was received and responded to by the engine room. The Queeny's propeller then began to turn in reverse.
Efforts to back the Queeny away continued until 0041 hours, at which time the Queeny pulled clear, and was able to proceed "full ahead" away from the burning Corinthos. While the Queeny headed downriver toward an anchorage area, its crew was engaged in extinguishing a fire on the Queeny's forecastle head.
At approximately 0100 hours (1:00 a.m., Eastern Standard Time), the Queeny anchored at a position close aboard buoy C of the Sun Oil dock. At about 0305 hours, she began to heave anchor and shifted to another anchorage which was completed at about 0345 hours when the Queeny safely anchored.
Meanwhile, the fires aboard the Corinthos continued to burn out of control through the early morning hours of January 31, 1975. During the course of the firefighting activities, the Delaware River was intermittently opened and closed to traffic as the danger of additional fires fluctuated.
Eventually, the fires and explosions on board the Corinthos caused that ship to break in half and to immediately sink near by the BP dock.
Limitation and/or exoneration of a vessel owner's liability is provided for in Title 46 of the United States Code, Section 181 et seq. The section pertinent to the issues in this case is Section 183(a), which in relevant part, provides:
"The liability of the owner of any vessel ... for any ... loss, or destruction by any person of any property, goods, or merchandise shipped or put on board of such vessel, or for any loss, damage or injury by collision, or for any act, matter, or thing, loss, damage, forfeiture, done or occasioned, or incurred without the privity or knowledge of such owner or owners shall not, ..., exceed the amount or value of the interest of such owner in such vessel, and her freight then pending."