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DRAVO MECHLING CORP. v. STANDARD TERMINALS

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA


February 22, 1983

DRAVO MECHLING CORPORATION, Plaintiff
v.
STANDARD TERMINALS, INC., Defendant

The opinion of the court was delivered by: MANSMANN

MANSMANN, District Judge

 Plaintiff Dravo Mechling Corporation *fn1" brought this action as a result of the buckling and sinking of its barge. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Standard Terminals, Inc. improperly loaded the barge, thereby causing it to buckle. The case was tried before this Court nonjury. *fn2" We hereby make the following findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(a):

 FINDINGS OF FACT

 Plaintiff Dravo Mechling Corporation has its principal place of business at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At all times material herein, Union Mechling Corporation, or its successor, Dravo Mechling Corporation, was the owner of the Barge UMC-1140.

 Defendant Standard Terminals, Inc. has its principal place of business at New Kensington, Pennsylvania. Defendant handles truck, rail and river traffic. The loading and unloading of barges are among its operations. Defendant has a loading dock on the Allegheny River near New Kensington.

 In April 1979, Plaintiff entered into a contract of carriage with Bethlehem Steel Corporation ("Bethlehem Steel") under which Plaintiff agreed to transport manganese ore provided by Bethlehem Steel. *fn3" The ore was to be transported in bulk, by barge from New Kensington to Calvert City, Kentucky.

 From April through the period in question, the ore was delivered to Defendant's terminal at New Kensington on a twice-weekly basis. Specifically, the ore was dumped onto a pad next to Defendant's crane. Plaintiff would drop off one of its barges at the terminal site near Defendant's hoist. Defendant would load the ore from the dock into the barge. Upon notification, Plaintiff would pick up the loaded barge.

 The barges were selected by Plaintiff. Defendant, however, as a matter of standard practice, inspected the barges before loading them. Several times, Defendant's inspection resulted in repairs of a barge, performed either by Plaintiff or by Defendant.

 Plaintiff did not participate in the loading of cargo into the barges. Defendant, on the other hand, did not participate in the transportation of the cargo once the barges were picked up by Plaintiff.

 On August 27, 1979, Plaintiff delivered the Barge UMC-1140 ("1140") to Defendant's loading dock.

 The 1140 was a steel-welded, jumbo hopper barge with eight covers. The barge was 195 feet long, 35 feet wide and 11 feet from its gunwales to its bottom exterior hull plates. It had a rake end and a box stern. The barge was approximately 20 years old in 1979.

 The 1140 was seaworthy and in sound condition at the time of its delivery to Defendant's dock. The barge had no notable defects or problems and it was sitting level in the water. Indeed, the evidence indicates that the 1140 was in "above average" condition at the time. The barge could withstand the normal rigors of loading and towing. Moreover, it was fit for the service intended by Plaintiff.

 Defendant did not object to the 1140 after inspecting it nor is there any evidence that any repairs were found necessary. Defendant's employees proceeded to load the barge with 1456 net tons of manganese ore. The loading began on August 27 and was completed the following day. After loading the barge, Defendant's employees closed all of the covers that had been opened during the loading process. *fn4"

 At Plaintiff's request, Imperial Towing, Inc. ("Imperial Towing") dispatched a vessel, the M/V Sunflower ("Sunflower"), to Defendant's landing to pick up the loaded Barge UMC-1140. *fn5" The Sunflower picked up the barge at approximately 9:30 p.m. on August 29, 1979 and delivered it to Plaintiff's Georgetown, Pennsylvania landing at 2:00 p.m. on August 31, 1979.

 There is no evidence that the crew of the Sunflower used less than reasonable care in making up its tow and transporting the 1140 to Georgetown. *fn6" Further, the captain and pilot of the Sunflower testified that the "haul" to Georgetown was without incident. They observed nothing unusual about the 1140 and they encountered no notable difficulties in transporting the barge to Georgetown.

 At Georgetown, the 1140 was placed in the tow of the vessel, the M/V Roy Mechling ("Roy Mechling") with the assistance of the Sunflower's crew. The Roy Mechling is owned and operated by Plaintiff.

 The 1140 was secured so that it was "face up" to the Roy Mechling. There is no evidence that the barge was secured improperly or in an unusual manner. The record suggests that reasonable care was used in making up the tow which included six empty barges as well as the loaded 1140.

 The Roy Mechling left Georgetown with its tow at 8:30 a.m. on September 1, 1979. It travelled about 15 to 16 miles to the New Cumberland lock. Nothing unusual was observed with regard to the 1140 or to the rest of the tow during this time. The Roy Mechling was traveling at a fairly constant speed of about nine miles per hour, slowing down as it approached the lock. The evidence indicates that the crew of the Roy Mechling used reasonable care as they transported the 1140 to the New Cumberland lock.

 The Roy Mechling arrived at the New Cumberland lock at 10:10 a.m. Normal procedure was followed in taking the tow through the lock. Nothing unusual was observed at this time and the record indicates that due care was used.

 The Roy Mechling left the New Cumberland lock at 10:35 a.m., turning slowly out into the river. The vessel gained speed after it straightened out, getting up to five or six miles per hour.

 At 10:45 a.m., when the Roy Mechling had traveled about a mile from the New Cumberland lock, the 1140 buckled. The bow of the barge came up; the middle of the barge and then its stern went down. The Roy Mechling unsuccessfully attempted to get the barge to shore. The 1140 sank at Mile 55.6 on the Ohio River. The crew of the Roy Mechling used reasonable care during their vessel's journey from the New Cumberland lock to Mile 55.6 and during the actual sinking of the 1140.

 An inspection of the cargo after the sinking of the 1140 revealed that the ore was concentrated in the center section of the barge in one large pile, reposing at a very steep angle. There was no ore at all in at least the first 20 feet of the stern end. A crane operator *fn7" who removed the ore from the sunken barge testified that he also could find no ore in at least the first 10 feet of the bow or rake end. Further, the ore was situated irregularly between the port and starboard sides of the barge even where it was concentrated.

 The concentration of the cargo in the midsection of the 1140 did not result from the buckling of the barge nor did it result from any other occurrence during the voyage from New Kensington. We note in this regard that manganese is a very heavy ore which does not materially shift position once it is loaded. The location and configuration of the ore was the direct result of the manner in which it was loaded.

 The loading of the manganese ore by Defendant in a way which concentrated most of the ore in the midsection of the barge was improper and negligent. Defendant's negligence was the sole proximate cause of the subsequent buckling and sinking of the 1140. Plaintiff necessarily incurred certain expenses as a proximate result of the casualty. These payments, which were fair and reasonable, are as follows: 1. Howard Klein (diver's services): $1,165.65 Payment made on September 12, 1979. 2. John P. Colletti & Associates (marine surveyor's services): $2,895.90 Payment made on October 26, 1979. 3. Allegheny Marine Salvage Inc. (salvage services): $30,522.25 Payment made on September 19, 1979. 4. C. & C. Marine Maintenance Company (repairs): $880.00 Payment made on November 5, 1979. 5. Dravo Corporation (drydocking services): $451.00 Payment made on November 5, 1979.

19830222

© 1992-2004 VersusLaw Inc.



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