MORAN-GROVER Collision Case.
The case against the MAURICE B. GROVER for colliding with the MORAN on 7, 1896, about 300 feet south of the light crib at Sailors' Encampment, Sault river, was decided by Judge Coxe, of the United States district court, northern district of New York, on March 26, the libel against the Grover being dismissed. The MORAN grounded at this point about 5 o'clock in the afternoon; the GROVER was bound down, and at the "Dark Hole" gave the bend signal, and came on. It was just about sundown. The bow of the MORAN, as she day aground, extended to or about to the range line. The GROVER made the turn above with some difficulty, having to avoid a dredge, and straightened down when she discovered the MORAN. The MORAN's running lights were up, and she did not at any time signal the GROVER, but just after the GROVER had straightened upon the Encampment range, the MORAN blew four blasts for a tug, which was mistaken on the GROVER for a hurry-up signal. The GROVER undertook to pass astern of the MORAN, and failed. For this she was not to blame, although it appeared afterward that it would have been better to try to pass her bow.
Some parts of the opinion delivered in this case will interest vessel masters. The court said: "When the GROVER gave the bend signal at the "Dark Hole" it was clearly the duty of the MORAN to answer it. This would be so in any case. The GROVER hearing no response to her signal had the right, pursuant to the inspectors' rule, to consider the channel at the Encampment clear. But if this were a duty devolving upon the MORAN when under way, how much more was it her duty when lying aground? Without doubt the GROVER was entitled to notice of this fact. How was she to know that a vessel lying below the crib was aground How could the GROVER maneuver intelligently in ignorance of this facts There was danger in the MORAN's position. She should have given the danger signal in time.
* * * Instead of doing this, the MORAN remained silent when she should have spoken and spoke when she should have remained silent. When it was too late to give any signal which could avail, and just at the time when the situation was critical and becoming dangerous, the MORAN gave four blasts upon her whistle. This was intended as a call for assistance from the tug. But if the blasts were short, and they may well have been curtailed in the excitement of the moment, the signal was an invitation to the GROVER to "come on, ' to "hurry up. " It was so understood by the master of the GROVER. It is not important to inquire whether the GROVER was justified in mistaking the signal. The GROVER was so near at the time that it was impossible for the tug to render any assistance before the GROVER passed. The MORAN should have waited until the danger was over before complicating still further an already hazardous situation by a premature and misleading signal. The problem confronting the GROVER was difficult enough without adding a new element of uncertainty. To give an unnecessary signal at such a time, which might be construed into a request to do the worst thing possible, was a grave fault."
As to the navigation of the GROVER, the court said: "It is manifestly unfair to judge the GROVER in the light of the situation as it is now developed. The judge should endeavor, as far as possible, to place himself in the position of the master of the GROVER and pass judgment upon his action in the light of what was known at the time.
* * * The question is not whether the GROVER adopted the best possible course, but whether she adopted the best course in the sudden exigency which confronted her. Did the master of the GROVER do what a prudent mariner in like circumstances might have done? By reason of the seemingly inexcusable fault of the MORAN, he found himself face to face with a sudden peril. He had to choose in a moment whether to turn to the right or to the left. He decided to take the usual course and go to the right. This course seemed to him at the time to present fewer obstacles than the other. There was danger no matter which course he adopted. There was no time for nice calculations. The dilemma was made by the MORAN; he was not responsible for it; he did what seemed to him best. Assume that he was wrong; the rule is clear that a vessel can not be held liable for mistakes committed in such exigencies."
It was conceded at the trial that it was a case of bad seamanship on the part of one or the other. The court found that the fault lay with the MORAN, and dismissed her libel. Norris Morey of Buffalo appeared for the MORAN, and Harvey D. Goulder of Cleveland for the GROVER.
April 1, 1897
The litigation growing out of the collision between the steamers MAURICE B. GROVER and JOHN V. MORAN. May 7th, 1896, has finally terminated in complete exoneration of the GROVER. The MORAN was aground about 300 feet below the light crib at Sailors' Encampment, St. Mary's river. About 7 o'clock in the evening, the GROVER came down and collided with her, striking her near amidships. The MORAN had her running lights up and had been endeavoring to release herself, and, as the GROVER was coming down from the turn above, the MORAN blew four whistles to a tug for assistance, which were heard on the GROVER and taken for a hurry-up signal. The GROVER first endeavored to pass under the stern of the MORAN, and seeing she could not do that. changed her course to go around the bow, but unsuccessfully.
The case was tried in the United States district court at Utica before District Judge Cox, who exonerated the GROVER. His decision was affirmed by the United States circuit court of appeals, and the application of the MORAN for a rehearing denied by that court. Both courts found that even if the GROVER could have passed the bow of the MORAN, had she tried it in the first place, it was not a fault for which she could be condemned, as the MORAN presented every appearance of a vessel waiting below. She gave no warning of any danger or anything unusual in the situation, and after the GROVER ascertained that she was not moving although she had her running lights up, but was aground, a mistake in judgment, if one were made, by her master, was not a fault for which she could be condemned.
March 30, 1899