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UNITED STATES v. THE M/V MARTIN

October 12, 1961

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, LIBELANT,
v.
THE M/V MARTIN, HER ENGINES, TACKLE, APPAREL AND FURNITURE, AND THE BARGE MOS-101, HER ENGINES, TACKLE, APPAREL AND FURNITURE, RESPONDENTS. MARTIN OIL SERVICE, INC., A CORPORATION, CROSS-LIBELANT, V. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, CROSS-RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mercer, Chief Judge.

The United States of America, hereinafter referred to as libelant, filed this libel in two counts against the respondents, M/V Martin and Barge MOS-101, for damages arising out of the alleged collision of the vessels with an Illinois River navigation beacon structure known as Drolls Point Light. Martin Oil Service, Inc., owner of the respondent vessels, filed a cross-libel for damages allegedly sustained by it as a result of the same incident.

The cause came on for trial without a jury and was taken for decision upon the evidence, after arguments of counsel had been heard and briefs of the respective parties had been submitted to the court. After due deliberation, the court enters its findings of fact and conclusions of law, as follows:

Findings of Fact

1.  The M/V Martin is a steel motor vessel, Official Number
260333, of 183 gross tons, 93.8 feet in length, 26 feet in
width and 7.4 feet in depth. On April 19, 1956, the vessel was
owned and operated by cross-libelant, Martin Oil Service, Inc.
2.  The Barge MOS-101 is a steel tank barge, Official Number
262739, of 1,321 gross tons, 289.5 feet in length, 50.3 feet
in width and 9.3 feet in depth. The Barge MOS-103 has
characteristics similar to those of the MOS-101.

3. The Illinois River, an affluent of the Mississippi River, is a part of the Illinois waterway which connects the Great Lakes with the Mississippi River system and the Gulf of Mexico. The River is navigable throughout its length.

4.  On April 19, 1956, and at all times material hereto,
libelant, acting through the United States Coast Guard, owned
and maintained various aids to navigation defining the
navigable channel of the Illinois River. One such navigation
aid then maintained by libelant was Drolls Point Light, which
was located at the westernmost boundary of the channel at Mile
168.9 in a portion of the River known as Peoria Lake. Drolls
was located about 200 feet west of the sailing line
established by official charts for navigation of Peoria Lake.
5.  The lighting mechanisms of Drolls Point Light,
consisting of two 3-degree, flashing, green lights, oriented,
respectively, upstream and downstream, and one 360-degree,
flashing, green light, was positioned atop a 17-foot tower
rising above the surface of the River upon a concrete base or
cap. The tower of Drolls was equipped with scotchlite
reflectors which reflected light thrown by the beam of
searchlights from distances up to at least 5 miles, and which
were positioned on three of its four sides, i. e., the sides
facing upstream, downstream and toward the River channel.
6.  On April 19, 1959, the relevant section of the channel
of Peoria Lake was fully and adequately marked by both lighted
and unlighted navigational aids. From Mile 171 therein,
southward, to Mile 165, there were four lighted aids installed
and maintained by libelant, to wit: Detweiller Park Light,
situated west of the sailing line at Mile 170.9; Drolls Point
Light, also west of the sailing line; Ivy Club Lighted Buoy,
situated west of the sailing line at Mile 167.9; and Avery
Light, situated east of the sailing line at Mile 165.3. In
addition to those lighted aids, range lights were affixed,
oriented upstream, upon the State highway bridge which crosses
Peoria Lake at Mile 165.7. The westerly limits of the channel
were also marked by black, cone-shaped, unlighted buoys, while
the easterly limits thereof were marked with similar red
buoys. One of the latter was situated directly opposite Drolls
Light, about 200 feet to the east of the sailing line.

On the last mentioned date, all lighted and unlighted aids to navigation were situated in their known and proper locations.

7.  Southbound vessels make a port turn at Detweiller Light,
where the River bends sharply to the left. From immediately
south of Detweiller Light to a point south of the State
highway bridge the sailing line is virtually a straight line
and it extends in a south-southeasterly direction. After
completing the turn at Detweiller Light, an experienced
navigator can keep his downbound vessel on the sailing line in
mid-channel by keeping her bow on the range lights on the
State highway bridge and her stern on Detweiller Light without
using any other aids to navigation. By maintaining such a
course his vessel would pass approximately 200 feet to the
east of Drolls Light.
8.  Shortly prior to 3:55 a. m., on April 19, 1956, the
Martin, downbound from Blue Island, Illinois, to West Memphis,
Arkansas, entered Peoria Lake. She was then pushing the
unladen, unmanned Barge MOS-101 as the starboard unit of an
abreast, two-barge tow. The second unit was the Barge MOS-103
which was also empty and unmanned.

The Martin was manned by a master, a pilot and seven crew members. Prior to the entry of the Martin into Peoria Lake, the master was relieved by the pilot, John E. Haney. At all material times, Haney, a deckhand, and an engineer were the only members of the crew on duty. Haney was in sole charge of the navigation of the vessel and her tow. The engineer remained in the Martin's engine room, and the deckhand was engaged in general duties. The master and all other crew members were off duty and remained below deck. No lookout was maintained on the Martin's tow or on the Martin herself, except from her pilot house.

9.  At about 3:55 a. m., on April 19, 1956, the Barge
MOS-101, in tow of the Martin, collided with Drolls Point
Light. From midnight until the time of collision, the weather
was dark but clear, with ...

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