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decided: February 24, 1931.



Hughes, Holmes, Van Devanter, McReynolds, Brandeis, Sutherland, Butler, Stone, Roberts

Author: Stone

[ 282 U.S. Page 682]

 MR. JUSTICE STONE delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner, charterer of the Steamship "Nidarholm," brought this admiralty suit in rem in the District Court for Southern Maine, to recover damages for the loss of part of a cargo of pulpwood from the deck of the vessel, where it had been stowed by the charterer. The time charter party, which was in the usual "government form," see Golcar S. S. Co. v. Tweedie Trading Co., 146 Fed. 563, placed at the charterer's disposal "the whole reach of the vessel's holds, decks and usual places of loading," and provided that "charterers . . . load, stow, and trim the cargo at their expense under the supervision of the captain." The question was whether, under these clauses of the charter party, the ship was liable for the loss, although one of its causes was the failure of the charterer to make the deck load secure. Judgment for the libellant, petitioner here, in the District Court, 26 F.2d 92, was reversed by the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, which divided the loss. 34 F.2d 442; rehearing denied, 36 F.2d 227. This Court granted certiorari, 281 U.S. 712, on a petition which relied in part on an alleged conflict of the decision below with that of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in Olsen v. United States Shipping Co., 213 Fed. 18.

The District Court found the facts as follows. The Nidarholm was chartered by petitioner for the purpose of carrying pulpwood from its plant at Murray, Nova Scotia, to Portland, Maine. In loading for the voyage in question,

[ 282 U.S. Page 683]

     petitioner, after the hold was filled, piled the logs of pulpwood, cut in two-foot lengths, on the deck to a height of 17 feet. The deck load was secured by a crib, which petitioner constructed by erecting, at intervals along the rail, stanchions about 20 feet long and from 8 to 10 inches in diameter at the butt. The stanchions were held in position by wire rope lashings. When the ship backed from the dock, she had a list to starboard of about 5 degrees; but as she proceeded on her voyage, the list shifted to the port side, and increased to between 10 and 14 degrees. Within a half hour of her departure, and while she was still in smooth water, the stanchions broke, first on the port side, then on the starboard; and the deck load above the rails spilled into the sea. The court concluded that faulty stowage of the deck load had rendered the ship topheavy and unseaworthy, and held that, since this was a breach of the duty to supervise loading which the charter party had placed on the captain, the ship was responsible for the loss.

The Court of Appeals accepted the District Court's finding that the ship was topheavy and unseaworthy because of improper loading, and its conclusion that this was a fault for which the master was responsible, but stated that the question was whether the charterer was also at fault. It pointed out that the cribbing was no part of the equipment which the vessel was under an obligation to furnish; that the charterer had erected it and chosen the material of which it was constructed; and that all the stanchions gave way at a time when the stress caused by the list of the ship was less than that which would be occasioned by the normal roll of the vessel at sea. These findings are supported by evidence.

Whether the court considered the topheaviness of the ship, caused by the faulty stowage, and the defective cribbing to be joint contributing causes of the loss, or thought the latter the proximate cause, is not clear. But

[ 282 U.S. Page 684]

     it reached the conclusion, without referring to any supporting facts, that the construction of the cribbing was a joint undertaking carried out by the charterer and the vessel, for the failure of which both were at fault, and decreed that the loss be divided.

As respondent did not ask certiorari, the only question we shall consider is whether the court below was wrong in denying the asserted liability of the ship for the entire loss. Warner Co. v. Independent Pier Co., 278 U.S. 85, 91.

By the terms of the charter party there was an affirmative warranty of seaworthiness on the part of the vessel which would otherwise have been implied. The Caledonia, 157 U.S. 124, 130, 131. This warranty extends to unseaworthiness of the ship due to faulty stowage of cargo, Corsar v. Spreckles, 141 Fed. 260, even though the charterer himself, subject to supervision of the captain, loads the vessel, The Seguranca, 250 Fed. 19. The charterer is entitled to rely on the master, in the exercise of his expert knowledge and judgment, to control the disposal of cargo so as to avoid dangers to it from any consequent unseaworthiness of the vessel. Olsen v. United States ...

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