The Siren - 74 U.S. 152 (1868)
U.S. Supreme Court
The Siren, 74 U.S. 7 Wall. 152 152 (1868)
74 U.S. (7 Wall.) 152
1. A claim for damages exists against a vessel of the United States guilty of a maritime tort as much as if the offending vessel belonged to a private citizen. And although, for reasons of public policy, the claim can not be enforced by direct proceedings against the vessel, yet it will be enforced by the courts whenever the property itself, upon which the claim exists, becomes, through the affirmative action of the United States, subject to their jurisdiction and control. The government in such a case stands, with reference to the rights of the defendants or claimants, as do private suitors, except that it is exempt from costs, and from affirmative relief against it, beyond the demand or property in controversy.
2. By the admiralty law, all maritime claims upon the vessel extend equally to the proceeds arising from its sale, and are to be satisfied out of them.
These principles were thus applied:
A prize ship, in charge of it prize master and crew, on her way from the place of capture to the port of adjudication, committed a maritime tort by running into and sinking another vessel. Upon the libel of the government, the ship was condemned as lawful prize and sold, and the proceeds paid into the registry. The owners of the sunken vessel, and the owners of her cargo, thereupon intervened by petition, asserting a claim upon the proceeds for the damages sustained by the collision. Held that they were entitled to have their damages assessed and paid out of the proceeds before distribution to the captors.
3. The district court of the United States, sitting as a prize court, may hear and determine all questions respecting claims arising after the capture of the vessel.
The steamer Siren was captured in the harbor of Charleston in attempting to violate the blockade of that port in February, 1865, by the steamer Gladiolus, belonging to the Navy of the United States. She was placed in charge of a prize master and crew, and ordered to the port of Boston
for adjudication. On her way she was obliged to put into the port of New York for coal, and, in proceeding thence through the narrow passage which leads to Long Island Sound known as Hurlgate, she ran into and sank the sloop Harper, loaded with iron and bound from New York to Providence, Rhode Island. The collision was regarded by this Court, on the evidence, as the fault of the Siren.
On the arrival of the steamer at Boston, a libel in prize was filed against her, and no claim having been presented, she was, in April following, condemned as lawful prize and sold. The proceeds of the sale were deposited with the assistant treasurer of the United States in compliance with the act of Congress, where they now remain, subject to the order of the court.
In these proceedings the owners of the sloop Harper and the owners of her cargo intervened by petition, asserting a claim upon the vessel and her proceeds for the damages sustained by the collision and praying that their claim might be allowed and paid out of the proceeds.
The district court held that the intervention could not be allowed, and dismissed the petitions, and hence the present appeals.