Annotate this Case
166 U.S. 404 (1997)
U.S. Supreme Court
The Umbria, 166 U.S. 404 (1897)
Argued March 27, 30, 1896
March 2-3, 1897
Decided April 5, 1997
166 U.S. 404
The Umbria, a passenger steamer carrying the mails, coming out from the harbor of New York at full speed about midday in a fog which was at times dense and at times intermittent, collided with the Iberia about eleven miles from the entrance to the harbor and sank her. Held that the Umbria was gravely at fault in the matter of speed, and that this fault was not lessened by the fact that passenger steamers carrying the mails run at full speed in a fog in order to pass the foggy belt.
Accepting, in the absence of other evidence, the testimony of the officers and crew of the Iberia as conclusive, the Court, while of opinion that it would have been more prudent not to have changed her course in manner as set forth in tile statement of the case, is unwilling to say that the doing so was necessarily a fault on her part.
The general consensus of opinion in this country is that in a fog, a steamer is bound to use only such precautions as will enable her to stop in time to avoid a collision after the approaching vessel comes in sight, provided such approaching vessel is herself going at the moderate speed required by law.
The damages should not have been divided by the court below. The majority of this Court think that the Iberia was not in fault under tile circumstances set forth in the statement of the case, and the other members of the Court are of opinion that her fault, if any, did not contribute to the collision.
In cases of total loss, estimated profits of a charter party not yet entered upon are always rejected, and there is nothing in the facts to take this case out of the general rule.
This was a suit in admiralty, brought in the District Court for the Eastern District of New York by the owners of the French steamship Iberia against the British steamship Umbria, to recover damages for a collision which took place about a quarter past one in the afternoon of November 10, 1888, in a dense fog off the coast of Long Island, about eleven miles from the entrance to New York Harbor and six miles south of Rockaway Beach.
The Iberia was a French steamship, 240 feet long, of 1,059 tons register, capable of a speed of from 9 1/2 to 10 knots an hour, was laden with a valuable cargo, and bound from the Red Sea and Mediterranean ports to New York. She had been in a fog since eight o'clock in the morning, was running with her engines "easy," the lowest order short of stopping at a speed of from 3 1/2 to 4 knots an hour on a W.N.W. course, and making occasional soundings with her lead. On two occasions within a half hour preceding the collision, she had heard the whistle of an approaching steamer a little on her port bow, had altered her course two points to the starboard, kept on until the whistles indicated that the steamers were passed, and then returned to her former course. About a quarter of an hour after passing the last of these steamers, she heard a whistle, which proved to be that of the Umbria, bearing about two points on her port bow. Immediately, as on the previous occasions, her head was put two points more to starboard, a short whistle was blown, her helm was steadied upon a N.W. course, and held so. While so proceeding, after four or five minutes, several more of the Umbria's whistles were heard, all bearing about the same direction from the Iberia (allowing two points for the porting), the sound rapidly increasing in volume. Finally, the Umbria herself came into view about 900 feet away, and bearing about five points on her port hand. She then put her engines full speed ahead in an attempt to escape the Umbria by crossing her bow, and had nearly passed her when the Umbria struck her stern on at an angle of about six or seven points, and cut her stern completely off.
The Umbria was a steamship of the Cunard line, 525 feet
long, of 3,450 tons register, capable of a speed of 19 1/2 knots an hour, and was bound upon a voyage from New York to Liverpool, laden with a cargo, and having on board a number of passengers. After passing Sandy Hook and discharging her pilot, she was put upon a compass course of E. by S. 3/4 S. From half past twelve, when she discharged her pilot at the outer buoy, until the collision, she was kept at full speed more or less of the time, as the intermittent character of the fog permitted, sounding her whistle at intervals of a minute or two. The French steamship Normandie discharged her pilot ahead of the Umbria and proceeded on her course a little more to the southward than the latter, at times being in sight of the Umbria, and again being concealed by the fog. Her whistle was heard from time to time on board the Umbria and off her starboard quarter, the latter having passed her before she reached the place of collision. Shortly after one o'clock, the fog thickened, and, while the Umbria was running at full speed, a very faint single blast of a whistle, which subsequently proved to be from the Iberia, was thought to be heard on the Umbria's starboard bow, apparently a long distance off, and well to the southward. Upon hearing this whistle, and at ten minutes past one, her speed was reduced by order of her master, and attention given towards the direction of the sound for a repetition of the signal. Shortly afterwards, a second, and, as some say, a third, whistle were heard, still apparently a long distance off, on the Umbria's starboard bow, and well to the southward. The master of the Umbria thereupon determined that the signals which had been heard were from a steamship approaching on a course parallel to his own, and, concluding that the Umbria was clear of her and that she would probably port her helm to avoid the Normandie, ordered her engines full speed ahead at eleven minutes past one o'clock. Within a minute from the time such order was given, another whistle was heard closer to the Umbria, and drawing ahead of her, and almost simultaneously the Iberia loomed in sight, a little on the Umbria's starboard bow, on a course crossing her own nearly at right angles, and about twice the Umbria's length away. The Umbria's engines were
immediately reversed at full speed, her helm put hard a-port, but before the Iberia had crossed her course the collision ensued. She struck the Iberia on the port side, about thirty feet forward of her stern, cut her completely in two, and passed on out of sight in the fog
Upon this state of facts, the district court held the Umbria to have been solely in fault for the collision, entered an interlocutory decree, January 13, 1890, to that effect, 40 F. 893, and referred the question of damages to a commissioner, who made a report, to which both parties filed exceptions. One of the exceptions taken by the libelant, the owner of the Iberia, was sustained by the court, and in accordance therewith a new report was made, and a final decree entered July 3, 1891, for the sum of $147,500.17. Claimant appealed to the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which rendered a decision by a divided court sustaining the decree of the district court as to the fault of the Umbria, but finding the Iberia also to have been in fault -- first because, after hearing the first whistle of the Umbria, she changed her course without knowing the latter's bearing, course, or speed. and, second because she violated article 18 of the international regulations by continuing on when she knew, or ought to have known, that the courses of the two vessels were crossing, and thereby involving risk of collision. 53 F. 288. The decision of the district court was also reversed upon the question involved in the exception to the master's report. A rehearing having been refused, libelant applied to this Court for a writ of certiorari, which was granted.
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