Annotate this Case
73 U.S. 18 (1867)
U.S. Supreme Court
The Amelie, 73 U.S. 6 Wall. 18 18 (1867)
73 U.S. (6 Wall.) 18
1. In order to justify the sale by the master of his vessel in a distant port in the course of her voyage, good faith in making the sale and a necessity for it must both concur, and the purchaser, in order to have a valid title, must show their concurrence. The question is not whether it is expedient to break up a voyage and sell the ship, but whether there was a legal necessity to do it. And this necessity is a question of fact, to be determined in each case by the circumstances in which the master is placed and the perils to which the property is exposed.
2. Where the sale of a vessel owned in Amsterdam was made at Port au Prince after a careful survey by five persons -- one, the British Lloyd's agent, another, the agent of the American underwriters, and the remaining three captains of vessels temporarily detained in port -- the whole appointed by and acting under the authority of the consul of the country where the vessel was owned -- which five surveyors unanimously agreed that the vessel was not worth repairing and advised a sale of her, this was held to pass a valid title, no evidence being before the master that the report was erroneous, and this although the master did not consult his owners at Amsterdam and though the vessel afterwards at a great expense -- greater, as the court assumed, than her new value -- was repaired and went to her original port of destination, and thence abroad with another cargo.
3. A justifiable sale divests all liens.
4. A bill of sale from the master is not required to pass title. The sale itself, followed by possession taken, does this.
Fitz, of Boston, was owner of goods to the value of $8,300, shipped at Surinam on board the Amelie, a Dutch vessel owned in Amsterdam, and to be delivered to him in Boston. The vessel, when she left her port, was apparently seaworthy and well provided, but having been struck with lightning in the course of her voyage and encountering perils of the sea, was compelled to seek some harbor, and with difficulty she made Port au Prince. She was here surveyed by two masters of vessels appointed by the Dutch consul there. These examined the outside of the vessel and found damage upon it, which they reported. In an attempt to repair this, and after the outlay of $800 or $1,000, further damage, on removing part of the cargo, was discovered. On this, a second survey was held. Upon this new survey there were two masters of vessels, the head of the shipyard at Port au Prince, the agent of the New York underwriters, and Lloyd's agent. They reported the outside of the vessel injured in the same manner that the first survey had reported, and reported other considerable injuries besides (which they specified), and recommended that new knees and planks should be put in, with other repairs, which they estimated would cost 10,000 Haytien dollars and take from twenty-five to thirty days. They said that permanent repairs could not be made at Port au Prince, but that the repairs recommended would be sufficient to take the vessel to Boston.
In making these temporary repairs, one of the sides of the vessel was uncovered, and the timbers of the vessel, which were then first made visible, were found to be broken on the larboard side. The damage was of so serious a character that a third survey was ordered by the Dutch consul. This third survey had upon it the agent of the New York underwriters, Lloyd's agent, who were also on the second survey, and three masters of vessels. These last-appointed surveyors
made a report stating at length the damage which they were able to find, their belief that additional damage would be found when the vessel was further uncovered, what the vessel would require, that there were no docks, nor competent ship carpenters, nor requisite timber or materials at Port au Prince, and consequently that they were compelled to come to the conclusion that it would not be possible to make the necessary repairs in that port in a proper manner. They further reported that if materials could be obtained, the time taken would be not less than four months, and would cost more than the vessel would be worth after the repairs were made. The surveyors for this reason advised that the voyage should be broken up, the vessel sold for the interest of all concerned, and the cargo transshipped to Boston.
The vessel was accordingly put up at public auction, and, after full notice, knocked down for $407 in gold, to one Riviere, who took possession.
The surveys seemed to have been carefully made, the second one having occupied two hours in the examination, and the third, or last, half a day. The reports were full and particular.
After the purchase of the vessel by Riviere, he repaired her, at a cost in gold of $1,695.31, and sent her to Boston.
At the time that the master sold the vessel at Port au Prince, he sold also a part of the cargo, the property, as already mentioned, of Fitz, for the proceeds of which ($2,441) he never accounted.
On the arrival of the vessel at Boston, Fitz libeled her, asserting a lien and claiming damages for the nondelivery of the cargo. The vessel having been sold by order of court, the purchaser made repairs to the extent of about $143, took off her copper, which he sold for $1,157, and sent her to England with a full cargo. She was forty days on the passage, had a good deal of bad weather, showed no symptoms of weakness, and appeared stanch and strong.
On a claim made by Fitz to the proceeds of the vessel in the Registry, $2,138, the district court dismissed the claim,
and this decree was affirmed in the circuit court. The matter was now here for review.
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