Leary v. United States,
81 U.S. 607 (1871)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Leary v. United States, 81 U.S. 14 Wall. 607 607 (1871)

Leary v. United States

81 U.S. 607


1. If by the terms of a charter party the entire vessel is let to the charterer with a transfer to him of its command and possession and consequent control over its navigation, be will generally be considered as owner for the voyage or service stipulated. But if the charter party let only the use of the vessel, the owner at the same time retaining its command and possession, and control over its navigation, the charterer is regarded as a mere contractor for a designated service, and the duties and responsibilities of the owner are not changed. In the first case the charter party is a contract for the lease of the vessel; in the other it is a contract for a special service to be rendered by the owner of the vessel.

2. Stipulations in a charter party that the general owners shall keep the vessel in good condition during the existence of the charter, and receive on board certain goods at the request of the government (the charterer) and refuse to receive other goods without its assent. Held to be conclusive evidence that the possession and control of the vessel had not passed to the charterer but had been retained by the general owner.

3. In a charter party by which a vessel was hired by the government for the purpose of plying in the harbor of Port Royal, in South Carolina, or for such other service as the government might designate, it was stipulated that in case the vessel, while executing the orders of the government, should be destroyed or damaged, or by being compelled by the government to run any extraordinary marine risk, the owner should be indemnified. In complying with the orders of the harbor master in Port Royal the vessel struck upon the fluke of a sunken anchor in the harbor, and was sunk; held that the risk which the vessel thus incurred was not an extraordinary marine risk within the meaning of the charter party, but an ordinary risk which every vessel runs that enters a harbor, and which every marine policy covers.

On the 19th of November, 1862, one Leary, owner of the steamer Mattano, chartered her to the United States, for the purpose of plying in the harbor of Port Royal, South Carolina, or for any other service the government might designate.

By the terms of the charter party, Leary engaged that the vessel during the existence of the charter, should be kept tight, stanch, well fitted, tackled, and provided with every requisite, and with men and provisions necessary; that the whole of it (with the exception of room necessary for the accommodation of the crew and the storage of cables and provisions) should be at the sole use and disposal of the

Page 81 U. S. 608

government during the existence of the charter, and that no goods or merchandise should be laden on board otherwise than from the government or its agent, on pain of forfeiture of the amount that may become due on the charter; that he, Leary, would receive on board the vessel during the charter all such goods and merchandise as the government might think proper to ship. The government, on its part, agreed to charter and hire the vessel at $250 a day for each day that it might be retained under the charter, the government to supply the coal, and that in case the vessel, while executing the orders of the government, should be destroyed or damaged by a hostile force from any quarter or by being compelled by the government to run any extraordinary marine risk, then Leary was to be indemnified, in case of loss the value of the vessel being fixed at $26,000,

"and in case of damage the amount to be assessed by a board of survey, to be convened on her after her arrival at Port Royal, South Carolina, or other friendly port at the expense of the government."

While under charter, the vessel was lying at one of the wharves in the harbor of Port Royal. On the 12th of May, 1863, the military harbor-master ordered her out to make room for another steamer. The captain of the Mattano objected to going out, as the tide was very low, and as he believed there was a considerable breeze from an unfavorable quarter. The harbor-master ordered the Mattano peremptorily to back out, and her captain let go his lines and did so. In thus backing out, she struck upon the fluke of a sunken anchor imbedded in the sand, and sank in fifteen minutes.

This anchor against whose fluke the vessel struck was a mooring anchor, and had been placed where it was by the United States quartermaster, to moor big ocean steamers prior to November, 1862, and had a buoy attached to it which showed its position; but about the 1st of January, 1863, the buoy had gone adrift in a gale of wind and had never been replaced, and there was nothing at the time of the accident to warn vessels of the position of the sunken

Page 81 U. S. 609

anchor. No one could have pointed out where the anchor was at that time. The captain of the Mattano knew of the existence of the anchor, but thought he was a long way outside of it. There was no unskillfulness in executing the order to back out.

The Mattano was removed from where she sank by a wrecking boat sent there by the Secretary of War, and under orders from the quartermaster, about July 4, 1863, and the cost of this service was paid by the United States. A gale of wind which came on after she sank did damage to her by carrying off her upper works, wheelhouse, and joiners' work clear to the hull. No board of survey was convened to assess the damage done to the vessel.

After the vessel had been raised by the United States, Leary took possession of her, carried her to New York, and there had her put in order in such a way as to leave her fit for a towing or carrying vessel, but not fitted for passengers. These repairs were completed on the 10th of December, 1863, and cost Leary for her restoration $18,265.25, and she was worth then $12,000 less than before the accident. From the time this occurred, 12th of May, 1863, until the time the repairs were completed, December 10, 1863, there were two hundred and fourteen days. The repairs were made as rapidly and as economically as possible. She was chartered again to the defendants in May, 1864, at $100 a day.

On this case, the Court of Claims decided that the disaster was a usual marine disaster, such as was covered by ordinary marine policies of insurance, and not such extraordinary marine risk as was contemplated in the charter party, and that if the owners neglected to protect themselves against such perils by insurance, they would have to bear the loss. The court accordingly dismissed the petition, and hence the appeal to this Court.

Page 81 U. S. 610

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