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Colonial Cases

Steamship Montauk v. Steamship Luigi Premuda, 1900

[shipping, collision]

The Steamship Montauk v. The Steamship Luigi Premuda

Judicial Committee of the Privy Council
22 November, 8 December 1900
Source: The Times, 23 November 1900

LAW REPORT, NOV. 22.

JUDICIAL COMMITTEE OF THE PRIVY COUNCIL.

(Present - LORD HOBHOUSE, LORD ROBERTSON, LORD LINDLEY, SIR FRANCIS JEUNE, and SIR FORD NORTH.)

THE STEAMSHIP MONTAUK v. THE STEAMSHIP LUIGI PREMUDA.

This was an appeal from a decree of her Majesty's Supreme Consular Court at Constantinople sitting in Vice-Admiralty of September 18, 1899.

Mr. Robson, Q.C., and Mr. T. E. Scrutton appeared for the appellant; Mr. Joseph Walton, Q.C., and Dr. Charles Stubbs for the respondent.

The action was brought for the recovery of damages in respect of a collision in the Bosporus between the two vessels on the night of November 29, 1896.  The Montauk, a British steamer of 1,944 tons net register, was on a voyage from Kertch to Rotterdam with a cargo of grain, and having anchored a short distance above Canatash, on the Constantinople side of the Bosporus, near the Sultan's Palace, had got under way and was proceeding to continue her voyage.  The Luigi Premuda, a smaller Austro-Hungarian steamship, was then lying at anchor close by.  The Montauk began to turn to starboard when a light was suddenly shown and a small rowing-boat was seen crossing the steamer's bows.  The people in the boat shouted and the engines of the Montauk were reversed, with the result that her starboard beam struck the stern of the Luigi Premuda, doing damage.  It was contended by the appellant that the mishap was an inevitable accident for which the Montauk was not responsible.

The action was first tried on October 28, 1897, before the Acting Judge (Major Seager), who held that the master of the Montauk was wrong in entering the current when and at the speed he did, and that the collision was caused by his negligence.  On a rehearing before Mr. H. W. de Saus Marez, the Assistant Judge, on September 18, 1899, the same result was arrived at.

At the close of the arguments on both sides,

Their Lordships said they would take time to consider their judgment.

Source: The Times, 10 December 1900

LAW REPORT, DEC. 8.

JUDICIAL COMMITTEE OF THE PRIVY COUNCIL.

(Present - LORD HOBHOUSE, LORD DAVEY, LORD ROBERTSON, LORD LINDLEY, SIR RICHARD COUCH, SIR FRANCIS JEUNE, and SIR FORD NORTH.)

THE OWNERS OF THE STEAMSHIP MONTAUK v. THE OWNERS OF THE STEAMSHIP LUIGI PREMUDA.

This was an appeal from a decree of her Majesty's Supreme Consular Court at Constantinople of September 18, 1899, confirming on re-hearing a decision of the Court in an action relating to a collision in the Bosporus in which the owners of the Luigi Premuda were plaintiffs and the owners of the Montauk defendants.

Mr. Robson, Q.C., and Mr. T. E. Scrutton appeared for the appellants; Mr. Joseph Walton, Q.C., and Dr. Charles Stubbs for the respondents.

The arguments were heard before a Board consisting of Lord Hobhouse, Lord Robertson, Lord Lindley, Sir Francis Jeune, and Sir Ford North, with Captain J. Kiddle, R.N., and Captain R. Dyer, R.N., as nautical assessors, whose judgment was reserved.

SIR FRANCIS JEUNE, in now delivering their Lordships' judgment, said in neither Court below was the assistance of assessors obtained, but, although the absence of such assistance was in such a case to be regretted, the question at issue turned rather upon knowledge of the Bosporus at Constantinople and the craft navigating there, which presumably was possessed by the judges themselves, than upon information founded upon nautical skill and  experience such as could be contributed only by skilful assessors.

The collision occurred in the following manner: - The Montauk, a steamship of 1,944 tons net and 3,022 tons gross register, and 320ft. long, while on a voyage from Kertch to Rotterdam anchored on the morning of November 23, 1896, in the Bosporus off the Sultan's palace and near the shore.  She lay there heading north-east during the day, at a place where there was little or no current, but further out from the shore the current was running on the evening of that day at the rate of five or six knots.  The Sultan's yacht was anchored one or two lengths ahead of the Montauk and about one point on her port bow.  Several steamers were moored astern of the Montauk, the nearest at a distance of two or three length.  During the day the Luigi Premuda came to an anchor on the starboard side of the Montauk, just before her beam, at a distance of two or three lengths and in the full force of the current.

About 6.45 p.m. the Montauk proceeded on her voyage, and in doing so got up her anchor and moved slowly ahead in the direct of which she had been lying.  At this time the wind was from the north, in a direction, therefore, almost the same as that of the current, of a force amounting to a strong breeze, and squally.  The night was dark with passing showers, but clear.  The Montauk steamed slowly past the Sultan's yacht till she came to a position in which the Luigi Premuda was broad on her starboard quarter at about three lengths distance.  The helm of the Montauk was then ported hard-a-port, and, going slow ahead with her engines, she thus entered the current.  She swung to her helm about four or five pints and was moving onwards when a white light was suddenly discerned from what was afterwards seen to be a boat at a point or a point and a half on her starboard bow, moving across the bows of the Montauk, close down to the water and about half a ship's length away; and at the same time shouts and the sound of oars were heard.  The captain of the Montauk, fearing to run down the boat, stopped his engines and put them full speed astern.  As soon as the light was clear on the port bow of the Montauk her engines were put at full speed ahead, and the helm was put hard-a-starboard.  Before, however, the Montauk could get across the bows of the Luigi Premuda the current carried her down and she came into collision first with her starboard beam and again 20ft. or 30ft. further aft against the starboard bow of the Luigi Premuda, which endeavoured in vain to avert the collision by slacking out 45 fathoms of chain.

It was clear that the Luigi Premuda, lying at anchor with her proper lights exhibited, was entirely free from blame, and it was for the Montauk to justify herself in the circumstances for the collision.  It was sought to do that by contending that the sudden appearance of the boat, which stopped the advance of the Montauk and so caused her to drift down on the Luigi Premuda, was the sole cause of the collision, and that after that light was seen the conduct of the captain of the Montauk in putting her engines astern and then going ahead with a hard-a-starboard helm was correct.  The latter point might be disposed of first.  It was suggested at the Bar that the proper course for the Montauk would have been to have kept her engines going astern until she reached the slack water out of which she had just come and then to have anchored.  Their Lordships had had the advantage of consulting their nautical assessors, who were acquainted with the locality on the point, and they were advised that, having regard to the position of the vessels which were astern of the anchorage of the Montauk and also the great depth of water, it would not have been prudent for the Montauk to have adopted the course suggested, and that no blame attached to her for her conduct after the light of the boat was seen.

That left for decision the main question in the case, which was whether the Montauk was justified in porting her helm and turning in to the current as soon as she did, or whether she should not have proceeded further in the direction in which she had been lying before endeavouring to get in to the main channel of the Bosporus.  On that point the Court had arrived at a decided conclusion.  They were, no doubt, considerably influenced by a case of "The steamship Danae v. steamship Romulus," previously decided in the Consular Court, in which the Court, assisted by assessors, appeared to have held that the Romulus acted wrongly in slowly steaming ahead and at once turning into the current and that she should have steamed some distance up the Bosporus in slack water, and then gradually entered  the current with such speed as would give her helm power, and it would appear that the ,learned Judge who heard the case stated that he had on several occasions warned captains leaving the port that they must do the same so as to give a wider berth to any vessel anchored in mid stream.

As that case could not be produced, their Lordships were unable to give such consideration to its details as would enable them to say with confidence how far its decision governed the present case, and it would appear that in one material matter at least, the direction of the vessel in fault, the circumstances of that case differed from that now before the Board.  But it certainly might be said that the Consular Court had had to consider the conduct of vessels leaving the port of Constantinople and must be familiar with the difficulties occasioned by the current and the probability of meeting boats or other craft in that part of the Bosporus. Their Lordships had asked advice of their own assessors and, acting under that advice, they entertained no doubt of the correctness of the decision of the Court below.

Having regard to the position of the Montauk in regard to the Luigi Premuda at the time when the Montauk turned her head into the current, it appeared to their Lordships to be by no means certain that the Montauk would have cleared the Luigi Premuda at a safe distance, even if the incident of the appearance of the boat had not intervened, and their Lordships were clearly of opinion that the Montauk should even as regards the Luigi Premuda, have continued her course in a north-easterly direction, before turning, for a longer period than she did.  But their Lordships also thought that in a place such as the locality in question the occurrence of boats or other craft more or less impeding the course of a vessel while leaving her anchorage was one which every captain should consider as at least possible, and as constituting an ordinary risk against which precaution should be observed.

Their Lordships were therefore of opinion that the judgment of the Court below should be affirmed and the appeal dismissed, and they would humbly advise her Majesty accordingly.  The appellants must bear the costs of the appeal.

Published by Centre for Comparative Law, History and Governance at Macquarie Law School