Petition of Canadian Pac. Ry. Co., 4553.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District of Washington)
Citation278 F. 180
Docket Number4553.
Decision Date30 September 1921

278 F. 180


No. 4553.

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Northern Division.

September 30, 1921

[278 F. 181] [Copyrighted Material Omitted] [278 F. 182]

On Rehearing, November 25, 1921.

On Rehearing.

On October 24, 1918, the Princess Sophia, owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, stranded on Vanderbilt reef, in Lynn Canal, Alaska, and during the night of October 25th the vessel foundered, resulting in the loss of the vessel and cargo and of the lives of all of the passengers and crew on board. Suits for damages were asserted. On the 28th day of February, 1919, the owner petitioned this court, seeking to obtain the benefit of sections 4283, 4284, and 4285, R.S. (sections 8021, 8022 and 8023, Comp. St.), limiting the liability for all loss resulting, and prayed that a trustee be appointed, to whom the interest in the steamship and her pending freight might be transferred and monition issued, warning all persons having claims by reason of the catastrophe to present the same within a fixed time, and that the owner be decreed not liable for loss, or, if liable, its liability be limited to the property surrendered. A trustee was named, and the interest of the company in the steamship and pending freight was transferred to him. A lifeboat afterwards discovered was reported to the court, and its value paid to the trustee.

Answers have been filed by many claimants, contesting the petitioner's right to limit liability, and it is affirmatively charged that the petitioner operated the steamship as a common carrier for passengers and freight for hire between the ports of Skagway and Vancouver and Seattle, and extensively advertised throughout Canada and the United States its lines of steamers, particularly that of the Princess Sophia, as being well adapted to navigate the waters of the inside passage to Alaska; that the officers were specially qualified to sail in such waters, and were familiar with the dangers, reef, and rocks; that the vessel was staunch and strong; that on the 23d of October the Princess Sophia was at Skagway, and that the passengers purchased tickets and went aboard and became passengers for hire, and that its officers failed to carry out such statements, etc.; that the route over which the petitioner operated its vessels was a dangerous route, and extremely difficult to navigate with safety in fog, rain, snowstorm, and thick weather, especially and particularly that portion known as Lynn Canal; that on account of such dangers there is placed a lighthouse at Eldred Rock, 30 miles south of Skagway to the starboard, and a light at Point Sherman, 38 miles south of Skagway, and a light at Sentinal Island, 60 miles south of Skagway; that a vessel navigating such route in clear weather at night could see the light at Point Sherman until the light at Sentinal Island was picked up; that Vanderbilt reef is about 18 miles south of Point Sherman and about 1 3/4 miles to the westward of the regular route traveled by vessels passing to the starboard; that it is dangerous to attempt the navigation of said passage at night, unless vessels can pick up Point Sherman light before passing Sentinal Island light, before reaching the vicinity of Vanderbilt reef; that vessels cannot undertake said route during heavy rains or snowstorms or thick weather with any degree of safety, and in doing so run great risk of being wrecked, all of which was well known to the officers and agents and employees of the petitioner; that the petitioner made it a practice to run and operate steamers for many years over said route at an unlawful rate of speed in thick weather, and at night when such lights could not be seen, in violation of law and rules of navigation; that such was the usual and customary method of navigating the steamship Sophia, and it was well known, permitted, authorized, and directed by the petitioner and its officers naming various persons; that the Princess Sophia left Skagway at 10:10 p.m. October 23d, at which time she had on board a large and excessive number of passengers, and more than she had accommodations for, and more than she was permitted by law to carry; that she proceeded in a reckless and careless manner, at an excessive rate of speed, and at about 12 o'clock p.m. ran into a blinding snowstorm, and continued to run in such snowstorm without being able to pick up Eldred Rock light, and without being able to pick up Sentinal Island light, and while so running at full speed struck and ran upon Vanderbilt reef at about 2 o'clock a.m. October 24th; that upon striking said reef she rose out of the water and ran the greater part of her length on said reef, with such force as to tear away plates on the bottom of said vessel, and tore a hole from the bow on the starboard side about 2 feet wide, to about 60 feet aft, throwing many passengers from their berths and causing great fear and anxiety among her passengers; that immediately upon striking said reef wireless messages were sent to managing officers of the petitioner at Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, Vancouver, Victoria, and Prince Rupert; that shortly thereafter the tide rose, causing the vessel to pound hard upon the rocks and causing great fear and distress among the passengers, which information was conveyed by wireless from the officers of said steamship to the officers and agents of the petitioner; that the lives of the passengers upon said steamship upon her stranding were immediately placed in great peril; that it was the duty of the petitioner, its officers, agents, and employees, to take immediate steps to remove said passengers to places of safety, which [278 F. 183] could have readily and easily been done by lowering lifeboats of said steamship upon Vanderbilt reef at low tide, and launching the same to the leeward of said reef, and allowing the passengers to step down the steamer upon said reef and into said lifeboats, which could have readily been done; that lifeboats could then have been rowed to vessels standing by, and her passengers transferred; that such lifeboats could have been rowed to boats within the vicinity of said rocks, where all the passengers could have been landed without difficulty, or that said passengers could have been saved by launching the two aft starboard lifeboats from said vessel into the water and transferring the passengers from lifeboats into other vessels standing near by, or by lowering lifeboats at high tide and transferring the passengers to the vessels standing by; that this could have been done at all times until noon of October 25th, and other methods of transferring passengers were set out; that, in order to save the expense of removing the passengers, petitioner decided to keep the passengers on board the Princess Sophia until it could send one of its vessels from Vancouver to Vanderbilt reef, a distance of 950 miles; that in accordance with such plan petitioner at 11 p.m. October 24th sent the steamship Princess Alice, with directions to go to Vanderbilt reef and take the passengers from the Princess Sophia and carry them to their destination; that it would take about 65 hours for the Princess Alice to reach Vanderbilt reef; that the vessels Peterson, Estebeth, Amy, King & Winge, Cedar, Atlas, Sitka, Elsinore, Osprey, Prince George, and other vessels were in the vicinity of said rock, ready and willing to take the passengers to places of safety, but the petitioner refused to allow the passengers to leave said steamship Sophia, although urgent demands were made of them; that at 4 p.m., October 25th, a violent storm arose in Lynn Canal, with a strong north wind, and at high tide, about 6 p.m., the wind and waves drove said vessel over and across the reef causing her to founder; that it had been generally known for many years that during the fall and winter months violent storms arose suddenly in Lynn Canal with little warning, and that petitioner well knew that such storms were likely to arise at any time, and in case of such storm the Princess Sophia would be driven from the reef and would founder; that notwithstanding this fact petitioner decided to keep and require all passengers to remain upon the Sophia until they could be taken therefrom by the Princess Alice; that the Princess Sophia was unseaworthy when she left Skagway, and that she was not equipped with sufficient lifeboats, life preservers, or life-saving appliances as required by law, and that the crew were insufficient in numbers, and were incompetent and not able-bodied seamen; that many of the crew were sick and unable to perform their duties; that said vessel did not carry pilots; that she was insufficiently manned, equipped, and not provided with a full and complete crew to perform their duties; that Captain Locke, master of the steamship, was 67 years of age, and was not given sufficient pilots, and required to stand long watches, and was under great mental and physical strain, and had become weakened physically and mentally, and was addicted to the use of alcoholic liquors to excess, and was under the influence of liquor on said voyage; that he had become incompetent, and not a safe master, all which was known to petitioner.

Charges of incompetence and unfamiliarity with the waters of Lynn Canal, carelessness and inefficiency, and disqualification were made against the officers of the petitioner, of which the petitioner had knowledge; that the compass and the barometer on the steamship were not in good order and condition; that the compass had not been tested or swung for a long time, and the barometer did not correctly indicate atmospheric pressure and change in weather; that all of the acts of negligence, incompetence, and unseaworthiness were known to the petitioner, and that the petitioner was at fault and guilty of gross negligence in connection with the loss and foundering of said steamship.

The petitioner replies, placing at issue all...

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