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U.S. Supreme Court

May v. Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt, A.G., 290 U.S. 333 (1933)

May v. Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt Aktiengesellschaft

No. 80

Argued November 14, 15, 1933

Decided December 4, 1933

290 U.S. 333


1. In order that a shipowner may be relieved by the Harter Act of liability for damage resulting from negligent operation or management of the ship and be entitled to general average under shippers' agreements (Jason clause) based on that statute, it is necessary that he shall have exercised due diligence to make the vessel seaworthy, not only at the beginning of the voyage, but at any intermediate stage of it (preceding the loss or damage) at which he took control. P. 290 U. S. 342.

Page 290 U. S. 334

So held where the purpose of taking control was to inspect the ship after an accident and to determine whether she was in condition to proceed.

2. His ship having been injured en voyage, the master put into a port of call and notified the owner, a corporation. The owner dispatched its marine superintendent to inspect the ship and determine what to do, who, after consulting with the master and others, ordered her sent on with tugs. Held that, the owner having thus intervened and taken over the management, the continuity of the voyage was interrupted, and the owner was under a renewed obligation of diligence to make the ship seaworthy then. P. 290 U. S. 345.

3. A shipowner who would claim the exemption of § 3 of the Harter Act has the burden of proving that he exercised due diligence to make his vessel seaworthy. P. 290 U. S. 346.

4. The ship, assumed to have been seaworthy when she left the United States, damaged her rudder stock and bent her rudder blade five degrees by an accident on her way up the Weser River, below Bremen, her first port of discharge. On arriving at that port with the aid of tugs, she was inspected by the owner through its marine superintendent, but, owing to negligence, the bend in the blade was not discovered. The whole damage could have been repaired at Bremen, but, apparently to save time and expense, the owner decided to send her on to Hamburg, her next port of discharge, 70 miles away. While proceeding down the Weser with the aid of three tugs, she was grounded by bad seamanship in an attempt to pass another vessel, and it became necessary to lighter and transship her cargo and to return her to Bremen for repairs. Held (considering evidence as to the effect on navigation of the disablement of the rudder and the bend in its blade) that the owner had failed to sustain the burden of establishing due diligence in making the ship seaworthy for the voyage down the Weser. P. 290 U. S. 346.

5. A shipowner who has failed to comply with the condition laid down in the Harter Act (§ 3) and in shippers' agreements for general average (Jason clause) by not exercising due diligence to make his vessel seaworthy remains liable to cargo for damage caused by faulty navigation, and cannot claim contribution under the agreements, and this without regard to whether there was a causal relation between the defects of the vessel and the disaster in question. P. 290 U. S. 350.

63 F.2d 248 reversed.

Page 290 U. S. 335

Certiorari to review the affirmance of a decree in admiralty, 57 F.2d 265, which dismissed five consolidated libels against the respondent ship company. The libels were filed by May, as assignee of numerous consignees of cargo, who had been required by the respondent to deposit money as security for general average contributions. The object of the libels was to recover the moneys upon the ground that they were exacted without right as a condition to delivery of the goods.

Page 290 U. S. 339

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