The opinion of the court was delivered by: SMITH
ORMA R. SMITH, District Judge.
This admiralty action is before the court for decision after an evidentiary hearing and the submission by the parties of briefs and proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. This memorandum will include findings of fact and conclusions of law by the court as required by Rule 52(a) F.R. Civ. P.
Plaintiff, Union Oil Company of California (Union Oil), is a California corporation and the owner and operator of the M/V L.W. SWEET and the steel tank Barges P.O. 1901 and P.O. 2006. These vessels are documented vessels of the United States.
At all pertinent times the M/V ISSAQUENA, a documented vessel of the United States, was owned by defendant Security Towing Company, Inc., and chartered to defendant Security Barge Line, Inc. The defendants were Mississippi corporations. On or about June 23, 1971, the defendants were merged by Articles of Merger filed with and approved by the Secretary of the State of Mississippi. The name of the surviving corporation is Security Barge Line, Inc. (Security).
At the time of the collision hereinafter mentioned the L.W. SWEET was a river towboat approximately 118 feet in length and 45 feet in breadth. She had a square tow of four empty gasoline or petroleum tank barges, with Barges P.O. 2006 and P.O. 1901 on the port side and Barges P.O. 2005 and P.O. 2901 on the starboard side. The overall length of the tow including the L.W. SWEET was 648 feet. The overall width of the tow, at the widest part, was 102 1/2 feet. The stern barges were 2 1/2 feet wider than the lead barges. The design and makeup of the tow of the L.W. SWEET constituted a semi-integrated tow and was designed for speed and maneuverability. The pilot of the L.W. SWEET was Captain M.C. Crutchfield, a licensed master pilot with vast experience. His experience on the river extended to vessels and tows of all sizes, including bargeline tows.
At about one o'clock in the morning of August 11, 1968 the ISSAQUENA and her tow, with Captain Gerald Harrington at the wheel, was beginning to navigate the crossing from below Cherokee Light to Stewart Bar Light in the vicinity of Mile 865 or Mile 866, Lower Mississippi River. At this point on the river the State of Tennessee is on the East and the State of Missouri on the West.
The crossing from below Cherokee Light to Stewart Bar Light for downbound vessels, crosses from the left to the right descending bank of the river. The channel for some distance above Cherokee Light is approximately 2000 feet wide, and there is virtually a straight reach of the channel from Merriwether Bend.
The channel immediately below Cherokee Light, as it turns to cross the river, narrows to approximately 1400 feet at the upper end of the crossing and to approximately 400 feet at the lower end. The channel, a short distance below Cherokee Light, makes a sharp right hand turn of approximately 90 degrees. Thereafter it proceeds across the river toward the right descending bank where it makes a left turn of approximately 90 degrees. The channel, as it crosses the river, is flanked by a rather large sandbar in the middle of the river on the left descending side of the channel and a willow bar on the right descending side. Both sides of the channel are marked with buoys -- red buoys on the left and black buoys on the right. At the entrance to the crossing there is a strong left hand draft as a larger part of the current runs between the left descending bank and the middle bar. The current, however, in the crossing is relatively slack, on the black buoy line and moderate on the red buoy line. As the result of the physical characteristics of the channel in the crossing and the method of navigation required by such characteristics, the channel of the crossing constitutes a "narrow channel".
The L.W. SWEET was moving down the river immediately behind the ISSAQUENA and, because of the nature and size of her tow, could steer the crossing with ease provided the crossing was clear. The ISSAQUENA, because of the size and nature of her tow, could not steer the crossing and was required to use two distinct flanking maneuvers, one at the upper and the other at the lower end of the crossing. When making a flanking movement in the crossing, a bargeline tow such as the ISSAQUENA, must be diagonally across the channel. On such occasions there is not sufficient room for another vessel to pass with safety.
On the night in question, the weather was good and visibility at least two miles. There was a slight westerly wind which did not seriously affect the vessels in their navigation.
The ISSAQUENA met several northbound vessels before entering the crossing aforesaid. While the ISSAQUENA was nearing the crossing the L.W. SWEET overtook the M/V LILLIAN CLARK, a southbound bargeline boat, in Merriwether Bend. At this point the L.W. SWEET and her tow were averaging approximately 14 miles per hour.