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The tugs are not insurers, but are required to use reasonable care and skill in the service they undertake. They are bound to respect barometer readings and weather indications; and for failure to do so are liable for resulting damage.
Owners of cargo that was being transported on two barges that sank at sea filed libels against the owners of the two barges for the value of the cargo lost. The owner of the two tugs instituted a limitation proceeding in which the owner sought to be relieved from liability. The barge owners asserted negligent towage, claimed the value of the lost barges and contested the tug owner's right to limit liability. It was the contention of the cargo owners (1) that the Northern 17 and the Northern 30 were unseaworthy when they left Hampton Roads; (2) that the two tugs, and Montrose, were negligent in not anticipating the storm which broke on March 9th, and in not taking refuge at Delaware breakwater; and (3) that the two tugs were unseaworthy in not having effective radio sets, capable of receiving the forecasts of unfavorable weather broadcast along the coast.
Was defendant tug boat owner negligent when it failed to equip its tugboats with radio sets to pick up weather reports?
The court sustained the cargo owners' libel against the owners of the barges and held that the two tugs were negligent in not anticipating the storm that sank the barges. The court concluded that the tugs were not seaworthy in failing to have effective radio sets capable of receiving weather reports. The tug owner had a duty to supply effective receiving radio sets since such radios were part of the reasonable care and skill in the service that the tugs provided. There was testimony evidence of other tugs with radio sets that successfully avoided the storm. The tugboat owner was liable for the resulting damages and the limitation proceeding was denied. The court divided the damages sustained by the cargo owner between the owner of the tugs and the owners of the barges.