MR. JUSTICE FORTAS delivered the opinion of the Court.
Two cases, consolidated by the trial court and raising related issues, are here involved. In United States v. Cargill, Inc., the Government asked that parties responsible for the allegedly negligent sinking of a vessel in an inland waterway be declared responsible for removing the impediment to navigation thus created. In United States v. Wyandotte Transportation Co. the United States had itself removed a sunken vessel; claiming that the vessel had been negligently sunk, it sought reimbursement for the costs of removal. The question now before us for decision is whether the relief requested in these cases is available to the United States.
The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana concluded that such relief is not available. After the cases were consolidated, that court granted summary judgment against the United States in each instance. The court decided that the Government has no in personam rights against those responsible for having negligently sunk a vessel. In its view, the United States is limited to an in rem right against the cargo of the negligently sunk vessel and against the vessel itself. United States v. Cargill, Inc., 1964 A. M. C. 1742.
The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed. It held that under the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, 30 Stat. 1151 et seq., as amended, 33 U. S. C. § 401 et seq., the United States may assert in personam rights—to injunctive or declaratory relief or damages—against those responsible for the negligent sinking of a vessel. United
The crucial facts of both cases occurred in March 1961. The Cargill libel alleges that, at that time, a supertanker bound up the Mississippi for Baton Rouge, Louisiana, collided with two barges moored by a tug. The barges were owned by petitioner Cargo Carriers, Inc., and petitioner Jeffersonville Boat and Machine Co., respectively. The Government was notified immediately after the accident that the two barges had sunk. A few days later, it was served with notice that the barges were being abandoned. The United States refused, however, to accept abandonment or to assume responsibility for removing the wrecks. In December 1962, it brought suit against the owners, managers, charterers, and insurers of the two barges, seeking a decree that the respondents were responsible for removing the sunken vessels. The Government charged that negligence in the equipping, manning, and mooring of the barges had caused the sinking. To this date, the barges involved in this case remain in the Mississippi.
The Wyandotte libel is founded on facts more dramatic. A barge loaded with 2,200,000 pounds of liquid chlorine sank while being pushed in the Mississippi near Vidalia, Louisiana. Wyandotte, the owner of the barge, at first made some attempts to locate and raise the wreck. But then, in November 1961, Wyandotte informed the Army Corps of Engineers that it believed further efforts to raise the barge would be unsuccessful. Wyandotte stated that it was abandoning the vessel. The Government began a study of the danger posed by such a substantial load of chlorine at the bottom of the Mississippi. It was feared that if any chlorine escaped it would be
The United States then moved to avert a catastrophe by locating and raising the barge and its deadly cargo. In October 1962, the President proclaimed the presence of the barge to be a major disaster under the Disaster Relief Act, 64 Stat. 1109, 42 U. S. C. §§ 1855-1855g. Safety precautions on a grand scale were taken, and a team of experienced divers sought gingerly to raise Wyandotte's barge. These operations, costing the United States some $3,081,000, proved successful.
The United States demanded that the owners and operators of the barge reimburse the Government for its expenses. This demand was rejected. In January 1963, the Government brought suit, in rem against the barge and her cargo,
Although the Government has advanced several discrete grounds for affirmance, we do not pause to examine each of them.
Petitioners do not dispute, as indeed they could not, that the negligent sinking of a vessel falls within the prohibition of the first above-quoted clause of § 15.
Finally, petitioners emphasize that § 16 of the Act provides criminal penalties for "[e]very person and every corporation that shall violate, or that shall knowingly aid, abet, authorize, or instigate a violation of the provisions
The position of petitioners is, therefore, that in the case of a negligently sunk vessel, the Government may require the owner to mark it; it may expect him to remove it or forfeit his interest in the vessel; and if the Government proceeds to remove the vessel, it possesses the right to sell vessel and cargo and retain the proceeds of these sales.
We do not agree. Petitioners' interpretation of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 would ascribe to Congress an intent at variance with the purpose of that statute. Petitioners' proposal is, moreover, in disharmony with our own prior construction of the Act, with our decisions on analogous issues of statutory construction, and with a major maritime statute of the United States. If there were no other reasonable interpretation of the statute, or if petitioners could adduce some persuasive indication that their interpretation accords with the congressional intent, we might be more disposed to accept that interpretation. But our reading of the Act does not lead us to the conclusion that Congress must have intended the statutory remedies and procedures to be exclusive of all others. There is no indication anywhere else—in the legislative history of the Act, in the predecessor statutes, or in nonstatutory law—that Congress might have intended that a party who negligently sinks a vessel should be shielded from personal responsibility. We therefore hold that the remedies and procedures specified by the Act for the
Article I, § 8, of the Constitution grants to Congress the power to regulate commerce. For the exercise of this power, the navigable waters of the United States are to be deemed the "public property of the nation, and subject to all the requisite legislation by Congress." Gilman v. Philadelphia, 3 Wall. 713, 725 (1866). The Federal Government is charged with ensuring that navigable waterways, like any other routes of commerce over which it has assumed control, remain free of obstruction. Cf. In re Debs, 158 U.S. 564, 586 (1895). The Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, an assertion of the sovereign power of the United States, Sanitary District v. United States, 266 U.S. 405 (1925), was obviously intended to prevent obstructions in the Nation's waterways. Despite some difficulties with the wording of the Act, we have consistently found its coverage to be broad. See, e. g., Sanitary District v. United States, supra; United States v. Republic Steel Corp., 362 U.S. 482 (1960).
Our decisions have established, too, the general rule that the United States may sue to protect its interests. Cotton v. United States, 11 How. 229 (1851); United States v. San Jacinto Tin Co., 125 U.S. 273 (1888); Sanitary District v. United States, supra. This rule is not
The inadequacy of the criminal penalties explicitly provided by § 16 of the Rivers and Harbors Act is beyond dispute. That section contains only meager monetary penalties. In many cases, as here, the combination of these fines and the Government's in rem rights would not serve to reimburse the United States for removal expenses. It is true that § 16 also provides for prison terms, but this punishment is hardly a satisfactory remedy for the pecuniary injury which the negligent shipowner may inflict upon the sovereign. Cf. United States v. Acme Process Equipment Co., 385 U.S. 138 (1966).
It was a similar process of reasoning that underlay our decision in United States v. Republic Steel Corp., 362 U.S. 482
Although we do not approach the instant cases in the context of § 10, we believe the principles of Republic Steel apply, by analogy, to the issues now before us.
It is but a small step from declaratory relief to a civil action for the Government's expenses incurred in removing a negligently sunk vessel. See United States v. Perma Paving Co., 332 F.2d 754 (C. A. 2d Cir. 1964). Having properly chosen to remove such a vessel, the United States should not lose the right to place responsibility for removal upon those who negligently sank the vessel. See Restatement of Restitution § 115; United States v. Moran Towing & Transportation Co., 374 F.2d 656, 667 (C. A. 4th Cir. 1967). No issue regarding the propriety of the Government's removal of Wyandotte's barge is now raised. Indeed, the facts surrounding that sinking constitute a classic case in which rapid removal by someone was essential. Wyandotte was unwilling to effectuate removal itself. It would be surprising if Congress intended that, in such a situation, the Government's
We note, moreover, that under the Limitation of Shipowners' Liability Act of 1851, 9 Stat. 635, as amended, 46 U. S. C. § 181 et seq., the liability of a shipowner "for any loss, damage, or injury by collision, or for any act, matter, or thing, loss, damage, or forfeiture" may be limited to "the interest of such owner in such vessel, and her freight then pending"; but this limitation is available only if the act or damage occurred "without the privity or knowledge of such owner." 46 U. S. C. § 183. "For his own fault, neglect and contracts the owner remains liable." American Car & Foundry Co. v. Brassert, 289 U.S. 261, 264 (1933). The reading that petitioners would place on the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 would create an additional right of limitation, applicable in the special case of a sinking even though the owner is himself negligent. Yet Congress gave no indication, in passing the Rivers and Harbors Act, that it intended to alter or qualify the 1851 Act.
Petitioners contend that, despite our prior decisions and the silence of the Rivers and Harbors Act on this point, that statute authorizes them simply to abandon their negligently sunk vessels, without further responsibility for those vessels. We find in the Act no support for such an absolute right of abandonment. The provision upon which petitioners place most reliance, the final clause of § 15, creates a "duty of the owner of [a] sunken craft to commence the immediate removal of the same, and prosecute such removal diligently." Because "failure to do so shall be considered as an abandonment of such craft, and subject the same to removal by the United States as provided for in sections [19 and 20]," petitioners contend that such failure in no case has other consequences. But the duty imposed by and the remedy provided in the final clause of § 15 and §§ 19 and 20 are not prescribed only for owners of negligently sunk vessels.
We believe the sections noted by petitioners are intended to protect the United States against liability for removing a sunken vessel if it chooses to do so. See Zubik v. United States, 190 F.2d 278 (C. A. 3d Cir. 1951); Gulf Coast Transp. Co. v. Ruddock-Orleans Cypress Co., 17 F.2d 858 (D. C. E. D. La. 1927). Section 19 speaks explicitly of the discretion of the Secretary of the Army to break up, remove, sell, or otherwise dispose of a sunken vessel that has obstructed a waterway "without liability for any damage to the owners of the same." These sections do not negate the rights of the United States to obtain declaratory relief or to recover removal expenses. It is true that a proviso to § 19 states "[t]hat any money received from the sale of any such wreck . . . shall be covered into the Treasury of the United States." But that proviso does not indicate that the United States, having chosen to remove a sunken vessel, shall receive no other monies. At most, the proviso establishes the proposition that, if the United States chooses to sell a wreck, the owner of the vessel has no right to any monies received.
Petitioners also claim that a substantial body of nonstatutory law establishes the rule that a shipowner who has negligently sunk a vessel may abandon it and be insulated from all but in rem liability.
These cases were decided in the District Court on petitioners' motions for summary judgment. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for further proceedings. As we have noted, the Government's libels were based on a theory of negligence, and the award of the Court of Appeals called for a determination whether the acts of the various petitioners constituted negligence. We agree with that disposition.
MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
MR. JUSTICE HARLAN, concurring.
I concur in the Court's holding that under § 15 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, 33 U. S. C. § 409, the United States may recover the costs of removing a vessel negligently sunk in navigable waters from those responsible for the sinking. I further agree with the holding that the United States is entitled to the declaratory relief sought in the Cargill action. In affording this latter relief it is my understanding that the Court does not purport to decide whether the United States may also obtain an injunction compelling removal, but has
In reaching these conclusions, I have not been unmindful of the view stated by me in dictum in my dissenting opinion in United States v. Republic Steel Corp., 362 U.S. 482, 493, to the effect that the courts are precluded from supplying relief not expressly found in the Rivers and Harbors Act. Insofar as that dictum might be taken to encompass the present case, where, contrary to my view in Republic Steel, I do believe that the relief afforded by this Court is fairly to be implied from the statute, candor would compel me to say that the dictum was ill-founded.
On these premises I join the opinion of the Court.
Nor, finally, do we decide whether nonstatutory public nuisance law may form a basis for the relief here sought by the Government. See, e. g., Mayor of Georgetown v. Alexandria Canal Co., 12 Pet. 91, 97 (1838); United States v. Hall, 63 F. 472, 474 (C. A. 1st Cir. 1894); The Ella,  P. 111 (1914); Comment, Substantive and Remedial Problems in Preventing Interferences with Navigation: The Republic Steel Case, 59 Col. L. Rev. 1065, 1067 (1959); Wisdom, Obstructions in Rivers, 119 Just. P. 846 (1955). We therefore do not pass either on the question whether such a nonstatutory right of the sovereign has ever existed in the United States, cf. Willamette Iron Bridge Co. v. Hatch, 125 U.S. 1, 8 (1888); United States v. Republic Steel Corp., 362 U.S. 482, 486 (1960); or on whether such a right, if it ever did exist, survived the series of enactments beginning with the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1890, 26 Stat. 426, 454, in which Congress asserted the general interest of the United States in the removal of sunken vessels obstructing navigable waters. Cf. In re Debs, 158 U.S. 564 (1895).
Indeed, the argument for exclusivity was stronger in Republic Steel than it is here. In that case, we decided that injunctive relief was a proper enforcement measure against a violation of the very section to which § 12 (but not the statutory provision of injunctive process) applies.
Moreover, it seems clear that the Winpenny court was not speaking of the "rule" that petitioners propose. That court, after the above quoted passage, went on as follows:
"There seem to be good reasons for this rule. When a vessel is lost by the act of God, or by accident, the owner suffers oftentimes great damage, and when she becomes a total loss, it seems to be a great hardship to add to his misfortune the duty of removing the wreck. It would discourage commerce to hold him to so severe a duty; for who would engage in trade, if, when he has lost his vessel, he might be forced to incur an expense of more than her original cost in removing the wreck from some difficult position? If compelled by the accident to abandon his property, the duty of removal should rather fall on the public, who are interested in the navigation, than on him."
Cases cited for petitioners that do not rely on Winpenny either do not support petitioners' claim of a nonstatutory rule, see, e. g., In re Highland Nav. Corp., 24 F.2d 582 (D. C. S. D. N. Y. 1927), affirmed, 29 F.2d 37 (C. A. 2d Cir. 1928); Zubik v. United States, 190 F.2d 278 (C. A. 3d Cir. 1951); United States v. Bridgeport Towing Line, Inc., 15 F.2d 240 (D. C. D. Conn. 1926), or support it only with unsupported dicta of their own, see, e. g., Barraclough v. Brown,  A. C. 615 (construing the Aire and Calder Navigation Act, 1889 (52 & 53 Vict., c. 32)).