OWEN, Circuit Judge:
This appeal arises out of an unsuccessful claim by Marvita Shipping Company, Ltd., the owner of the M/V ANTWERPEN,
Around 2:00 a.m. on January 19, 2003, several vessels passed through the Carrollton Bend, a turn in the Mississippi River located near the Nine Mile Point, which is below the Huey P. Long Bridge and immediately above the City of New Orleans. The LADY JEANETTE, a 50.5-foot long and 24-foot wide tugboat, was pushing four loaded barges in a two-by-two configuration downbound (south) on the river. Also proceeding downbound were the BAYOU BLACK and the BEVERLY ANDERSON. The ALICE HOOKER and the ANTWERPEN, a 653-foot long and 96-foot wide oceangoing bulk freighter, were headed upbound (north) on the river. Captain Kenneth Ayars of the LADY JEANETTE radioed Teal M. Grue, a compulsory river pilot assisting the ANTWERPEN, to discuss the traffic situation. Pilot Grue proposed to overtake the upbound ALICE HOOKER, which decided to hold up on the west bank until the traffic cleared, on the ANTWERPEN's port (left) side. Continuing to proceed across the river, the upbound ANTWERPEN would then meet the downbound BEVERLY ANDERSON for a starboard-to-starboard (right side or "two whistle"
Though the vessels passed each other successfully, Marvita maintains that the LADY JEANETTE violated the passing agreement by failing to stay close to the right descending bank and, instead, headed straight toward the ANTWERPEN. Marvita further claims that Pilot Grue had to decrease his speed and turn the front end of the ANTWERPEN (the bow) and then the back end (the stern) to the right in a "see-sawing" motion to avoid colliding with the LADY JEANETTE. Captain Ayars, on the other hand, claims that he did not steer toward the ANTWERPEN until he was "in the pocket," with his bow past the ANTWERPEN's bow, and that the ANTWERPEN could not have hit the
The owner of the barges, Bertucci Construction, sued the ANTWERPEN in rem and Marvita in personam for damages. Marvita claimed that the LADY JEANETTE caused the allision by failing to navigate close enough to the right descending bank in accordance with the passing agreement and by forcing the ANTWERPEN to navigate too close to the left descending bank (and toward the barges) in an effort to avoid a collision with the LADY JEANETTE. Marvita filed a third-party complaint against the LADY JEANETTE, its owner Sandbar III, Inc., and its operator F&L Marine Management, Inc. Marvita also filed a separate complaint, asserting an admiralty and maritime claim under Rule 9(h) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure against the LADY JEANETTE, Sandbar, and F&L. Sandbar and F&L then sought exoneration from liability or limitation of liability to the value of the LADY JEANETTE. The claims were consolidated for trial, Marvita and Bertucci settled before trial, and Marvita's remaining claims against the LADY JEANETTE, Sandbar, and F&L proceeded to a bench trial.
The district court found that the LADY JEANETTE adhered to the passing agreement and complied with the applicable navigation rules and that the ANTWERPEN's allision with the Bertucci fleet was caused by Pilot Grue's failure to maintain proper steerageway—by decreasing his speed too much when navigating around the Carrollton Bend, he got caught in the current and lost control of the vessel. The district court entered judgment in favor of the LADY JEANETTE, Sandbar, and F&L upon concluding that the LADY JEANETTE was not negligent in its navigation and did not embarrass the ANTWERPEN's navigation. Marvita moved for a new trial, and the district court denied the motion after finding that Marvita simply reiterated the evidence already considered by the court at trial and failed to demonstrate error or injustice in the court's decision. Marvita appeals the district court's judgment and requests that this court vacate the judgment and remand for a new trial.
Because this case was decided by the district court without a jury, we review the district court's factual findings for clear error: "Findings of fact . . . shall not be set aside unless clearly erroneous, and due regard shall be given to the opportunity of the trial court to judge  the credibility of the witnesses."
If a finding is based on a mixed question of law and fact, this court should only reverse "if the findings are based on a misunderstanding of the law or a clearly erroneous view of the facts."
The crux of Marvita's argument is that, because Captain Ayars of the LADY JEANETTE testified to (1) seeing the ANTWERPEN's masthead lights nearly in line, (2) "falling off the point" on the right descending bank, and (3) steering the LADY JEANETTE toward the left descending bank, he could not have complied with the passing agreement or with Inland Navigational Rule 7 (Risk of Collision), Rule 8 (Action to Avoid Collision), Rule 9 (Narrow Channels), or Rule 14 (Head-on Situation).
Although there is evidence to support Marvita's claim that the LADY JEANETTE violated the navigation rules and the passing agreement by failing to navigate close to the right descending bank, we are not "left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed" after reviewing the evidence in its entirety.
Marvita also argues that Captain Ayars admitted that he violated the passing agreement by failing to navigate close to the right descending bank when he testified that he "fell off the point," referring to the Nine Mile Point on the right descending bank. The district court credited Captain Ayars's testimony that he initially navigated close to the right descending bank, in accordance with the passing agreement, and that he only started heading toward the ANTWERPEN and the left descending bank when he saw that he would be able to navigate safely behind the ANTWERPEN's stern (the back end of the vessel). Captain Ayars testified that when he moved toward the ANTWERPEN, he was "in the pocket," with his bow (the front end of the vessel) past the bow of the ANTWERPEN. According to Captain Ayars, the LADY JEANETTE was about 400 feet (give or take 100 feet) off the right descending bank when the vessels passed, and the vessels were between 150 to 200 feet apart. He further testified that the ANTWERPEN could not have hit
Furthermore, the district court found that there was contemporaneous evidence supporting the LADY JEANETTE's version of events. First, neither the ANTWERPEN nor the LADY JEANETTE recorded any incident with the other vessel in their deck logs. The LADY JEANETTE's expert testified that if the ANTWERPEN had viewed the passing of the LADY JEANETTE as a near collision or as embarrassing the ANTWERPEN's navigation, the ANTWERPEN would likely have recorded the matter in its deck log for the day. Moreover, considering the radio transmissions as a whole, the district court found that neither vessel thought that a collision was possible or that the ANTWERPEN needed more room to safely pass the LADY JEANETTE. Although Pilot Grue at one point asked the LADY JEANETTE if she was all right and radioed that he did not think "it's gonna work," he did not sound the danger signal prior to or while he was passing the LADY JEANETTE, and he did not communicate that he needed more room. The district court could have reasonably concluded that Pilot Grue's transmissions would have conveyed a greater sense of alarm if the vessels were at risk of colliding. Furthermore, Captain Ayars continuously radioed that he was all right and that the ANTWERPEN had plenty of room. Marvita relies heavily on one transmission, in which Pilot Grue states "hard over . . . laying along side me," and on Pilot Grue's testimony that he would never have had to ask the LADY JEANETTE to lay flat, alongside the ANTWERPEN, if the vessels passed at a safe distance. The district court was free to weigh the evidence as it saw fit and did not have to credit Pilot Grue's testimony.
Finally, the district court's factual finding with regard to the cause of the ANTWERPEN's allision with the Bertucci fleet of barges was not clearly erroneous. The LADY JEANETTE's expert, Captain Strouse, opined that the ANTWERPEN failed to proceed at the speed necessary to maintain steerageway—the minimum rate of motion needed to maneuver the vessel— and therefore got caught in the current and was pushed toward the right descending bank. Captain Strouse testified as to his opinion why the ANTWERPEN allided with the barges:
The district court chose to credit this testimony over the testimony of the witnesses offered by the ANTWERPEN, specifically the captain of the ALICE HOOKER, who testified that the only reason the LADY JEANETTE did not collide with the ANTWERPEN was Pilot Grue's "beautiful job" maneuvering the ship, and who thereby implied that the LADY JEANETTE embarrassed the ANTWERPEN's navigation
When the evidence is viewed in its entirety, we are not "left with the definite and firm conviction"
Moreover, according to the evidence presented at trial, when viewed as a whole, the district court could reasonably have concluded that the LADY JEANETTE and the ANTWERPEN passed at a safe
Because we do not find the district court's factual findings regarding negligence and causation clearly erroneous, nor its legal conclusions based on a misunderstanding of the navigation rules, we AFFIRM the district court's judgment in favor of the LADY JEANETTE, F&L Marine Management, and Sandbar III, Inc.