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Collins v. Steamboat Fort Wayne.

City, they admit the payment of $3,000, leaving a balance now claimed as unpaid of $1,500.

These are all the material facts connected with the alleged salvage service which it is necessary to notice. On these facts, it is insisted by the proctor, who resists the allowance of this claim : 1. That this is not a salvage service, and that the wrecking company are not salvors in the sense of having a priority of lien, for the reason that the service was rendered under a special agreement between the parties; 2. That if there was a meritorious salvage service, the sum claimed is unreasonably large, and that the equity of the case requires its reduction.

It may be remarked here that it does not admit of doubt, nor is it controverted in this case, that if there has been a salvage service rendered by the wrecking company within the meaning of the maritime law, it imports a lien in their favor which has priority over claims for wages earned, or supplies furnished, before the sinking of the boat. This is well-established law, and has its basis in obvious principles of justice and reason. 'Meritorious salvors stand in the front rank of privilege, and the rights of those having liens before the salvage service must be secondary to those having a salvage claim. This principle is well stated in Coote's Admiralty Practice. The author says, page 116: “The suitor in salvage is highly favored in law, on the assumption that, without his assistance, the res might have been wholly lost. The service is, therefore, beneficial to all parties having either an interest in, or a claim to, the ship and her freight and cargo.” And again, page 117, it is laid down, that “salvage is privileged before the original or prior wages of the ship's crew, on the ground that they are saved to them as much as, or eadem ratione qua, the ship is saved to their owners.” This doctrine is so well settled, both by the English and American authorities, that it is useless to multiply citations.

I proceed, therefore, to notice the question whether there can be a salvor's lien or a salvor's compensation, if the

Collins v. Steamboat Fort Wayne.


service has been rendered under a special contract. There would seem to be no doubt on this point, but as it has been controverted in the argument, I will refer to some of the authorities bearing upon it. These clearly settle the doctrine, that it is not less a salvage service, if performed under an agreement to pay and accept a stipulated sum, if the service is successful. In Flanders on Maritime Law, page 331, it is said: “Where there has been a definite, distinct agreement, with ample time for the parties to consider what they are doing, and no advantage has been taken of the circumstances of distress in which one party is placed, such an agreement, so entered into, a court of admiralty will not disturb." And in Conkling's U. S. Admiralty, vol. 1, page 351, the author says: “Neither is it important whether the service was rendered spontaneously or by request; or, whether in a case of a previous contract, the rate or amount of compensation for the labor and services to be performed was agreed upon, or left to be determined by the quantum meruerunt. The service, whether rendered spontaneously or by request, is a salvage service, and the contract, if there is one, is a salvage contract, and the compensation a salvage compensation.”

In the case of the Emulous, 1 Sumner, 207, Judge Story says on this subject: “I take it to be very clear that when the service has been rendered under circumstances which establish that the parties have voluntarily, and without any controlling necessity on the side of the proprietors of the property saved, or their agents, entered into a contract for a fixed compensation, or upon the ordinary terms of a compensation for labor and services quantum meruerunt, in either case it does not alter the nature of the service as a salvage service, but only fixes the rule by which the court is to be governed. It is still a salvage service and a salvage compensation.

The same doctrine is distinctly asserted in the case of the Independence, 2 Curtis, 350, in which the learned judge says: “I do not intend to be understood, however, that a

Collins v. Steamboat Fort Wayne.


case, in which a contract exists, may not also be a case of salvage. The parties may agree on the amount of a salvage compensation, or on the principles on which it shall be adjusted ; and such agreement fairly made, no advantage being taken of ignorance or distress, are readily upheld by courts.” The exception to this rule, stated by the learned judge in the same case, is what it is stipulated in the contract, that the party rendering the service shall receive a fixed som, whether the property is lost or saved. Such a contract will not be recognized by a court of admiralty as importing a maritime salvage service.

And in the case of The True Blue, 9 Eng. Ad. 177, the court state the law on this subject as follows: “Now, I entertain no doubt whatever that an agreement of this description can be legally made between the master of a vessel in distress and persons affording salvage assistance: provided, there be a clear understanding of the nature of the agreement; that it is made with fairness and impartiality to all concerned; and that the parties to it are competent to form a judgment as to the obligations to which they are binding themselves. Such an agreement, I feel no hesitation to pronounce, would be a binding instrument, not to be disturbed by the judgment of this court.”

Without referring to other authorities on this point, it seems to be well-settled law that a special agreement for a salvage service, under the conditions above stated, will be regarded as valid in a court of maritime jurisdiction. But it is still a question arising from the posture of this case, whether other persons not parties to the agreement, but parties in interest, are concluded hy it in respect of the sum agreed on as the compensation for the salvage service, The agreement is signed by the master of the Fort Wayne for the owners and underwriters, and by the wrecking company. So far as their interests are concerned, in the absence of circumstances invalidating the entire agreement, the court might well hesitate to interfere with the amount of compensation stipulated to be paid. But there are sea

Collins v. Steamboat Fort Wayne.

men, not parties to that agreement, who have claims for wages earned prior to the accident to the boat; and as to these, equity requires they should not be placed in a worse condition than they would be if the salvage service had been spontaneous and not by special agreement. It is the obvious duty of the court to protect their interests as far as it may be practicable. They had an unquestioned superior lien for their wages prior to the sinking of the boat; and their lien, though suspended by that accident, revived and attached after the boat was raised and repaired, subject to the lien of the salvors, aud those who made the advances for repairs. In other words, if the claims for salvage and repairs were less than the fair value of the boat after being raised and repaired, the prior lien-holder would have a legal claim to the extent of such difference. Now, the evidence is that in February, 1861, when this accident occurred, the Fort Wayne was worth from $8,000 to $9,000, and that after being raised and repaired, even in the depressed condition of the steamboat business at that time, it would have sold at Cairo for about $6,000. This statement shows conclusively, that allowing a fair compensation for the salvage service and the repairs, there was something to which tbe prior lien for wages could attach.

The argument urged against this view is, that when the Fort Wayne rested as a mere wreck on the bottom of the Mississippi, it was wholly valueless, and could not therefore be the subject of a lien. True, the admitted doctrine of the maritime law is, that freight is the mother of wages ; and where there has been a total destruction of a vessel, there is no res to which the seaman's lien can attach, and there can therefore be no proceeding in rem. But it is equally well settled, that if any part of the vessel is saved, this lien adheres to it, even to the last plank. And, if the wreck is restored and rendered valuable, the lien exists, subject to the superior lien of those by whose labor or money the value has been created. The following are some of the authorities which affirm this principle: 1 Hagg.

Collins v. Steamboat Fort Wayne.

Ad. 227; 9 Eng. Ad. 120; 7 Law Rep. 522; 1 Newberry Ad. 195; 2 Parsons' Mar. Law, 591 ; 2 Conkling's Ad. 105, 106.

I can not hesitate in the conclusion, that the accident by which the Fort Wayne was sunk, affected only sub modo the rights of those having prior liens, not being parties to the salvage agreement. So far as this agreement assumes a valuation of the boat, and fixes a rate of compensation based on such valuation, the court may inquire whether from the facts in proof, the compensation for the salvage service is fair and equitable.

In this inquiry, I have no desire to deprive these salvors of a liberal reward for their labors in the rescue and preservation of this property. Meritorious suitors in salvage

. have a favorable standing in maritime courts, and it certainly has not been the error of those courts that their allowances for salvage services have been meted out with a stinted or niggardly hand. And it must be conceded, there are features in the service rendered by the wrecking company calling for a liberal allowance. It is worthy of remark, however, that the liberal spirit which has actuated judges and courts in their action on salvage claims had its origin in cases connected with the commerce and navigation of the ocean, which generally involves severe toil and exposure and great peril of life. Where these elements of the service are apparent, the great interests of commerce and a laudable appreciation of heroic actions often demand a rate of compensation bearing no proportion to the time occupied or the labor performed in the service.

But in this case, these features of a salvage service do not appear. The service was performed on the Mississippi river, and did not involve the usual hazards of a service on the ocean.

Yet it was effective and valuable, and in some of its aspects justifies a liberal allowance to the salvors. The Missouri Wrecking Company has been incorporated by an act of the legislature of Missouri. Their object is to save boats and other property in peril on the Ohio and

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