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Manetas v. International Petroleum Carriers Inc.

argued: March 26, 1976.


Appeal From the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. District of Columbia Civil No. 722-73.

Seitz, Chief Judge, Kalodner and Rosenn, Circuit Judges.

Author: Kalodner

Kalodner, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiffs, George Manetas and Damianos Makris, Greek seamen employed aboard the "Carib Sun," a cargo vessel sailing under the Liberian Flag and owned by defendant, International Petroleum Carriers, Inc., brought this action to recover approximately 9 months' wages, on the ground that they were employed for a one-year term and were wrongfully discharged after three months of employment. The discharge occurred after the ship's main engine sustained damages during a storm on its transatlantic crossing. Plaintiffs' complaint alleged that Section 30 of the Liberian Maritime Law, which expressly incorporates "the non-statutory general Maritime Law of the United States,"*fn1 permits recovery for premature discharge of a seaman in violation of a contract for an express period of employment. The complaint also sought recovery of "overtime" wages earned during plaintiffs' employment which allegedly went unpaid, and damages for non-payment of their claimed wages pursuant to 46 U.S.C.A. §§ 596 and 597.*fn2

Cross-motions for summary judgment were filed by the parties. The defendants in their cross-motion contended that (1) the damages sustained by the Carib Sun amounted to a "loss" or "wreck" of the vessel, and pursuant to 46 U.S.C.A. § 593,*fn3 discharge of plaintiffs was justified; and (2) plaintiffs' claims for "overtime" wages were not supported by any proof. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants and against the plaintiffs on the grounds that (1) notwithstanding § 30 of the Liberian Code, "the Carib Sun had been so damaged by the perils of the sea that it was incapable of further voyaging" and" it was . . . a wreck" within 46 U.S.C.A. § 593, which entitles plaintiffs to wages " 'for the time of service prior to such termination, but not for any further period;'" and (2) the claims for "overtime" wages were "unfounded" and "inconsistent with the discernible facts."

We agree with the district court's holding concerning plaintiffs' claim for wrongful discharge. With respect to plaintiffs' "overtime" claims, however, we believe they presented a genuine issue as to a material fact, and that being so, the district court was precluded from entering summary judgment against the plaintiffs as to these claims.

Discussion of our stated holdings must be prefaced by the following summarization of the facts and proceedings below:

Liberian Shipping Articles, opened aboard the Carib Sun at Piraeus, Greece on January 26, 1973, provided, inter alia, for the Carib Sun to sail from "Piraeus, Greece to World Wide Trading and such other ports and places in any part of the world as the Master may direct, for a term (of) (not exceeding) twelve calendar months . . ."

On February 28, 1973, and March 2, 1973, plaintiffs Manetas and Makris, respectively, entered into individual employment agreements - Manetas as Second Officer at a wage of $700 per month and Makris as Boatswain at $500 per month. The contracts signed by plaintiffs did not specify a term of service; however, the Shipping Articles did specify that the "agreement between the Master and Seaman is for period of one calendar year."

On March 18, 1973, the Carib Sun sailed from Piraeus, loaded a cargo of gasoline in Turkey, and on March 25, 1973, set sail for the United States.

On or about April 16, 1973, the vessel encountered a heavy storm causing damage to the main engine crossheads, bearings and cranks, the effect of which was to permit sea water to enter the lube oil tank and contaminate the vessel's oil system. On April 20, 1973, the vessel arrived at Linden, New Jersey under her own power and discharged her cargo.

A marine surveyor inspected the ship and confirmed that the engine damage was so extensive that it had to be repaired before the vessel could continue its voyage.

The ship was then towed to a shipyard in Hoboken, New Jersey, and bids for the ship's repair were sought. Of seven bids solicited, three were returned, estimating costs of repair in excess of $500,000 and time for repair at a minimum of eighty days.

After the extent of the damages became known, the members of the crew were discharged several at a time in May, 1973. Manetas and Makris were discharged on May 21, 1973 ...

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