Captain Ken #16 - A day in a US court
Captain Ken Owen had a long career at sea which included sailing as master with Overseas Containers Limited (OCL), P&O Containers and P&O Nedlloyd. Ken is now retired and in 2020 he started writing a monthly article for publication using the pen name 'Captain Ken' in the Mellor Church Outlook magazine.
A number of articles that Ken has written are about his time at sea and he has very kindly agreed that we can share them here.
This is the 16th article that we have reproduced on the PONLHeritage site. In this one Captain Owen tells the story of a court appearance in the United States as a witness to an incident on a Blue Funnel ship berthed in New York.
This article was first published in the church magazine in October 2021.
In the late nineteen sixties I sailed several voyages as Chief Officer of the Blue Funnel cargo liner Laomedon. Whereas most of our fleet ran between the UK and the Far East or Australia, Laomedon was engaged in a service named The Blue Sea Line. This was a joint service with The Swedish South East Asia Company and De La Rama Company of the Philippines.
The ship was based in New York and sailed on a service from U.S. ports and was east-bound round the world to the Far East, and back to New York.
We would load and discharge a variety of cargoes in each port at which we called, and to handle all the various cargoes, we employed a great many dockworkers, known in the USA as longshoremen. They would be divided into gangs of up to a dozen men.
On one occasion during my frequent rounds to check the cargo operations, I encountered a serious accident, when one gang member stumbled and fell some 10 feet in to an open hatchway. He appeared to be quite badly injured, so we gave him first aid, lifted him out of the hatch in a special stretcher and arranged for an ambulance to take him to hospital.
Following standard procedure, I arranged for all those who were present at the accident to make their individual statements which I then forwarded to our Insurance department.
Before we set sail on our world trip following that accident I was assured by our agents that the casualty involved had been discharged from hospital and that all was OK.
However, several months later when I was home on leave I received a telephone call from our Company Head Office. They informed me that the American longshoreman involved in the accident had unexpectedly died and his Union were claiming a vast amount of money due to the negligence of the ship owners. I was then requested to fly to New York the following day to attend court as a star witness.
Whilst reviewing the relevant papers as I flew over the Atlantic on my way to the trial, I was horrified to note that all the longshoremen concerned had rewritten their statements and were putting all the blame on our Company. However, they were fortunately unaware that I had personally witnessed the accident and was in a very strong position to refute their claim.
The pre-trial hearing which I attended was just like a Hollywood movie. Luckily, the three attorneys involved were kind to me, but horrible to each other. Fortunately, I managed to convince them that the ship’s staff had done their very best to keep the ship safe and had complied with all the required safety measures. When, of course, I pointed out that I was present at the time of the accident and that the unfortunate longshoreman had simply lost his balance and had not tripped on anything negligently present at the time, the case turned financially in our favour.
Finally, the opposing attorney asked me to name the ports of call on that particular voyage, as I had not produced the Log Book. This of course was easy for me as I was responsible for the entire loading and discharge so I reeled off New York, Port Said, Aden, Penang, Port Kelang, Singapore, Hong Kong, Manila Cebu, Zamboanga, Kure, Bussan, Kobe, Nagoya, Moji, Yokohama, Panama, Cristobel, Kingston, Halifax, Boston, Newark, Baltimore, Norfolk, Wilmington, Charleston, Savannah Jacksonville, Port Everglades, Miami, Galveston, Houston, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Gulfport, and New York. When I finished, his response was, ‘Sounds like a good trip. Wish I'd been with you.’
After the hearing, I flew straight home to continue my leave and my wife Allwyn picked me up at Manchester Airport. Her first words of greeting were suggesting that we call via Stockport market where some good value-pet food was available and we did have three dogs and five cats at the time. (I would add that Ken and Allwyn do live on the most delightful old farm cottage with acres of land and barns and fortunately for Mr Editor, a fridge full of ales. Ed).
As I later struggled in the rain carrying the heavy cases of dog food. I obviously got a bit deep in thought and Allwyn asked me what I was thinking. I said it was just occurring to me that only a few hours earlier, I had eaten a fine lunch in the famed Manhattan Downtown Athletic Club and had then been transported in a stretch Cadillac to the first-class airport reception lounge and got a first-class flight home. ‘Oh,’ she said, ’Well you have come down in the world, haven't you?’
(This article was first published in the October 2021 edition of the Mellor Church Outlook Magazine).
For further articles in this series:
Captain Ken #2 - Main Express (Strathconon) marine observation
Captain Ken #4 - Suez Canal blockages, the Ever Given and the Cardigan Bay
Captain Ken Owen has kindly provided us with a new series of articles which will be published on a regular basis here. If you are interested in reading other articles that he has written which we haven't yet used then please feel free to go to mellorchurch.org/outlook-magazine/.