Exxon Co., U. S. A. v. Sofec, Inc., 517 U.S. 830, 4 (1996)

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Cite as: 517 U. S. 830 (1996)

Opinion of the Court

pipeline through two floating hoses, pursuant to a contract between Exxon and respondent PRII, when a heavy storm broke the chafe chain linking the vessel to the SPM. As the vessel drifted, the oil hoses broke away from the SPM. The parting of the second hose at approximately 1728 nautical time was designated below as the "breakout." The hoses were bolted to the ship, and a portion of the second hose remained attached to the ship. So long as the hose was attached to and trailing from the ship, it threatened to foul the ship's propeller, and consequently the ship's ability to maneuver was restricted.

During the 2 hours and 41 minutes following the breakout, the captain of the Houston, Captain Coyne, took the ship through a series of maneuvers described in some detail in the District Court's findings of fact. The District Court found that by 1803, a small assist vessel, the Nene, was able to get control of the end of the hose so that it was no longer a threat to the Houston. See 54 F. 3d 570, 572 (CA9 1995). Between 1803 and 1830, Captain Coyne maneuvered the Houston out to sea and away from shallow water. The District Court, and on appeal, a panel of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, found that by 1830, the Houston had successfully avoided the peril resulting from the breakout. App. to Pet. for Cert. 65; 54 F. 3d, at 578-579. The ship had "reached a safe position," App. to Pet. for Cert. 64, and was "heading out to sea and in no further danger of stranding," id., at 65; 54 F. 3d, at 578.

Many of Captain Coyne's actions after 1830 were negligent, according to the courts below. Most significant was his failure to have someone plot the ship's position between 1830 and 2004, a period during which the crews of the Houston and the Nene were working to disconnect the hose from the Houston. Without knowing his position, Captain Coyne

respondents are several affiliated corporations: Pacific Resources, Inc.; Hawaiian Independent Refinery, Inc.; PRI Marine, Inc.; and PRI International, Inc. (PRII).


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