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The statutory phrase 46 U.S.C. § 183, 'without the privity or knowledge of such owner,' is largely 'devoid of meaning,' Gilmore & Black, Admiralty, 695 (1957) -- a statement supplemented with the admittedly unhelpful comment: 'Where a vessel is held in corporate ownership, the imputation of 'privity or knowledge' to the corporate owner will be made if a corporate officer sufficiently high in the hierarchy of management is chargeable with the requisite knowledge or is himself responsible on a negligence rationale. How high is 'sufficiently high' will depend on the facts of particular cases.' Ibid. 701. In Spencer Kellogg & Sons v. Hicks, 285 U.S. 502, 52 S.Ct. 450, 76 L.Ed. 903 (1932), where the corporate officers were in the same city, as such and on the basis that it was negligent not to check the adequacy of the moorings of a ship, limitations were not given. 

The whole rationale of the doctrine is of questionable application in a case where there was no need for the owner to rely on the skill of a master or other agents as he must when a vessel is at sea or in a distant port. Shipowners and ...

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