FOR OFFICIAL USE
THE MERCHANT SHIPPING ACT, 1894.
REPORT OF COURT.
In the matter of a Formal Investigation held at the Royal Courts
of Justice, Strand, W.C., London, on the 26th and 27th days of May,
1930, and the 17th day of June, 1930, before M. P. GRIFFITH-JONES,
Esq., O.B.E., one of the Magisstrates of the Police Courts of the
Metropolis, assisted by Captain P. F. W. BLAKE, M.B.E., F.R.A.S.,
Captain H. P. LEARMONT, R.D., R.N.R., and Vice-Admiral C. D. S.
RAIKES, C.B.E., into the circumstances attending the stranding and
loss of the British steam ship "Molesey" of London, Official Number
112,405, on the 25th day of November, 1929, at Mid Island, Jack
Sound, Pembrokeshire, whereby loss of life ensued.
The Court, having carefully inquired into the circumstances
attending the above-mentioned shipping casualty, finds for the
reasons stated in the Annex hereto, that the loss of the vessel
must be attributed to a combination of causes, namely, the sudden
shift of wind from S.S.E to S.S.W. which developed into a very hard
gale, the light condition of the vessel which in the weather
conditions encountered rendered her unmanageable, and the action of
the master in passing between the Smalls and the main land in
doubtful weather conditions with a vessel which be already knew was
unmanageable in a strong wind.
Dated this seventeenth day of June, 1930.
M. P. GRIFFITH-JONES, Judge.
We concur in the above Report.
| ||CECIL D. S. RAIKES,|
PERCY F. W. BLAKE,
H. P. LEARMONT,
ANNEX TO THE REPORT.
This Inquiry was held at the Royal Courts of Justice, Strand,
W.C., London, on the 26th and 27th days of May, 1930, and the 17th
day of June, 1930, before M.P. Griffith-Jones, Esq., O.B.E., one of
the Magistrates of the Police Courts of the Metropolis, assisted by
Captain P. F. W. Blake, M.B.E., F.R.A.S., Captain H. P. Learmont,
R.D., R.N.R., and Vice-Admiral C. D. S. Raikes, C.B.E., as
The parties to the Inquiry called by the Board of Trade were the
Britain Steam Ship Company Limited, the owners; Mr. Edmund Hannay
Watts (a director of Watts, Watts and Company, Limited), the
manager; Captain George Bernard Musson, captain superintendent of
Watts, Watts and Company, Limited; and Captain George Edgar
Huntley, the master. The chief officer, Mr. William Henry Stocks,
appeared and requested to be made a party; he was accordingly added
as a party to the enquiry.
Mr. G. St. Clair Pilcher (instructed by the Solicitor to the
Board of Trade, appeared for the Board of Trade; Mr. G. H. Main
Thompson and Mr. H. L. Holman (instructed by Messrs. Holman,
Fenwick and Willan) appeared for the owners and for the manager and
Captain Musson; Dr. B. W. Ginsburg (instructed by the Imperial
Merchant Service Guild) appeared for the master; and Mr. Sanford.
D. Cole (instructed by Messrs. G. F. Hudson, Matthews and Company)
appeared for the chief officer.
The s.s. "Molesey" (ex "Rokeby"), Official Number 112,405,
registered at the Port of London, was a steel single-screw steam
ship built at Stockton-on-Tees in the year 1899 by Messrs. Ropner
and Son. There was no unusual feature in her construction; she was
one of a large number of vessels of similar type built about that
period. Her dimensions were as follows:—length between
perpendiculars 347.8 feet, breadth 49.5 feet and moulded depth 28.4
feet. She was a single deck vessel, schooner rigged with two masts,
of 3,809 gross tonnage and 2,393 register tonnage.
She had six steel water-tight bulkheads and was fitted with
seven water-ballast tanks of which the capacities were as
|No. 1||double-bottom tank||130 tons|
|No. 2||do.||do.||112 tons|
|No. 3||do.||do.||120 tons|
|No. 4||do.||do.||132 tons|
|No. 5||do.||do.||131 tons|
|No. 6||do.||do.||121 tons|
|After peak tank||67 tons|
making a total of 813 tons water ballast.
She had in addition a dry tank below the boilers, which was not
used for ballast purposes, but she was without a fore peak
Her loaded dead-weight capacity was 6,260 tons on a salt water
draught of 23 feet 0½ inches which gave her a freeboard amidships
of 5 feet 4½ inches.
She had four cargo holds of a total grain capacity of 325,013
cubic feet, served by four hatches situate on the weather deck. The
master's and officers' living accommodation was aft, in the poop.
Her deck erections consisted of a forecastle 39 feet long, a bridge
deck 75 feet 3 inches long, and a poop 30 feet long.
The coal bunkers were amidships, giving space for 400 tons of
permanent bunkers, in addition to which she could carry 362 tons in
the bridge space and a further 414 tons in the reserve or cross
bunker, making 1,176 tons in all. Two fresh-water tanks, each
containing 2,000 gallons, were housed in the after end of the
bridge deck space, and the boat equipment consisted of two life
boats and two working boats.
The engines were triple expansion, of the direct acting surface
condensing type, with cylinders of 25 inches, 41 inches and 67
inches diameter respectively and length of stroke 45 inches. They
were built in the year 1899 by Messrs. Blair and Company, Limited
of Stockton-on-Tees, and were designed to give a speed of 9½ knots.
The ship had two steel single ended boilers, with a working
pressure of 180 pounds. Her propeller had four blades and its
diameter was 16 feet 10½ inches; at a draught of 13 feet aft the
upper blade would protrude 4 feet 11¼ inches out of the water.
She was fitted with a wireless installation and carried one
operator. Her crew consisted of 31 hands all told, including the
master, but at the time of the stranding she had on board in
addition three women and two stowaways, making a total of 36. She
underwent her special survey in May, 1928.
In the year 1918, the vessel, then named "Rokeby" and registered
at the Port of West Hartlepool, was purchased by the Britain Steam
Ship Company Limited, of 7 Whittington Avenue in the City of
London, from the Pyman Steamship Company Limited (in liquidation)
at a cost of £75,750. The registry was transferred to the Port of
London and the vessel was renamed "Molesey." On the 27th day of
October, 1928, Mr. Edmund Hannay Watts, a director of Watts, Watts
and Company Limited, of 7 Whittington Avenue in the City of London,
was designated the person to whom the management of the vessel was
entrusted on behalf of the Britain Steam Ship Company Limited, the
owners. At the date of the loss of the vessel the Britain Steam
Ship Company, Limited, and Mr. Edmund Hannay Watts were still the
registered owners and manager respectively, but in October, 1929,
the vessel had been sold by the Britain Steam Ship Company Limited
for £11,000, and at the date of her loss was on her way to the
Bristol Channel to dry dock preliminary to being handed over to her
new foreign owners.
The vessel was insured under time policies in force for 12
months commencing on the 20th day of February, 1929, for the
|Hull and machinery||19,000|
| ||A total of||£30,000|
There were no additional insurances on the voyage in
Captain George Edgar Huntley had been at sea since the year
1906, had held a master's certificate since 1914, and had been in
the service of Watts, Watts and Company Limited since 1918. He had
been master for 8 or 9 years of other vessels when in July, 1929,
he took over command of the "Molesey" at Norfolk, Virginia. The
vessel proceeded thence to Galveston in ballast; at Galveston she
loaded wheat for Greece and in due course she discharged that cargo
at Piraeus, Volo and Salonica. She then proceeded in ballast to the
Danube, where she loaded grain at Braila and Sulina for Liverpool
The "Molesey" arrived in the Mersey at 4 p.m. on the 7th day of
November, 1929, and proceeded to discharge her cargo at Liverpool
and at Manchester. During this period a survey of the boilers was
made and a new spring buffer was fitted to the steering chain. She
remained at Manchester for about 10 days and either there or at
Liverpool the master received orders that on completion of
discharge and repairs the vessel was to proceed to the Bristol
Channel to be handed over.
The vessel started from Manchester at 7 a.m. on the 23rd day of
November, 1929, with about 20 to 30 tons of bunkers on board and
proceeded to Partington, where she took in 81 tons more bunkers.
She then proceeded down the Manchester Ship Canal, and at Eastham
was taken over by the Mersey sea pilot, who took her to sea. At the
time of leaving the Mersey the draught was approximately 8 feet
forward and 13 feet aft, the vessel being in light ballast trim.
The weights on board were:—
|Double bottom tanks and after|
|Bunkers|| ||about||105 tons|
|Fresh water||about||20 tons|
|Stores and shift boards||about||90 tons|
| ||A total of approximately||1,028 tons|
Deadweight by displacement scale on 10 feet 6 inches mean
draught is 1,050 tons. When proceeding down the Manchester Ship
Canal the weather was normal; in the Mersey the wind was light,
south-easterly, force about 3 or 4, on the starboard quarter, and
nothing occurred to call for comment from the pilot in the conduct
of the vessel between Eastham Locks and the Bar Light-vessel. The
ship steered normally, made between 6 and 7 knots, and was in a
trim normal with similar vessels in ballast trim. She left the Bar
Light-vessel about 6 p.m. on the 23rd day of November, 1929, and
set a course to the Skerries, the weather being at the time normal,
with the wind light from the southward. A speed of about 6 knots
was made and she rounded the Skerries about 2 a.m., when a course
was set S.W.½ S. for a position to the westward of The Smalls. By
this time the weather had become squally, with rain obscuring the
lights at times, the wind being from the southward and westward.
About 3 a.m. the South Stack light was abeam, 3 miles off, but was
not actually seen when abeam. The master then went below and the
vessel proceeded down the St. George's Channel. That day, the 24th
day of November, the weather became worse, with hard south-westerly
squalls; at times the vessel would not steer her course, but fell
off from the wind to about west during the squalls. A tarpaulin was
set abaft the mainmast to try to keep her up to the wind, but this
had little effect. During the evening of that day the master
received by wireless the following gale warning:— "Gale
warning—southerly gale extending to all coasts reaching force 9
locally—Intense depression off south-west Ireland moving
north-east." At the time this warning was received the weather was
heavy, with wind about force 9 from the south-west, and the master
inferred that the warning referred to the weather he was then
experiencing. At 9.30 p.m. the Tuskar Light was sighted, bearing W.
by S., but the distance off was not obtained. The course was then
altered to S.E. magnetic to sight either The Smalls or the South
Bishop Light. The weather was bad at first; the wind was southerly,
and S.E. was as near the wind as the vessel would lie. After
midnight the weather began to improve, and at 4 a.m. on the 25th
day of November the wind had gone down considerably. At 8 a.m. the
weather was clear and bright, with good visibility, wind force 3
from S.S.E., but the vessel continued on the south-easterly course.
About 9 a.m. the islands at South Bishop were sighted; the course
was altered and the South Bishop Lighthouse was passed at a
distance of 3½ miles when abeam. At 11 a.m. Grassholm was on the
starboard beam, bearing W.¾ S. approximately, distance 2 miles, and
the course was then altered to S. by E.½ E. to pass 3 miles off
Skokham Island. At this time a wireless message was sent to the
owners at Cardiff "Noon Smalls endeavouring make morning tide
twenty-six." When Skokham Island was bearing four points on the
port bow the wind suddenly shifted to S.S.W. and started to blow
very strongly, increasing up to force 9. This caused the vessel to
fall away from her course and she only just cleared Skokham Island.
Every effort was made to bring her up to the wind and the order to
flood No. 3 hold was given. This was started and all available
canvas was rigged aft, but she refused to answer her helm and
continued to drift in a north-easterly direction. The master
thought of making Milford Haven, but it was soon apparent that on
the course being made it would not be possible to clear St. Ann's
Head. He then brought the vessel round before the wind with the
intention of attempting to pass through Jack Sound, but as there
was very little prospect of success. in this, a S.O.S. message was
sent to Fishguard, giving the position of the vessel and asking for
assistance. A message timed 1.50 p.m. "Ashore on Wolf Stack Point
require immediate assistance vessel breaking up" was sent to the
owners at Cardiff, before the vessel actually went ashore, as soon
as the master saw no hope of saving her. When approaching Jack
Sound he had difficulty in clearing the Blackstones Rock and was
not able to make the Sound. Both anchors were then let go and the
vessel took the rocks off the south-east corner of Mid Island with
her starboard side, head to the westward. She was immediately
holed, filled and sank—resting on the bottom fore and aft. A
further message was then dispatched to Fishguard requesting
immediate help. An attempt was made to establish communication with
the Island by means of a 40 foot ladder, but this was washed away.
Of the four boats, three were washed away and the fourth, the
starboard life-boat, could not be launched. Several of the crew
attempted to jump from the ship to the rocks and were drowned;
others were drowned when the starboard side of the bridge was
washed away; seven in all were lost. The remainder sheltered in
various places amidship, and from time to time distress rockets
were sent up. At daylight on the 26th day of November the Angle
life-boat came in sight; she came alongside and took off the
survivors, with the exception of one fireman who had stowed away in
the remaining boat and who later got ashore on the Island and was
rescued from there.
The persons lost were:—
Fredk. W. Inch, 3rd engineer.
E. Redvers King, Wireless operator.
Charles Mattson, Carpenter.
John Ellertsen, Sailor.
Thomas McGinn, Ordinary seaman.
Ahmed Said, Fireman,
Ethel Stocks, Stewardess.
W. Shannon, the second officer, received serious injuries in the
wreck and subsequently died of those injuries.
At the conclusion of the evidence of witnesses called by the
Board of Trade, Mr. G. St. Clair Pitcher submitted for the
consideration of the Court the following questions:—
1. Who were the Registered Owners and the Registered Manager of
the s.s. "Molesey" ?
2. When did the s.s. "Molesey" last arrive in the River
Did the master receive any, if so what, sailing orders emanating
from the owners or their marine superintendent thereafter ?
Were such sailing orders adequate and proper?
3. Did the s.s. "Molesey" proceed to Manchester and discharge
the remainder of her cargo there?
Were any, and if so what, repairs done to her steering gear at
that port ?
4. When the s.s. "Molesey" last left Manchester, on the 23rd
(a) was the installation with which she was fitted for
receiving and transmitting messages by wireless telegraphy in good
and effective working condition ?
(b) how many operators were employed in working such
(c) was the vessel in good and seaworthy condition and
properly equipped as regards boats, life-saving appliances, charts,
sailing directions, anchors and chains ?
5. What were the draughts of the s.s. "Molesey,"
foreward and aft, when she left Manchester ?
What were the weather conditions and the state of the barometer
at that time ?
Had the master received any, and if so what, gale warnings
before the vessel left Manchester ?
Was the s.s. "Molesey" when she left Manchester, sufficiently
ballasted and in safe trim for the voyage which she was to
6. What were the conditions of the weather and sea when the
pilot was dropped at the Bar Light-vessel ?
7. Was there any, and if so what, change in the weather
conditions between the time when the pilot was dropped at the Bar
Light-vessel and the time when the vessel rounded the Skerries
Was she under control during this part of the voyage ?
8. When did the vessel round the Skerries?
What course was then set after she had rounded them ?
9. Was there any, and if so, what change in the conditions of
the weather and sea between the time when the vessel rounded the
Skerries and about 9.30 p.m. on the 24th November, 1929 ?
Was the vessel under control and able to keep her course during
this part of the voyage ?
If not, were all proper means adopted to endeavour to get her on
to her course ?
10. What was the position of the vessel at or about 9.30 p.m. on
the 24th November, 1929 ?
What were the conditions of the weather and sea at that time
Did the master alter course at or about that time, and if so,
what alterations did he make ?
11. Did the master receive a wireless gale warning during the
24th November 1929?
If so, what was the nature of that warning?
Did he take any, and if so, what action in consequence of the
If so, was such action proper and adequate?
12. Was there any, and if so what, change in the weather
conditions between 9.30 p.m. on November 24th and 9 a.m. on
November 25th, 1929 ?
What was the position of the vessel at or about 9 a.m. on
November 25th, 1929 ?
Was she under control during this part of the voyage ?
13. What were the conditions of the wind and sea at or about 9
a.m. on November 25th, 1929 ?
Was there any, and if so what, change in those conditions
between 9 a.m. and noon of the said November 25th ?
Did the master during this period send a wireless message to the
owners' office at Cardiff?
If so, what were its terms?
14. What was the position of the vessel at or shortly after noon
on the 25th November, 1929?
Did any, and if so what, change in the direction and force of
the wind take place at or about that time ?
If so, was such change sudden and unexpected or should it have
been foreseen by the master?
15. If such change occurred, did it cause the vessel to become
out of control ?
Did the master take all proper and seamanlike steps to endeavour
to bring the vessel under control and to keep her off the shore
16. Did the master send out any and if so what wireless distress
If so, were they sent with due promptitude?
17. When and where did the vessel go ashore ?
18. How many persons lost their lives as a result of the
Could anything have been done to save them or any of them ?
19. What was the cause of the stranding and loss of the s.s.
20. Was the loss of the s.s. "Molesey" and/or the loss of life
caused or contributed to by the wrongful act or default of Captain
George Edgar Huntley, the master; and Mr. Edmund Hannay Watts, the
Registered Manager; and Captain George Bernard Musson, the Marine
Superintendent; or of any and if so, which of them ?
Counsel representing the parties to the Inquiry then addressed
To the questions submitted the Court gives the following
1. The Registered Owners of the s.s. "Molesey" were the Britain
Steam Ship Company, Limited, of 7, Whittington Avenue in the City
of London, and the Registered Manager of the ship was Mr. Edmund
Hannay Watts, of Watts, Watts and Company, Limited, 7, Whittington
Avenue in the City of London.
2. The s.s. "Molesey" last arrived in the River Mersey at 4 p.m.
on the 7th day of November, 1929. The master did thereafter receive
sailing orders emanating from the owners; he received orders to
proceed to the Bristol Channel on completion of discharge and
repairs and to keep a look-out for wireless instructions. Such
sailing orders were adequate and proper.
3. The s.s. "Molesey" did proceed to Manchester and discharge
the remainder of her cargo there.
Repairs were done to her steering gear at that port, a new
spring buffer being fitted to the steering chain.
4. When the s.s. "Molesey" last left Manchester, on the 23rd day
of November, 1929:
(a) the installation with which she was fitted for
receiving and transmitting messages by wireless telegraphy was in
good and effective working condition;
(b) one operator was employed on working such
(c) the vessel was in good and seaworthy condition and
properly equipped as regards boats, life saving appliances, charts,
sailing directions, anchors and chains.
5. The draughts of the s.s. "Molesey," forward and aft, when she
left Manchester were 8 feet and 13 feet respectively.
The weather conditions at that time were normal. The state of
the barometer cannot be given as the records were lost with the
The master had not received any gale warnings before the vessel
The s.s. "Molesey" when she left Manchester was ballasted and in
safe trim according to general practice for the voyage which she
was to undertake, but as events proved later she was not
sufficiently ballasted for efficient steering.
6. The conditions of the weather and sea when the pilot was
dropped at the Bar Light-vessel were moderate, the wind was
southerly, force 3 to 4.
7. There was no change in the weather conditions between the
time when the pilot was dropped at the Bar Light-vessel and the
time when the vessel rounded the Skerries.
She was perfectly under control during this part of the
8. The vessel rounded the Skerries at about 2 a.m. on the 24th
day of November, 1929. The course then set, after she had rounded
them was S.W.½ S. (magnetic).
9. There was a change in the conditions of the weather and sea
between the time when the vessel rounded the Skerries and about
9.30 p.m. on the 24th November, 1929; the weather became very
boisterous, wind—force about 8—from the south-ward, with very heavy
sea, causing the ship to fall off her course although canvas was
For considerable periods during this part of the voyage the
vessel was not under control and able to keep her course.
All proper means were adopted to endeavour to get her on to her
10. The position of the vessel at or about 9.30 p.m. on the 24th
November, 1929, was such that the Tuskar Light bors W. by S., but
the distance off was not verified.
At that time a strong gale was blowing from the S.W., with heavy
The master did alter course at or about that time; he altered
the course to S.E. with the object of picking up either the Smalls
or the South Bishop Light.
11. The master did receive a wireless gale warning during the
24th November, 1929. He received a warning timed 7.06 p.m. from
Seaforth "Gale warning—Southerly gale extending to all coasts
reaching force 9 locally—intense depression off south west Ireland
moving north east."
He did not take any action in consequence of the warning; he
considered the bad weather he was then experiencing was the weather
referred to in the warning.
12. There was a change in the weather conditions between 9.30
p.m. on November 24th and 9 a.m. on November 25th, 1929. The
weather improved considerably, the gale moderated, and the vessel
was again brought under control.
The position of the vessel at or about 9 a.m. on November 25th,
1929, was such that the South Bishop Lighthouse was approximately
7½ miles S.½ E. (magnetic).
She was under control during this part of the voyage.
13. At or about 9 a.m. on November 25th, 1929, the wind was
about S.S.E., force 3 and the sea was confused.
There was a change in those conditions between 9 a.m. and noon
of the said November 25th. At 11.30 a.m. the direction of the wind
suddenly changed to S.S.W., shifting to the starboard bow, and
increased to a gale.
The master did during this period send a wireless message to the
owners' office at Cardiff; at 11 a.m. he sent to that office the
message "Noon Smalls endeavouring make morning tide
14. The position of the vessel at or shortly after noon on the
25th November, 1929, was immediately south of, and close in to,
No change in the direction of the wind took place at that
time-it had taken place at 11.30 a.m.—but the force increased to 9.
The change from S.S.E. to S.S.W. was both sudden and unexpected,
and could not reasonably have been foreseen by the master unless he
possessed local knowledge.
15. The increased force of the gale did cause the vessel to
become out of control.
The master did take all proper and seamanlike steps to endeavour
to bring the vessel under control and keep her off the shore.
16. The master did send out wireless distress signals; at 1.50
p.m. he sent to the owners' office at Cardiff the message "Ashore
on Wolf Stack Point require immediate assistance vessel breaking
up." That message was received by the owners from both Fishguard
The signals were sent with due promptitude.
17. The vessel went ashore at 2.30 p.m. on the 25th day of
November, 1929, on the south-east corner of Mid Island, in Jack
18. Seven persons lost their lives at the time as the result of
the casualty. Nothing could have been done to save them, or any of
them. One man who was injured as a result of the casualty
subsequently died from the injuries he received.
19. The cause of the stranding and loss of the s.s. "Molesey"
(1) unexpected bad weather causing the vessel to be blown off
her course and to become unmanageable on a lee shore;
(2) unhandiness of the vessel in ballast trim; and
(3) insufficient allowance of sea room to enable the vessel to
be turned round if necessary.
20. Neither the loss of the s.s. "Molesey" nor the loss of life
was caused or contributed to by the wrongful act or default of
either Mr. Edmund Hannay Watts, the Registered Manager; or Captain
George Bernard Musson, the Marine Superintendent, but the loss of
the vessel and resulting loss of life were contributed to by the
action of Captain George Edgar Huntley, the master, in attempting
to pass between The Smalls and the main land through a channel
where the tides run with great strength, in a vessel of low speed
and light draught, with doubtful weather conditions prevailing.
This action may have been due to excess of zeal and a desire to
make Cardiff on the following morning's tide, which hope the master
had expressed by radio to the owners; otherwise it is difficult to
understand his reason for taking what was obviously a great risk.
The Court considers that he was not in the circumstances justified
in taking this risk and that he made an error of judgment in taking
it and thereby jeopardising the safety of his ship. The Court
however highly commends the conduct of the master and officers
after the ship struck and while awaiting rescue by the
With respect to the unhandiness of this vessel during the voyage
in question it has been borne in mind that she had made many
passages in similar ballast conditions during her career of 30
years and that there are no records of her having been abnormally
unhandy during any of them. The difficulty of handling vessels of
this type in light trim in heavy weather is well known to all
experienced seamen, and the Court therefore considers it proper to
make the recommendation that vessels of similar type now under
construction, or about to be constructed, should be fitted with a
deep water-ballast tank of suitable capacity consistent with 'the
tonnage, in addition to the usual double-bottom tanks, thereby
making it possible to keep such vessels under proper control if
heavy weather be encountered when in light trim. The Court also
recommends that a light load line be introduced.
M. P. GRIFFITH-JONES, Judge.
| ||CECIL D. S. RAIKES,|| |
| ||PERCY F. W. BLAKE,||Assessors.|
| ||H. P. LEARMONT,|| |
(Issued by the Board of Trade in London
on Tuesday, the 19th day of August, 1930.)
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