|For Official Use||Crown Copyright
S.S. "BURY HILL"
THE MERCHANT SHIPPING ACT,
REPORT OF COURT
In the matter of a Formal Investigation held at the Institution
of Civil Engineers, Great George Street, Westminster, on the 4th,
5th, 6th and 7th days of May, and the 17th day of June, 1937, and
at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Storey's Gate, S.W.I,
on the 21st and 25th days of May, 1937, before John Harris, Esq.,
assisted by Commodore H. Stockwell, C.B., D.S.O., and Captain W. E.
Whittingham, O.B.E., R.D., C. de G., R.N.R., into the circumstances
attending the stranding and subsequent total loss of the s.s. "Bury
Hill" on the Almadi Reef, West Coast of Africa, on the 7th
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 stranding of the s.s.
"Bury Hill" was due to the failure of the master to navigate his
vessel with that degree of care which is to be expected from a
prudent seaman in that he did not give the coast, of which he had
no previous knowledge and for the navigation of which his aids were
insufficient, a safe and proper offing; did not take proper steps
to provide himself with sufficient aids to navigation for the
voyage upon which he was engaged; failed to make proper use of such
aids to navigation as he had on board his vessel; and assumed too
readily that the Almadi light, of whose existence he was wholly
unaware, was the light of another vessel.
The Court finds the master, Captain Walter Victor Smith, in
default, and has given serious consideration to the question
whether it ought not to suspend his certificate. But having regard
to the fact that the casualty would in all human probability never
have happened but for two entirely fortuitous circumstances, namely
the failure through mere illfortune to procure a large scale chart
at Durban, and the accident that a wrecked vessel lay behind the
Almadi light, which tended to confirm the master's wrong assumption
as to what that light really was, the Court refrains from doing so.
The Court, however, severely censures the master and orders him to
pay to the Solicitor to the Board of Trade the sum of Fifty pounds
on account of the expenses of this Investigation.
The Court considers it to be its duty to draw attention to the
amount of time spent and the doubtless heavy expenditure
necessarily incurred at this Inquiry in investigating erasures and
alterations in the scrap log, and endeavouring to ascertain what
lay behind them. The frequency with which it is found in the course
of these Inquiries that log books have been altered leads the Court
to make the following recommendation, viz., that it should be a
standing order on all British sea-going vessels that all entries in
log books should be made either in ink or, if pencils are used, in
indelible pencil; and that no erasure should be permitted, any
alteration necessary being made by drawing a line through the
original entry, the alteration being initialled by the officer
making it. In the opinion of the Court it might well be considered
by the Board of Trade whether the matter of which complaint is made
should not be dealt with by regulation under the Merchant Shipping
Acts in terms of the above suggested standing order, and the breach
of such regulation made a punishable offence.
Dated this 17th day of June, 1937.
JOHN HARRIS, Judge.
We concur in the above Report.
| ||WALLACE E. WHITTINGHAM.||Assessors.|
| ||HENRY STOCKWELL.|
Annex to the Report.
This Inquiry was held at the Institution of Civil Engineers,
Great George Street, Westminster, on the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th May,
and the 17th June, 1937, and at the Institution of Mechanical
Engineers, Storey's Gate, Westminster, on the 21st and 25th May,
1937. Mr. Owen L. Bateson appeared as Counsel for the Board of
Trade, Mr. Cyril Miller (instructed by Messrs. Constant &
Constant) appeared for the Sussex Steamship Co., Ltd., the owners
of the vessel, and Mr. H. L. Holman (instructed by Messrs. Bennison
Garrett & Co.) appeared for the master, Captain Walter Victor
The s.s. "Bury Hill", official number 139,622, was a steel
single screw vessel of the tramp class built in 1917 by Messrs.
Richardson Duck & Co. Ltd. of Stockton-on-Tees. Her tonnage was
4,542'I gross, 2,767.05 net. Her length was 400 ft., her beam 52.05
ft. She was fitted with compound engines of 425 h.p. nominal, was
equipped with wireless, and classed 100 A.I. at Lloyd's. Formerly
the "Pensylvanie" she had been purchased by her owners, the Sussex
Steamship Company, from the French Compagnie Générale
Transatlantique in 1934 for £8,500. The vessel was bought "as she
lay" at Brest, and after adding the cost of bringing her to
Newport, Mon., for reconditioning, various disbursements, and the
expenses incurred in fitting her for trade, her gross cost to her
owners was £13,007, at which sum she was entered in the books of
the Company. Her book value at the time of her loss was £10,828 os.
IId., depreciation at the rate of 10 per cent. having been written
off in April, 1935, and again at the same rate in March, 1936. At
the time of her loss the vessel (hull and machinery) was insured
for £21,500 all risks, including total loss. In addition there were
two freight policies-a time policy for £4,000 and a voyage policy
for £5,400. Her owners valued her, at the time of her loss, at
£29,000. The vessel was mortgaged to the Company's Bankers on the
5th March, I935, to cover current account and interestfor what sum
did not appear.
The managers of the vessel were the Counties Ship Management
Company, whose directors were the same as those of the owning
company, namely Basil Mavroleon (registered as the managing owner),
J. E. G. Kulukundis, and M. Kulukundis. The directors were all of
Greek nationality, but the two last-named had been naturalized.
The master of the vessel was Captain Walter Victor Smith who had
held a master's certificate since February, 1927, and had commanded
tramp steamers since 1928.
To remove any misconception that might possibly arise from the
apparent disparity between the vessel's cost and the sum for which
she was insured, the Court thinks it proper to say at the outset
that at no time during the Inquiry was any suggestion made that the
vessel had been cast away, nor was there, in the opinion of the
Court, the slightest ground for suspecting that anything of that
sort had occurred.
The "Bury Hill" had left Bunbury, Western Australia, on the 20th
October, 1936, with a cargo of wheat in bulk. She carried a crew of
thirty-one (one below complement), of whom eight were deck hands.
Her draught when loaded was 24 ft. forward, 24.06 ft. aft. On the
13th November she called at Durban for bunkers, cleared the same
day and proceeded to Dakar for orders. On the 5th December she made
Dakar, entering the harbour under pilot. On the 7th December at
9.27 p.m. she left Dakar without a pilot, for Falmouth, clearing
the breakwaters of the harbour at 9.47 p.m. At II.43 p.m. the
vessel stranded on the Almadi reef and subsequently became a total
The Almadi reef is a congeries of rocks extending westward for
about a mile from Almadi point, which forms the western extreme of
Africa. Its dangerous character is sufficiently evidenced by the
fact that there were at the time the "Bury Hill" stranded upon it
no less than four other wrecked vessels lying in the immediate
vicinity. The reef is marked by a light on one of the outer rocks,
positioned approximately (according to the "Africa Pilot", part I)
in lat. 14° 45' N., long. 17° 33' W. The light is a fixed white
light with a range of 10 miles, and is shown from a circular
concrete tower banded with alternate rings of black and white, the
light itself having an elevation of 46 ft. above the mean level of
high water spring tides. There was formerly a whistle buoy on the
western extremity of the reef, but this had been removed or was not
working at the time the vessel stranded.
Before considering in detail the events which preceded the
stranding, or discussing its cause, it will be convenient to
enumerate some of the more salient facts which emerged at the
Inquiry as to which there was no dispute. These were:—
(1) The master and the third officer, Mr. Walter, who were alone
concerned in the navigation after the vessel left Dakar, were both
alike entirely ignorant of the existence of the Almadi reef and the
light upon it.
(2) The master, if not Mr. Walter, believed that Cape Verde was
the westernmost extreme of Africa.
(3) The Almadi light was seen and kept under observation by both
the master and Mr. Walter for some time prior to the stranding.
Both mistook it for the light of another vessel.
(4) The master's aids to navigation for his voyage up the coast
from Dakar were limited to
(a) Ocean chart 2060A (Eastern portion N.
(b) Ocean chart 367 (Atlantic—Cape Verde to Ceara);
(c) A tracing of part of the large scale chart 1001
(Africa West Coast—Cape Verde to Cape Naze), showing Dakar and its
approaches and extending northward to include the southernmost
"Pap" of Cape Verde (marked on the chart with the letters "C.V."),
but not including the higher Pap of Cape Verde proper, which
carries the Cape Verde light and lies about one-third of a mile to
the N.W. of the point at which the tracing stopped short. The
tracing showed no soundings between Cape Manoel and Cape Verde
except a few in the vicinity of the Madeleine Islands.
(5) The courses alleged to have been set and steered would, in
the absence of some intervening extraneous cause such as an
abnormal inset, defective compasses or bad weather, have taken the
vessel well clear of the reef.
(6) The vessel's compasses were in good order. The sea was calm
and there was no wind. The night was very dark and there was no
horizon, but visibility especially for lights was good.
(7) The owners of the vessel left the selection of charts and
similar aids to navigation to the master, and were always ready and
willing to provide and pay for such as he might require.
These propositions are all very material to the discussion of
the questions left to be investigated by the Court and need to be
kept in mind throughout. The main questions falling to be
(1) Was the vessel equipped with proper and sufficient charts
and other aids to navigation for the voyage up the coast from
Dakar, and if not, who should be held responsible for the
(2) Did the master make proper use of such charts and other aids
to navigation as he had on board?
(3) What were the vessel's courses after leaving Dakar?
(4) What was the cause of the stranding?
Captain Smith took over command of the s.s. "Bury Hill" in July,
1934. Correspondence between him and his owners showed that he was
asked in August before sailing on his first voyage to furnish them
with a list of the charts he required, bearing in mind the voyage
for which he had been fixed (Necochea-Montreal), and also South
Africa, the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. In accordance with
this instruction the master requisitioned and obtained some
sixty-three charts, including the two ocean charts already
mentioned, but no large scale chart of the West African Coast,
which presumably he might require if he were returning from South
Africa viâa the Cape. He also asked for and was supplied with a
number of Pilot Books, but unfortunately not the Africa Pilot, part
I. From time to time in the course of his voyages the master
obtained other charts and publications as he required
them—sometimes through his owners, sometimes directly from chart
agents, occasionally from the masters of other vessels. The
practice by which the owners thus left it to the master to select
such aids to navigation as he thought necessary was criticized
adversely by Mr. Bateson at the Inquiry, but in the opinion of the
Court it is not unreasonable for a small company owning a single
vessel and that a tramp, as was the case here, to leave such a
matter to their master's discretion if, as here, he was a man of
experience. It would obviously be unreasonable to expect the owners
of a vessel of this class to equip her at the outset with all the
charts and sailing directions which might be required in the course
of her trading career. In the opinion of the Court no blame can be
attached to the owners for adopting a system which, the Court was
given to understand, is almost universal in the tramp shipping
trade. But, the practice being as described, if there was any
deficiency in the aids to navigation for a particular voyage,
responsibility must rest primarily at any rate with the master and
not with the owners.
Was there any deficiency here, and if so, was the master
responsible for it? Primâ facie there was deficiency—the list of
the only charts and aids to navigation that the master had for his
voyage up the West African Coast has only to be set out, as it has
been, to furnish the answer to that part of the question. To answer
the second part of the question whether he must be held responsible
for the deficiency, it is necessary to see whether he had made any
efforts to remedy it and what those efforts were.
In the Spring of 1936 the master wrote to his owners from
Colombo, where the "Bury Hill" had called on her way home to
Liverpool via the Cape and Dakar, for a chart of the Irish Sea
which he had tried to get at Colombo but without success. This
chart was duly dispatched by the owners to the master at Dakar,
where he duly collected it. The master had also sought at Colombo,
and also without success, a chart of the "approaches to Dakar"; but
he did not ask his owners for this chart when he wrote for the
Irish Sea chart because, as he explained to the Court, what he
wanted was a chart of the approaches to Dakar and such a chart
would be of no use for his purpose once he had arrived at Dakar. He
managed, however, through his then chief officer to procure the
tracing of part of the large scale chart 1001, showing the
approaches to Dakar, and with the aid of this tracing the "Bury
Hill" was brought safely into Dakar and navigated thence past
Almadi point to the open sea—but not by the master himself, for he
had fallen ill, and after bringing the vessel out of the port had
been compelled to hand over to his officers. This was apparently
the first time that he had sailed up the West African Coast—at any
rate as master—so that if he were called upon to make the voyage
again he would be without experience of its dangers and would
necessarily have to rely upon such aids to navigation as he might
have at the time or upon information acquired from other
In August, 1936, whilst in the Atlantic on a voyage from
Amsterdam to Durban the "Bury Hill" was fixed to proceed in ballast
to Australia and load a cargo at an Australian port. At Adelaide
she partly loaded with wheat and went to Bunbury to complete. While
at Bunbury the master seems to have become somewhat anxious because
he had no charts for Chinese or Japanese ports at which he might by
the terms of the charter-party have been ordered to discharge.
However, on the 20th October, when loading was completed, he knew
that he would be proceeding to Dakar for orders, calling en route
at Durban for bunkers. On the voyage to Durban it apparently
entered his mind again that he ought to have a large scale chart of
the approaches to Dakar, and when the vessel arrived at Durban he
endeavoured to procure one. There are two chart agents at Durban
and the master had every reason to suppose that the chart would be
procurable there, but as luck would have it neither agent had it in
stock. Efforts to obtain a copy from the master of an Italian
vessel were equally unsuccessful, nor was the master able to find
on the agents' shelves a copy of the Africa Pilot, part I, which he
also wanted, but apparently did not inquire for. As events proved,
this was a great piece of misfortune, because even a glance at
chart 1001—the chart he would certainly have got had the agents had
it in stock—would have dispelled his belief that Cape Verde was the
western extreme of Africa, and he would have found the Almadi reef
and its light staring him in the face.
In discussing this question of the master's responsibility for
the undoubted insufficiency of his aids to navigation, it is a
little important to make sure what was really in his mind about a
large scale chart at this time. According to his own account what
he sought, both at Colombo and at Durban, was not chart 1001 nor a
large scale chart of the West African Coast beyond Dakar, but a
chart showing the approaches to Dakar. If that was so, and the
master himself was very insistent upon it, it is an easy inference
that he was never concerned about getting a chart to assist him in
navigating his vessel past Cape Verde. But the matter does not rest
on inference alone, because, when pressed as he was more than once
at the Inquiry to say why he did not communicate with his owners
when at Colombo on the previous occasion or when at Durban on this,
and ask them to send him the required chart to Dakar, his answer
always was that he did not do so because once he was in Dakar it
would have been no use to him. "What was in my mind was to get
something of the approaches to Dakar more than Cape Verde really,"
and "I did not write to my owners because I felt that if the chart
for Dakar is in Dakar when I arrive it will be of no assistance to
get me into Dakar . . . Having the tracing which was a true tracing
of the chart that we required for the approaches to Dakar, I
considered I was all right"; and again, "It was the same as on the
previous voyage; I should have had to go into Dakar to get the
chart of Dakar after the journey had been done." The only possible
conclusion to be drawn from these answers is that the master from
first to last felt no concern at all about his voyage up the coast
from Dakar, and made up his mind to navigate his vessel with the
aid of the tracing which, however accurate it may have been as an
aid to entering Dakar, had not been obtained and was probably not
intended by the tracer to be used for further navigation once Dakar
had been left behind: for, as already stated, the tracing shows no
soundings between Cape Manoel and Cape Verde except just round the
Madeleine Islands. Beyond a casual question addressed to the ship's
chandler at Dakar about a chart, the master seems to have made no
inquiries from anyone there as to any dangers that might possibly
lie ahead of him.
In the opinion of the Court, having regard to the fact that the
master had had no previous experience of the coast, the charts he
had were obviously insufficient for the contemplated voyage, as the
master himself must or should have known: and inasmuch as the
deficiency could have been remedied if the master had only taken
steps to communicate with his owners from Durban, the
responsibility for it must rest with the master himself, who was
plainly quite satisfied to rely upon his two ocean charts and his
Of the two charts, No. 367, which is on the larger scale of the
two, is of much too small a scale to show the Almadi reef or its
light, though it shows the Cape Manoel and the Cape Verde lights:
nor is the westernmost extremity of the land marked as Almadi
point—which in fact it is. The tracing, as already stated, does not
show the Cape Verde light but stops short of the promontory of Cape
Verde proper which carries the light. With nothing but the two
charts and the tracing before one it is easy to understand that an
inexperienced reader might well conclude that Cape Verde was the
most westerly point of the Cape Verde peninsula, but to the trained
eye at any rate chart 367 shows clearly enough that the coast line
extends westward for a considerable distance beyond the position of
the Cape Verde light as marked on the chart. In the opinion of the
Court, the master's confession that he believed Cape Verde to be
the westernmost extreme of the land can only mean that he had
either not looked at the chart at all or else had not read it with
the care that one expects from a seaman holding a master's
Apart from the two small scale charts and the tracing, the only
other aid to navigation for the voyage past Cape Verde in the
master's possession was the Light book. Had he looked at it before
setting his courses, or later even when running his courses, he
would have discovered the existence of the Almadi reef and the
light upon it. The book was in fact open on the table in the chart
room, presumably for use during the voyage. But neither the master,
nor Mr. Walter, the third officer who was on watch, ever looked at
it until after the disaster. Ought they not to have done so? Mr.
Holman contended, and a witness was called to support his
contention, that the Light book is a book of reference only, used
(and therefore apparently to be used), only for the purpose of
identifying a light after it has once been sighted. In general,
this may be conceded to be the purpose for which a Light book is
ordinarily used, but here the circumstances were unusual. The
master did not know the coast and had made no inquiries about it:
his charts were small scale charts which notoriously do not show
every light established for the guidance of mariners. His tracing,
moreover, did not show the Cape Verde light at all. The larger of
the ocean charts showed it as a flashing light, but did not
indicate the nature of the flash. In these circumstances it was
surely a matter of common prudence to consult the Light book which
was ready to his hand, if not before starting on the voyage from
Dakar, at least when a strange light showed up as it did, or for
the purpose of identifying with certainty the Cape Verde light. It
was unfortunate that he did not do so. In the opinion of the Court
the Light book should have been used, and the master's omission to
use it in the existing circumstances was negligence on his part
which contributed to the disaster that befell his vessel.
The story of the voyage as related by the master and the third
officer, and the chain of events which preceded the stranding must
now be examined in the effort to decide what were the courses run
by the "Bury Hill" and what was the cause of the stranding.
According to the evidence of these two witnesses—and they were the
only witnesses called as to the facts of the voyage—the vessel
passed between the breakwaters of the port of Dakar on the 7th
December at 9.47 p.m., when the engines were put full speed ahead
and the patent log was streamed. The log was found to be foul and
was cleared, reset, and streamed again at 10.20 p.m. Meanwhile the
master was conning the vessel down the fairway between Cape Manoel
and Goree Island, and then round Cape Manoel roughly in the arc of
a circle. He brought her round, starboarding, until she was on
West, when he steadied her on West = S. 72° W. true. This was at
10.12 p.m. At 10.30 p.m. when the Madeleine Islands came abeam,
course was altered to N.W. compass = N. 63° W. true. By that time
the vessel had run 2 ½ miles from the position off Cape Manoel
(whatever it was) when she had been put on her West course, this
figure being arrived at by calculation taking the vessel's speed at
8 ½ knots and the time run on the West course as 18 minutes. The
lines of these two courses are marked on the tracing, and the
master said he had plotted them at the time. He had also, some time
after the stranding, drawn upon the tracing a line to show his
course from the breakwaters round Cape Manoel to the position where
he put his vessel on the course of West(c) = N. 63° W.(t), this
position being marked with a cross. As no bearing had been taken of
Cape Manoel this position must in any case be regarded as
approximate only. Neither of these two courses was recorded by Mr.
Walter in the scrap log because, said Mr. Walter, the master was
conning the ship, and he therefore entered merely "master's orders"
to cover the movements up to 10.59 p.m., when he took over from the
master. Both courses are however recorded in a note book of Mr.
Walter's to which further reference will be made. This scrap log
also shows the entry "10.12 Rounded C. Manoel I'". Passing the
Madeleine Islands a light was seen by Mr. Walter amongst a number
of ships' lights, which turned out ultimately to be the Almadi
light. It was then on the starboard bow. The master said that he
saw it on the starboard bow just after the vessel had passed the
Madeleine Islands when she was on the N.W.(c) = N. 63° W.(t)
course. The light remained in view until the vessel struck. At
10.59 p.m. the master, according to Mr. Walter, satisfied himself,
so Mr. Walter believed, of the ship's position by cross bearings,
and she was put on a course of N. 11° W.(c) = N. 29° W. true. The
master said he took the bearings of the Cape Verde and Cape Manoel
lights before altering course and transferred the bearings to the
tracing, but the tracing not being large enough he had had to place
it upon another piece of paper and to extend the lines of the
bearings upon it to get his fix. The position so obtained was not
recorded in the log. As stated already the Cape Verde light was off
the map as it were on the tracing, and the line of the Cape Verde
bearing starts from a point which is in fact about one-third of a
mile to the S.E. of the actual position of the light. In the
circumstances if the bearings were taken at all, as the master said
they were and as Mr. Walter said he believed they were, the
position obtained cannot have been very accurate. At the time
course was altered at 10.59 p.m. Mr. Walter said he had been told
by the master to get the distance off Cape Verde, the master adding
" We should pass four miles off." Mr. Walter said he went up on
"Monkey Island" and took a bearing of Cape Verde, but found that it
was then 4° or 5° abaft of 4 points, so he waited until Cape Verde
was abeam and then made allowance for that 4° or 5°. He read the
log before and after taking the bearings. The readings were 5 ½ and
8 ½ respectively, and making allowance for the 5° he made the
distance off Cape Verde to be 3 ½ miles. The scrap log contains the
entry "11.20 p.m. C. Verde abm. dist. 3 ½ log 8 ½", and a
corresponding entry appears in Mr. Walter's notebook. On reporting
to the master, he instructed Mr. Walter to carry on on the N. 29°
W. course for another mile and then alter to N. 17° E.(c) = N. 1°
W.(t), which Mr. Walter did at 11.27 p.m. Both these courses appear
in Mr. Walter's notebook and in the course columns of the scrap
log. Mr. Walter said that all the entries in the scrap log down to
the 11.20 p.m. entry were made at the time—the remaining entries
being inserted after the stranding.
In the meantime both officers had been observing and discussing
the Almadi light, which, up to 10.59 p.m. and while the vessel was
on her N.W.(c) = N. 63° W.(t) course, had been on the starboard
bow, but with the vessel on her course of N. 11° W.(c) = N. 29°
W.(t) had been narrowing until it came approximately ahead, or"
right ahead "as Mr. Walter put it in a letter written by him to his
insurers a few days after the stranding. The master said that he
had first taken a very definite interest in the light when he was
getting his cross-bearing, because it then appeared brighter than
the other lights in its vicinity. Both he and Mr. Walter looked at
it more than once with binoculars and through the telescope. The
result of this observation was to confirm the master's assumption,
which he had made when he first saw it, that the light was either
the stern light of another vessel or the light of a fishing vessel.
As the ship drew up to Cape Verde the officers were able to make
out through the telescope the superstructure of another vessel, and
it is the fact that stranded on the reef and to the northward of
the light there lay another vessel, the s.s. "Beryl", which had
been wrecked there. This circumstance certainly enables one to
understand how it was that the master continued to be deceived, but
should it not have occurred to him before this wreck was sighted
that he might be wrong? The "Bury Hill", a slow vessel, had been
overhauling the light very rapidly, and the master rightly inferred
from this that the light was stationary and not, as he had thought
at first, the light of a vessel that was moving: and it was
obviously close inshore. Should it not have occurred to him that it
might after all be a shore light? The Light book was on the table
in the chart room. Why not look at it to check his assumption that
it was the light of a vessel? Surely ordinary prudence required
that he should do so. Making allowance for the circumstance that
the master's assumption was very likely influenced by the fact that
another vessel had preceded him on the voyage from Dakar not long
before he left and the accident that there was this wreck behind
the light to lend some colour to his conclusion, one is left with
the impression that he was certainly not as alert as he should have
been, and it is difficult to excuse his omission to use the Light
With the vessel now on the N. 17° E.(c) N. 1° W.(t) course Cape
Verde was passed, and it is perhaps worth noting that according to
his letter Mr. Walter then saw some lights inshore, but apparently
he did not report them to the master, though if he shared the
master's belief that Cape Verde was the western extreme of the
mainland the appearance of shore lights after it was passed should
at least have shaken that belief. The vessel continued on her
course at full speed until at 11.40 p.m. Mr. Walter suddenly heard
the sound of breakers ahead. He at once rang engines full astern
and helped the helmsman to put the wheel over, but three minutes
later the "Bury Hill" was on the reef. There had been no look-out
on the foc'sle since passing the Madeleine Islands. If there had
been it is possible, but in the opinion of the Court very doubtful,
whether the stranding would have been avoided. Mr. Walter was
obviously keeping a good lookout from the bridge and with weather
conditions as good as they were, in the opinion of the Court the
master cannot be blamed for not taking the precaution to have a man
on the foc'sle also.
Such in substance is the story of the voyage as told by the
master and Mr. Walter. Can their account of the courses run by the
vessel be accepted? If those courses were run the vessel should
never, in the natural order of things, have been brought to the
place where she stranded. Something must have happened to bring
this about. What was it? The master's answer was an "extraordinary"
inset—the epithet is his. Was there an inset? The only evidence to
support this theory was that canoes coming off to the vessel from
the mainland after the stranding were carried in a north easterly
direction, as were other objects thrown into the sea, and the
somewhat equivocal statement in the Africa Pilot, part I, that "a
vessel can pass the reef at a distance of three quarters of a mile
making allowance for a probable inset of current". For the rest it
depended upon inference. Something must have intervened to take the
vessel off a course which, with the courses previously run, would
have taken her well clear of the reef. It was not faulty compasses:
they were in perfect order. Possibly magnetic attraction, but there
was no evidence of it in the locality. What else could it have been
but an inset? But let us see what this involves. Assuming that the
courses were steered as stated by the master and Mr. Walter:
assuming also that the 10.59 p.m. cross-bearing position was
substantially correct, it would follow that the vessel must have
been set in a distance of 1 ¾ miles to arrive at the position where
she was wrecked: that is an inset of 1 ¾ miles in 44 minutes, which
implies a current of 2.386 knots. But when the vessel was abeam of
Cape Verde the Almadi light, according to both officers, was ahead
and there can hardly be any mistake about this as both officers
were positive about it, and Mr. Walter made the same statement in
the letter to his insurers written within some forty-eight hours of
the stranding when his recollection was fresh. If so, the
conclusion necessarily follows that the vessel was at most 1 ¾
miles off Cape Verde, and her course of N. 17° E.(c) = N. 1° W.(t)
actually leads her to the spot where she stranded. It is plain
therefore that the vessel experienced no current between the time
that Cape Verde was abeam and the time of stranding. Consequently,
if the 10.59 p.m. position was correct she must have experienced a
current of as high a rate as 5 knots between 10.59 p.m. and 11.20
p.m. when Cape Verde was abeam, and then—suddenly lost it! This, in
the opinion of the Court, is so absurd as to be quite incredible.
Moreover, it is inconceivable that a current of such strength as
would have been necessary to set the vessel in for so great a
distance should not have been experienced and reported by other
vessels voyaging on what is always a frequented highway for
shipping—and there were a number, according to the master and Mr.
Walter, on the route or in the locality that night.
If there were no inset, and no other extraneous intervening
cause, it must follow that the courses said to have been set and
run were not run, at any rate at the times or for the distances
alleged, nor can the 11.20 p.m. position abeam of Cape Verde at any
rate have been correctly stated.
But the story told by the two officers does not rest on their
word alone. It was supported at the Inquiry by documents which on
the face of them corroborated their account of the courses: they
were giving evidence on oath, and it would not be right to reject
their story altogether without some examination and discussion of
the documents put forward in support of it. Excluding the fair log,
which was substantially a replica of the scrap log, the documents
were (1) an entry of the courses in a notebook belonging to Mr.
Walter; (2) a draft letter in the same book, written by Mr. Walter
to his insurers shortly after the casualty; (3) the scrap log. The
entries of the courses recorded in the notebook were, Mr. Walter
said, made contemporaneously as each course was set—it was his
habit to carry the book about with him when on watch and to write
down in it any points he thought necessary, such as short courses
or engine movements. The draft letter was important because it
began by giving what purported to be an extract from the log
substantially in accordance with the contents of the remarks column
in the scrap log, and then set out the courses with the addition of
the distance run on each course. The only alteration of course for
which a time was given in the letter was that to N. 17° E. (c) at
11.27 p.m. The letter was in pencil as were the other entries in
the notebook. Two out of the four distances appearing in the letter
had been altered by superimposing another figure over that
originally written, the superimposed figure in one case being
written in ink. The scrap log when examined was found to have an
obvious erasure at the end of a line recording the abeam distance
of Cape Verde at 11.20 p.m., and at an early stage of the Inquiry
the master and Mr. Walter were asked what the erased entry had been
originally. Both gave the same answer, but the answer given was
proved to be quite inaccurate when the document was examined by an
expert to whom it had been submitted. This led to a further
examination of all these documents by an expert on either side,
certain laboratory tests were made and the experts gave evidence on
the results of their scrutiny. No useful purpose would be served by
recapitulating here the evidence they gave or discussing in detail
the alterations and erasures found or thought to exist in the scrap
log by Mr. Scott, the expert called by Mr. Bateson, or the views
expressed upon Mr. Scott's conclusions by Colonel Mansfield, the
expert called by Mr. Holman. It is sufficient to say that while the
Court was not convinced that Mr. Scott was always right or that
Colonel Mansfield was always wrong, it was satisfied that none of
the three documents was what it purported to be and was put forward
as being, i.e., a true record of the vessel's courses on the voyage
from Dakar. In particular, the Court cannot accept Mr. Walter's
statement as to the origin of the course entries in his notebook.
In the opinion of the Court, they were all made at the same time,
and they and the log book entries and the entries of courses as
they now appear in Mr. Walter's letter represent a "reconstruction"
in all probability based upon or extracted from the log book of the
previous voyage. That log book was not before the Court—it had been
left on board the vessel-so that no verification of what, it must
be admitted, is only a surmise is possible. But we know that there
was a consultation of the ship's officers after the stranding at
which the admitted erasure in the scrap log was made and the old
log book was looked at. The master had not looked at it to assist
him in shaping his courses for this voyage; yet, when he looked at
it after the stranding, he found that the courses he had steered
were the same-" identically the same", he said, as those sailed on
the previous voyage, a somewhat remarkable coincidence.
With no other evidence than that of the two officers and the
documents mentioned, and taking the view that the Court has felt
bound to take of the evidence as a whole, it becomes a matter of
great difficulty to give a satisfactory answer to the question:
what were the courses actually run? Mr. Bateson put forward the
ingenious suggestion that the vessel started on her first course of
West(c) from a position 1 ½ miles off Cape Manoel (and there is no
doubt that 1 ½ miles was the figure originally recorded in the
scrap log for the distance at which Cape Manoel was rounded), that
she got Cape Verde abeam at 5 miles distance when she was on the
N.W.(c) = N. 63° W.(t) course (as she would do starting from a
point 1 ½ miles off Cape Manoel), and that the final course of N.
17° E.(c) = N. 1° W.(t) was run from that abeam position, the N.
29° W. course not being run at all. Mr. Bateson supported this
theory by powerful reasoning based largely on certain deductions
drawn by Mr. Scott as to what had been the original figures
underlying some of the scrap log entries, with which Colonel
Mansfield disagreed and which, in the opinion of the Court, are of
a very debatable nature. The theory certainly produces the result
that the vessel reaches the position at which she stranded, and is
a very attractive one. But it is possible to put forward an
alternative theory which has perhaps a rather less speculative
foundation yet produces a similar result. In the opinion of the
Court it is very unlikely thai the vessel starting from the
breakwaters at 9.47 p.m. would have reached by 10.12 p.m. the
position marked by the master on the tracing. To do so she must
have covered a good 3 ½ miles in the time. But a vessel of this
type would take some time to work up to her maximum speed, and for
a good part of the 25 minutes which elapsed she would be travelling
on the arc of a circle under a starboard helm, which would tend to
reduce her speed. If the distance run in that 25 minutes only is
taken at 2 ½ miles, which the Court considers a far more likely
figure, the 10.12 p.m. position when the vessel was put on her
first course of West would be a mile further back along her course
line than the master puts it. Starting from this position, but at a
distance off Cape Manoel of 1 ½ miles instead of 1 mile, run the
vessel for the 2 ½ miles given in Mr. Walter's draft letter and
then on the N.W.(c) course for the 4 miles also given by Mr.
Walter. At 10.59 p.m. alter course to N. 11° W. and run the vessel
on that course not for the 4 miles now appearing in the draft
letter but for 2 ½ miles, the figure which, there can hardly be any
doubt, was that originally written down by Mr. Walter. After 2 ½
miles alter course again to N. 17° E.(c) and let the vessel run.
She strands on the reef and it will be found that the distance run
on the final course is almost exactly three miles—the figure which,
in the opinion of the Court, underlies the figure 2 ½ which has
been superimposed upon it in Mr. Walter's letter. This theory
involves rejecting the 10.59 p.m. position, but the Court feels no
difficulty in rejecting that, in the face of the statements of the
officers that the Almadi light came ahead while the vessel was on
her N. 11° W.(c) = N. 29° W.(t) course. It certainly fits in with
the statements of the witnesses as to the bearing of the Almadi
light when the vessel was on the N.W.(c) course and on the two
But after all the question must remain very largely a matter of
speculation, and the Court, while preferring the second of the two
theories mentioned, feels that no certain answer can be given to
it. But whatever theory may be the true one, one fact emerges from
the whole discussion and that is this: that whatever courses were
steered the master took his vessel far too close inshore,
especially passing Cape Verde. Working as he was, without a large
scale chart, upon small scale charts and a tracing-which, however
useful it may have been for the purpose for which it had been
obtained, i.e., to take the vessel into Dakar, was plainly a very
poor substitute for a proper chart of the coast after leaving
Dakar-he should have given the land, as Captain McGlashan, a
witness of great experience as a navigator, told the Court, an
offing of at least 4 miles. It was because the master, having
neglected to provide himself with proper aids to navigation or to
make proper use of those which he had, took the risk of skirting
too closely a shore of which he had no previous knowledge that he
stranded his vessel on the reef.
At the conclusion of the evidence Mr. Bateson on behalf of the
Board of Trade submitted Questions for the opinion of the Court.
The Questions and Answers are as follows:—
Q. 1. Who were the owners of the s.s. "Bury Hill"?
A. The owners of the s.s. "Bury Hill" were the Sussex Steamship
Company, Ltd., of 7 & 8, Bury Court, London, E.C.3.
Q. 2. When and from whom did they purchase the vessel? What was
her cost to her owners?
A. The vessel was purchased from the French Compagnie Générale
Transatlantique in 1934. The cost to her owners was £8,500, but the
vessel had to be re-conditioned at an expense of £4,507 7s. 9d.
before she was fit for service.
Q. 3. What was her value at the time of her loss?
A. The value to the owners at the time of her loss was
Q. 4. What insurances were effected upon and in connection with
the vessel (a) when she sailed on her first voyage for her
present owners; and (b) at the time of her loss?
A. (a) She was insured for £22,000 against all risks,
and for £20,000 against total loss; (b) she was insured
for £21,500 against all risks, including total loss, and there were
also two freight insurance policies totalling £9,400.
Q. 5. What number of compasses had the vessel and where were
they situated? When and by whom were they last professionally
A. The vessel had two compasses; one (the standard compass)
situated on the navigating bridge, and one (the steering compass)
situated in the wheelhouse, below the navigating bridge. They were
last professionally adjusted by Blair's Nautical Supplies Ltd. on
the 22nd August, 1934.
Q. 6. (a) Were observations made from time to time in
order to ascertain the deviation to be applied to the compasses?
(b) Did the master know the proper corrections to be
applied to the courses steered?
A. (a) Yes. (b) Yes.
Q. 7. Was the vessel fitted with wireless telegraphy?
Q. 8. What (a) charts and (b) Admiralty Pilots
and (c) List of Lights were on board the vessel concerning
the navigation of the West Coast of Africa? Were such charts and
publications sufficient for the voyage in question?
A. (a) Ocean charts Nos. 2060A and 367; (b)
none for the West Coast of Africa; (c) Lights and Tides of
the World, 33rd edition, published by Imray Laurie Norie & Co.,
In addition the master had on board a tracing of part of chart
1001 showing the approaches to Dakar and the line of the coast as
far as the southernmost "Pap" of Cape Verde.
Such charts and publications were insufficient for a voyage up
the West Coast of Africa from Dakar.
Q. 9. Did the master make any, and if so what, efforts to obtain
adequate charts and publications for this voyage? If so, when,
where and from whom did he try to obtain them? Were his efforts
A. The master endeavoured while at Durban to obtain from the
chart agents there a chart showing the approaches to Dakar, and
looked on the agents' shelves for a copy of the Africa Pilot, part
I. He tried also to procure a copy of a chart showing the
approaches to Dakar from the master of an Italian vessel. He was
unable to obtain such a chart or to find the book he looked
Q. 10. Whose responsibility was it to see that the vessel was
properly supplied with the necessary charts and publications?
A. It was the master's responsibility.
Q. 11. When the vessel left Australia on her last voyage, was
she in good and seaworthy condition?
Q. 12. On what day did she arrive at Durban and for how long did
she remain there?
A. She arrived at Durban on the 13th November, 1936, and left
the same day.
Q. 13. When and at what time did she (a) arrive at
Dakar and (b) leave Dakar?
A. She (a) arrived at Dakar on the 5th December, 1936,
at 3.15 p.m., and (b) left Dakar on the 7th December,
1936, at 9.27 p.m.
Q. 14. At what time was the vessel first put on to a course off
Cape Manoel? At what distance was Cape Manoel at that time? How
long did the vessel run on that course?
A. According to the master and the third officer the vessel was
first put on to a course off Cape Manoel at 10.12 p.m. Cape Manoel
was then 1 ½ miles distant. The vessel was said to have run on the
course West(c) = N. 72° W.(t) from 10.12 p.m. until 10.30 p.m.
Q. 15. Did Cape Manoel come abeam when the vessel was on that
course? If so, at what time did it come abeam and how far off was
it at that time?
A. In the opinion of the Court, Cape Manoel came abeam before
the vessel was put on her course of N. 72° W.(t). It is not
possible to say with certainty at what time Cape Manoel came abeam
or how far off it was when it came abeam as no bearing was
Q. 16. What was the next alteration made in the vessel's course?
When was it made? How long did the vessel remain on that
A. The next alteration of course, according to the evidence of
the master and Mr. Walter, was to N.W.(c) = N. 63° W.(t). It was
said to have been made at 10.30 p.m. and to have been held until
10.59 p.m. The Court is unable to say whether these times are
correct, but they probably are correct.
Q. 17. Were any subsequent alterations of course made before the
vessel stranded? If so, what were they and when were they made?
A. According to the evidence of the master and Mr. Walter two
further alterations of course were made before the vessel stranded,
viz., from N.W.(c) = N. 63° W.(t) to N. 11° W.(c) = N. 29° W.(t) at
10.59 p.m., and another from N. 11° W.(c) = N. 29° W.(t) to N. 17°
E.(c) = N. 1° W.(t). The Court cannot say with certainty whether
the course N. 11° W.(c) = N. 29° W.(t) was run, nor the time at
which the vessel was put on to the course N. 17° E.(c) = N. 1°
Q. 18. What steps, if any, were taken to ascertain the position
of the vessel after passing Cape Manoel? How often were such steps
taken? Was the position of the vessel accurately ascertained?
A. The master stated that he took a cross-bearing of Cape Verde
and Cape Manoel to fix his position at or about 10.59 p.m., and the
third officer, Mr. Walter, said he believed the master had done so.
No record of the position obtained was entered in the log. The
Court is doubtful whether these bearings were taken by the master.
If they were taken the position ascertained was not accurate. No
other steps were taken to ascertain the vessel's position, except
that Mr. Walter was instructed by the master to ascertain the
vessel's distance off Cape Verde, which he stated was 3 ½ miles
when Cape Verde was abeam at 11.20 p.m. In the opinion of the
Court, this time and distance were inaccurate.
Q. 19. On what course was the vessel when Cape Verde came abeam?
What distance was the vessel off the Cape at that time?
A. The Court is unable to say on what course the vessel was when
Cape Verde came abeam prior to her coming abeam of it on her final
course at about 1 ¾ miles distance.
Q. 20. At what speed was the vessel proceeding when a course was
first set off Cape Manoel? Was there any, and if so what,
alteration in the speed between that time and the time of the
A. The speed was about 8 ½ knots. No alteration was made until
the engines were put full astern at 11.40 p.m.
Q. 21. (a) Did the master know of the existence of
Almadi reef or of the light on the Almadi reef? (b) If
not, could he have ascertained this fact from the publications
which were on board the vessel?
A. (a) No. He was ignorant of the existence of either.
(b) He could have ascertained their existence by reference
to the Light book.
Q. 22. Did those concerned in the navigation of the vessel see
the light on Almadi reef? If so, how far off was the light when it
was first sighted, and for how long was it kept under
A. Yes. When first sighted it was about 6 miles off: it remained
in view and was kept under observation until the vessel
Q. 23. Was this light correctly identified by those concerned
with the vessel's navigation? If not, why not?
A. No. It was not correctly identified because those concerned
with the navigation were unaware of the existence of the Almadi
light and assumed when they saw it, without checking their
assumption by referring to the Light book, that the light was the
light of another vessel-an assumption which was later confirmed in
their view when they made out through the telescope the
superstructure of a vessel lying to the northward of the light.
There was in fact a wrecked vessel lying there.
Q. 24. What was the state of (a) the weather;
(b) the visibility; (c) the wind; and
(d) the sea between the time when the vessel was off Cape
Manoel and the time of the stranding?
A. (a) The weather was fine; (b) visibility
was good for lights, but the night was dark and there was no
horizon; (c) there was no wind; (d) the sea was
Q. 25. Was a good and proper lookout kept on board the
A. No lookout was stationed in the foc'sle but a good lookout
was kept by the third officer, Mr. Walter, from the bridge.
Q. 26. When and where did the vessel strand?
A. The vessel stranded at 11.43 p.m. on the 7th December, 1936,
on the Almadi reef. Her position after stranding cannot be
accurately stated as no bearings were taken, but it was between the
lighthouse and the mainland and according to Mr. Walter's estimate
about 3 cables from the former.
Q. 27. What was the cause of the stranding of the s.s. "Bury
A. The cause of the stranding was the bad seamanship of the
master in failing to give the coast, of which he had no previous
knowledge and for which his aids to navigation were insufficient, a
safe and proper offing; in not taking proper steps to provide
himself with sufficient aids to navigation for his voyage, and
failing to make proper use of such aids to navigation as he had;
and in assuming too readily that the Almadi light was the light of
Q. 28. After the vessel stranded were all proper precautions
taken by those on board to secure the safety of the crew, and were
all adequate steps taken to save the vessel?
Q. 29. On what day did the vessel break her back?
A. On the 21st December, 1936.
Q. 30. Were the stranding and subsequent total loss of the s.s.
"Bury Hill" caused or contributed to by the wrongful act or default
of her master, Captain Walter Victor Smith, and her owners, the
Sussex Steamship Co., Ltd.; or either, and if so which, of
A. The stranding and subsequent loss of the s.s. "Bury Hill"
were caused by the wrongful default of her master, Captain Walter
Victor Smith. They were not caused or contributed to by any
wrongful act or default on the part of her owners, the Sussex
Steamship Co., Ltd.
JOHN HARRIS, Judge.
| ||WALLACE E. WHITTINGHAM,||Assessors.|
| ||HENRY STOCKWELL,|
(Issued by the Board of Trade in London
on Wednesday, the 21st day of July, 1937)
PRINTED AND PUBLISHED BY HIS MAJESTY'S STATIONERY OFFICE
To be purchased directly from H.M. STATIONERY OFFICE at the
Adastral House, Kingsway, London, W.C.2; 120 George Street,
26 York Street, Manchester 1; 1 St. Andrew's Crescent,
80 Chichester Street, Belfast;
or through any bookseller
Price 9d. net