THE MERCHANT SHIPPING ACT,
REPORT OF COURT
In the matter of a Formal Investigation held at the Guildhall,
Swansea, on the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th days of August, 1947, before
J. V. Naisby, Esq., K.C., assisted by Lt.-Com. C. V., Groves,
R.N.R., Capt. H. A. Moore, I. J. Gray, Esq., and J. Young, Esq.,
into the circumstances attending the loss of the steamship "
Samtampa" on the 23rd April, 1947, on Sker Point, Porthcawl.
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 "Samtampa"
was due to her being driven on the rocks in exceptionally severe
weather. There was insufficient evidence before the Court to enable
it to find the reason why the said vessel came within dangerous
proximity to the said rocks.
Dated this 7th day of August, 1947.
J. V. Naisby, Judge.
We concur in the above Report.
| ||Charles V. Groves||Assessors.|
| ||H. A. Moore|
| ||Ivor J. Gray|
| ||Jas. Young|
ANNEX TO THE REPORT.
This Inquiry was held at the Guildhall, Swansea, on the 4th,
5th, 6th and 7th August, 1947. Mr. Pitts appeared on behalf of the
Ministry of Transport, Mr. S. Knox Cunningham (instructed by
Messrs. Middleton, Lewis and Clarke) appeared as Counsel for the
Managers, Messrs. Houlders Bros. & Co., Ltd., Mr. Broadhead
appeared for the Navigators' and Engineer Officers' Union, the
Mercantile Marine Service Association, the Radio Officers' Union,
and on behalf of the relatives of the master and officers, and Mr.
Neil Maclean appeared on behalf of the Seamen's Union and the
relatives of the crew other than the officers.
The "Samtampa" was an American-built vessel of the "Sam" class,
owned by His Majesty the King represented by the Minister of
Transport, and managed by Houlder Bros. & Co., Ltd. She was a
steel flush deck, single screw, cargo vessel with machinery
situated amidships. She was partly welded and partly rivetted. The
engines were reciprocating engines served by oil-fired boilers. Her
registered dimensions were: length 422.8 feet, beam 57 feet, depth
34.85 feet. The tonnages of the vessel were: under deck 6696.32,
gross 7218.92, register 4380.17. The vessel had three holds forward
of the machinery space and two abaft the machinery space. In the
lower part of No. 1 hold there were two deep tanks and at the
forward end of No. 4 hold there were two deep tanks. She had a
forepeak and an after peak and a double bottom was fitted between
the peaks. The whole of the accommodation was situated amidships.
Four lifeboats were carried, two on each side of the vessel, fitted
under mechanical davits. The total crew carried by the vessel
(including the Master) was 39.
The lifeboats provided accommodation for 66 persons on each side
of the ship. There were on board 42 standard life-jackets and 42
lifesaving waistcoats as well as 8 circular life buoys. A Galbraith
line-throwing gun of American make, equipped with rockets and
lines, was also carried.
The vessel was also fitted with wireless apparatus as detailed
in the answer to Question 8 below.
The "Samtampa" left Middlesbrough bound for Newport (Mon.) in
ballast in the early hours of the 19th April, 1947. The best
evidence of her draught is contained in the Pilotage certificate
which gives the draught as 10 feet 6 inches forward and 15 feet 6
inches aft. The vessel carried about 182 tons of permanent ballast,
but there was no evidence as to the disposal of the water ballast
which must have been on board in order to produce the draughts
stated above. The quantity of oil fuel on board was 608 tons.
The "Samtampa" was expected to reach Newport on the a.m. tide on
the 22nd April. She was probably seen passing Flamborough Head at
0745 on the 19th April, but owing to restricted visibility only the
letters "TA" in her reply could be distinguished. Thereafter the
vessel was not seen by any shore station till she passed Hartland
Point at 0800 on the 23rd April. In the weather conditions
prevailing this fact is not surprising. Meanwhile, at 11.30 a.m. on
the 21st April, the Master sent a wireless message to his Managers
to the effect that owing to the weather the vessel could not arrive
at Newport before the p.m. tide on the 22nd. A further wireless
message was received from the Master during the morning of the 22nd
April that he did not expect to arrive in Barry Roads till 0800 on
the 23rd April. At 0930 on the 23rd April yet a further message was
received from the Master giving his time of arrival as 1400 hours.
During the passage down the Channel the "Samtampa" encountered head
winds which, though of no great force, would be sufficient to
reduce the speed of a vessel in ballast trim.
At 0800 hours on the 23rd April the "Samtampa" passed Hartland
Point at a distance of six to seven miles, was "spoken", and gave
her name. So far as observation from the shore went, nothing
abnormal was observed. Gale warnings had been broadcast, but it was
not till after 0830 that any warning of exceptionally severe
weather was given.
The vessel proceeded up the Bristol Channel, and at 1253 sent a
wireless message to the "Empire Success" that the Foreland was
abeam to starboard and that she was going to heave to soon. There
had been an exchange of messages between the "Samtampa" and the
"Empire Success" in the course of which the master of the
"Samtampa" had expressed the view that in the weather conditions
prevailing it was unlikely that they would be able to pick up a
pilot. This message about heaving to was the first indication that
the voyage of the "Samtampa" would be interrupted. From 1253 until
1514 there are no records of any wireless messages passing between
the "Samtampa" and any other vessel or shore station; but at 1514
the master of the "Samtampa" sent out an urgency signal that the
vessel was rapidly drifting towards the Nash shoal. This message
was picked up by Burnham and Land's End Radio Stations as well as
by the "Empire Success" and was relayed.
At 1554 the "Samtampa" sent a message to the effect that she had
both anchors down and hoped to keep off the shoal, but was still
doubtful, and at 1603 sent a further urgency signal which was
received in various forms by the different stations, but
undoubtedly gave a bearing of 290 degs., 2½ miles from Porthcawl
Light. At 1632 the "Samtampa" sent out an SOS, "Fear Cables will
not hold much longer. Please send assistance." At 1638 a message
was sent to the effect that her starboard anchor had carried away
and she was now drifting ashore rapidly. These two messages were
both relayed by the shore stations. At 1650 the "Samtampa" sent a
further SOS reporting that her port anchor had now parted. At 1651
a message was sent from the "Samtampa" to Burnham Radio saying that
she would soon be ashore. At 1707 the "Samtampa" reported that she
had only a few yards to go; and at 1708 she sent another SOS
reporting that she was now aground at Porthcawl Light. At 1714 the
"Samtampa" reported that she was breaking up, and the crew were
At 1601 an ordinary private message was sent from the "Samtampa"
to the Pilots at Newport in the following terms: "When weather
moderates, please send pilot." The Court is unable to determine
whether this message had been composed shortly before it was sent
or whether it had been composed some time before and was sent
merely when the wireless operator had a convenient opportunity to
do so. The Members of the Court visited the scene of the wreck
about or just after low water on the evening of the 5th August, and
saw that the port cable is still attached to the forepart of the
vessel and is leading seawards with a heavy strain upon it. The
evidence given at the Inquiry was to the effect that when the wreck
first drove ashore the strain upon this cable was even heavier. The
position of the seaward end of the cable is unknown, and whether
the port anchor is still attached to it or not we are unable to
find, but there is undoubtedly a heavy strain upon this cable. If
the anchor is not still attached to it, it must have been very
firmly caught and held in the rocks. The starboard cable parted at
the link joining the fourth and fifth links of the cable. This link
at the time of the stranding was about the outboard end of the
hawsepipe or just outside it. It is fractured right through in the
way of the securing pin. The cable was not out to the end, and
there were still a few fathoms more which could have been let
In view of the absence of evidence, the Court is unable to make
any finding as to what really happened to the "Samtampa" between
1253 and the time the anchors were dropped. There was no evidence
of any lack of steam or any trouble with the engines, and we can
find no trace of any such trouble having existed. It is to be noted
that none of the signals from the vessel gives any indication of
trouble in the engine room. The probabilities are that during this
period the "Samtampa", in worsening weather, was driven to the
northward and became unmanageable.
All the witnesses who were called before the Court and spoke to
seeing the "Samtampa" shortly before she was driven ashore had had
their attention called to her by someone else. The first official
person on the scene was the Station Officer of the Coastguard
Station at Porthcawl. About 1545 he received a report that a vessel
was near the shore in Rest Bay, and proceeded to the shore in that
vicinity. He estimated that the vessel was about a mile off shore,
heading out to sea. So far as he could see the vessel was
stationary, and he thought she was at anchor. She was exhibiting no
signals, and after watching her for about ten minutes could see no
sign of her dragging. He stated that he could see that her
propeller was working. He then proceeded to the Porthcawl Golf
Club, and sent a warning message to his station for the lifeboat to
stand by, and then proceeded outside the club house in order to
keep the vessel under observation. He then observed the vessel had
hoisted a two-flag signal. He could not discern what the Hags were,
but as it was a twoflag signal he took it as a distress signal. He
fixed the time of this at 1647. Propeller movement was still
observable, with some smoke coming from the funnel, but no
appreciable alteration had taken place in the position of the
vessel. Shortly afterwards he received a telephone message to the
effect that the starboard anchor of the vessel had carried away,
and a few minutes afterwards noticed that the vessel started to
move in a direction a little east of north; and at 1655 ordered the
life saving appliance company to be called out, and a message was
passed to Coastguard Headquarters to inform tugs. He had to wait
for a few minutes before giving directions to the company as to
where to go, until he was able to estimate the approximate position
where the apparatus might be required. The apparatus was kept at a
distance of about three miles by road from the place of the
stranding. He then went along the shore himself to Sker Point, by
which time the vessel was ashore. The apparatus arrived without any
delay, and three attempts were made to fire rockets to the wreck.
The apparatus had to be shifted after each of the first two
attempts, because the tide was coming in and swept over it. None of
the rockets reached the wreck, and all fell substantially short,
although at least one of them made a flight apparently to the full
extent of the line. The length of the rocket line was 400 yards,
and the vessel was in fact nearly 500 yards from the water's
The vessel grounded about two hours before high water, but owing
to the south-westerly gale there was an unusually high tide, the
tides in Swansea and Port Talbot rising to 1 foot 8 inches and 1
foot 11 inches respectively, above predicted height. The wind was
from the south-west, force 9 to 11, and gusts of 88 miles an hour
were recorded at Aberporth. The visibility was varying, but from
1500 hours onwards probably rarely exceeded a mile and a half. Very
shortly after the vessel went aground she began to crack just
forward of. the bridge, and in a few minutes the whole bow portion
came away and was swept some yards inshore, and shortly afterwards
the extreme after end also broke away and was driven more or less
alongside the bow portion. At various times figures could be
discerned on the midship portion of the vessel, but there seems to
have been no attempt made by those on board to establish contact,
by rocket line or otherwise, with the shore. In view of the very
heavy pounding which the vessel was sustaining it is probable that
anyone on the bridge would require both hands in order to hold
Shortly after the vessel grounded one of her lifeboats would
seem to have been swept off the ship, but there was evidence that
at one time men were seen to get into another of her lifeboats,
though there was no evidence of an attempt to launch it. In our
opinion in that sea and on those rocks, no lifeboat could ever have
reached the shore.
The "Samtampa" carried a Galbraith line-throwing apparatus in a
steel case on the upper bridge. Lines and rockets were carried, the
lines being 1700 feet. The apparatus, however, was too cumbersome
to enable it to be used with any chance of success in the weather
conditions prevailing, and it would seem that if the charge got wet
the apparatus is useless. According to the evidence given before
the Court, this apparatus is not considered very satisfactory by
the life-saving appliance surveyors, and it is their practice to
recommend the supply of a superior type of line-throwing apparatus
when they are available. There was also some evidence that the
"Samtampa" carried a Schermuly pistol, but the vessel was well out
of pistol range from the shore. There was evidence from one witness
who spoke to seeing flashes of a signal lamp from the the
"Samtampa," but no other witness observed any signals of any kind
being made from the vessel. The "Samtampa" as she lay on the rocks
was at almost the same height as the highest point of the seashore,
and even if a line could have been passed between the vessel and
the shore, in our opinion, in the weather conditions prevailing,
there was no chance of anybody being transported by breeches buoy
from the vessel to the shore alive.
At 1541 the coxswain of the Mumbles lifeboat was informed by the
coastguards of the message sent out by the "Samtampa" at 1514, and
six minutes later the same message was also passed to the Secretary
of the lifeboat. At 1601 the Mumbles lifeboat was launched and
proceeded seawards. Shortly afterwards the coastguard at Mumbles
received the message sent by the "Samtampa" at 1603, and an attempt
was made to pass this information to the lifeboat, but visibility
was bad and the lifeboat had to return in order to ascertain the
latest news of the position of the "Samtampa." The lifeboat left
again at 1710 and proceeded to the place of stranding. Mumbles is
some 12 miles from Sker Point, and it is clear that there never was
any chance of the lifeboat getting to the "Samtampa" before she got
on the rocks.
The position given by the "Samtampa" as 290 degs., 2½ miles from
Porthcawl Light was substantially accurate, though whether she ever
observed the light is doubtful. The visibility recorded at
Porthcawl at the time was a mile to a mile-and-a-half. There is,
however, a target buoy in the vicinity which the "Samtampa" might
well have sighted which would enable her to fix her position.
The "Samtampa" was equipped with 135 fathoms of cable on her
port anchor and 75 fathoms on the starboard anchor. This scale is
in accordance with current regulations.
So far as tugs are concerned, the evidence was that no tugs were
QUESTIONS and ANSWERS.
The Court answers the Questions submitted by the Ministry of
Transport as follows:—
Q. 1. By whom was the s.s. "Samtampa" owned when she left
Middlesbrough on the 19th April. 1947?
A. His Majesty the King, represented by the Minister of
Q. 2. By whom was the s.s. "Samtampa" managed when she left
Middlesbrough on 19th April 1947?
A. Houlder Bros. & Co., Ltd., 53, Leadenhall Street, London,
E.C.3, the registered manager being Mr. Vincent West Maw.
Q. 3. By whom was the s.s. "Samtampa" built?
A. New England Shipbuilding Corporation, South Portland, Maine,
Q. 4. On what voyage did the s.s. "Samtampa" embark when she
left Middlesbrough on 19th April, 1947?
A. Middlesbrough to Newport (Mon.) in ballast.
Q. 5. When the s.s. "Samtampa" left Middlesbrough on 19th April,
1947, was she seaworthy, properly equipped and in every way fit to
meet the perils of the voyage then undertaken?
Q. 6. With what compasses was the s.s. "Samtampa" equipped?
A. Three magnetic compasses—standard, steering and emergency
aft. Last adjusted at Genoa, February, 1947.
Q. 7. With what sounding devices was the s.s. "Samtampa"
A. One Kelvin and Wilfrid C. White sounding machine, one
Fathometer manufactured by the Submarine Signal Company.
Q. 8. With what type of wireless transmitter was the s.s.
"Samtampa" equipped and what was the range of the transmitter?
A. One transmitter model E.T. 8024. Range under all conditions
250 miles—under practical conditions 400 miles. One transmitter
model E.T. 8025. Range under good conditions world-wide. One
portable transmitter for use in a lifeboat model E.T. 8026. All
made by Radio Corporation of America. The first two were both used
and there was no failure of communications.
Q. 9. Was the s.s. "Samtampa" in ballast?
Q. 10. What ballast did the s.s. "Samtampa" carry?
(b) water ballast.
A. (a) About 182 tons distributed in the wings of Nos. 2, 3, 4
and 5 holds.
Q. 11. What weight of oil fuel was the s.s. "Samtampa" carrying
when she left Middlesbrough? A. 608 tons.
Q. 12. What were the s.s. "Samtampa's" draughts of water on
leaving Middlesbrough on the 19th April, 1947?
A. The best evidence of draught was the Pilotage certificate
signed by the master and filled in by him giving the draught as 10
feet 6 inches forward and 15 feet 6 inches aft. Mean draught 13
feet o inches.
Q. 13. What was the number of officers and crew all told on
A. Master, 3 deck officers, 5, engineer officers, 1 radio
officer, 3 apprentices and 26 other hands. Total 39.
Q. 14. What was the condition of the weather, wind and sea on
leaving Middlesbrough on 19th April, 1947?
A. Good visibility, light wind, smooth sea.
Q. 15. At what time on what day did the s.s. "Samtampa" pass
A. About 0800 G.M.T. on the 23rd April, 1947.
Q. 16. What was the condition of weather, wind and sea when the
s.s. "Samtampa" passed Hartland Point?
A. The wind was S.W., force 6 to 8. Sea rough.
Q. 17. Did the conditions of weather, wind and sea deteriorate
from the time s.s. "Samtampa" was off Hartland Point?
Q. 18. What was the visibility at the time the s.s. "Samtampa"
passed Hartland Point and did it deteriorate?
A. At least 6 to 7 miles. The "Samtampa" was observed at this
distance, was asked her name and replied. Visibility did
Q. 19. Did the s.s. "Samtampa" transmit wireless signals with
regard to difficulties in navigation? If so, were such signals
A. Yes. The following signals were received:—
1253 by the "Empire Success": "About to heave to—now
approximately abeam of the Foreland to starboard."
1514 by the "Empire Success", Burnham and Land's End Radio
Stations: "XXX `Samtampa' rapidly drifting towards Nash Shoal.
1532 by Burnham Radio Station: "This our emergency if
1554 by Burnham and Land's End Radio Stations and the "Empire
Success": "Have both hooks down now and hope keep off shoal but
1603 by Burnham and Land's End Radio Stations and the "Empire
Success". This message was received in various forms; it probably
began: "XXX `Samtampa' position 51.29 N. 3.45. W." All three
stations got the latter part, which was: "bearing 290 degs. 2½
miles from Porthcawl Light."
1632 by Burnham and Land's End Radio Stations and the "Empire
Success": "S.O.S. Samtampa" fear cables will not hold much longer
please send assisttance."
1638 by all three stations: "Starboard anchor carried away now
drifting ashore rapidly."
1650 received in various forms by all three stations.
This message undoubtedly stated that the port anchor had carried
1651 by Burnham and Land's End Radio Stations in different forms
to the effect that the vessel would soon be ashore.
1707 by Burnham Radio: "Only a few yards to go."
1708 by Burnham Radio and "Empire Success" "S.O.S. `Samtampa'
now aground at Porthcawl Light."
1714 by Burnham Radio and "Empire Success" "Now breaking up
1738 the "Samfairy" reported receiving unreadable signals
believed to be from the "Samtampa" at 1732 which sounded as if they
Q. 20. Did the s.s. "Samtampa" carry lifesaving appliances in
full compliance with the regulations?
A. Yes. Last surveyed in Manchester, January, 1946.
Q. 21. Did the s.s. "Samtampa" carry a line throwing apparatus,
and if so what was the make and range and where was the line
throwing apparatus installed on board?
A. Yes. A Galbraith line throwing apparatus, range 1,050 feet.
Probably also a Schermuly pistol.
Q. 22. At what time was the s.s. "Samtampa" first sighted near
the coast where she was finally lost?
A. The time at which the "Samtampa" was first sighted near the
coast was not proved in evidence.
Q. 23. Did the s.s. "Samtampa" exhibit any distress signal?
A. Yes. A two flag signal which could not be distinguished was
observed at 1647 and was taken to be a distress signal.
Q. 24. At what time and at what place was the s.s. "Samtampa"
first observed to be ashore or being driven ashore?
A. The first witness who gave evidence of the "Samtampa"
approaching the shore put the time at shortly before 1620. He was
then at the Coast Guard Observation Post a mile or more from the
place of stranding.
Q. 25. Were attempts made to contact the s.s. "Samtampa" from
shore by means of rocket line?
Q. 26. If such attempts were made were they unsuccessful and for
A. Three rockets were fired. None reached the vessel because
even apart from the fact that they had to be fired into the teeth
of the storm the vessel was out of range.
Q. 27. Is there any evidence that the crew of the s.s.
"Samtampa" attempted to make contact with the shore by rocket line
or other means?
A. There is no evidence of any attempt to make contact with the
shore by rocket line or other means. In the weather conditions
prevailing it was probably impossible to use the Galbraith gun, and
the vessel was out of pistol range.
Q. 28. What were the conditions of weather, wind and sea at the
time and place where the s.s. "Samtampa" stranded?
A. Exceptionally severe. Visibility was limited by rain and
mist. The wind was recorded about 8 miles away as force 9 to 11,
and one master whose vessel was in the vicinity stated that in 28
years' sea experience he had encountered such weather in or near
the United Kingdom only twice before. The sea was exceedingly
rough, as was to be expected in such a gale. The formation of the
rocks on which the vessel stranded was such as to increase
considerably the scend of the sea.
Q. 29. What was the nature of the coastline where the s.s.
A. Rocky ledges extending about half a mile along the coast with
a sandy beach on either side.
Q. 30. How soon after grounding did the s.s. "Samtampa" break
A. She began to break up within a few minutes.
Q. 31. What members of the crew of 39 persons lost their
Q. 32. What was the cause of the stranding of the s.s.
"Samtampa" and the ultimate loss of the vessel with all members of
A. The loss of the "Samtampa" and the members of her crew was
due to the vessel being driven on the rocks in exceptionally severe
weather. Her dangerous proximity to the rocks was probally caused
by the vessel becoming unmanageable in light condition.
Q. 33. Was the loss of the s.s. "Samtampa" due to the wilful act
or default of any person or persons? If so, whom?
DATED this 7th day of August, 1947.
J. V. Naisby, Judge
| ||Charles V. Groves||Assessors.|
| ||H. A. Moore|
| ||Ivor J. Gray|
| ||Jas. Young|
(Issued by the Minister of Transport
in London, October, 1947.)
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