The Merchant Shipping Act, 1894.
IN the matter of a formal investigation held at the Committee Room, in the Municipal Buildings, at Middlesbrough, on the 23rd, 24th, and 25th days of September, 1897, before CHARLES JAMES COLEMAN, Esq., Judge, assisted by Captains C. Y. WARD and KENNETT HORE, into the circumstances attending the stranding of the screw steamship "Attila," near the Skaw, Denmark, on the 25th of August, 1897.
Report of Court.
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 casualty was caused by the vessel being steered on an improper course after the North Ronner light was sighted at 11.15 p.m., on the 25th August last. The master, John Hughes, alone is in default, and the Court suspends his certificate as master, No. 88289 for the period of. six months from the date of the casualty.
The Court makes no order as to costs.
Dated this 25th day of September, 1897.
CHARLES JAMES COLEMAN, Judge.
We concur in the above report.
C. Y. WARD,
Annex to the Report.
This was an inquiry into the circumstances of the stranding of the steamship "Attila," near the North Ronner lighthouse, on the Island of Læso, in the Kattegat, on the 25th of August, 1897. It was held at the Committee Room, Municipal Buildings, Middlesbrough, before Charles James Coleman, esquire, Judge, on the 23rd, 24th, and 25th days of September, 1897.
Mr. W. S. Burton appeared for the Board of Trade, and Mr. Lennard, LL.D., for the master and owners of the "Attila." The first and second officers appeared in person, but were not represented by counsel.
The "Attila," official number 89726, is a schooner-rigged steel screw steamer, built at Middlesbrough in 1889 by Messrs. Craggs and Sons, and belongs to that port. She is specially constructed to carry petroleum oil in bulk, being fitted with tanks fore and aft, and having twelve bulkheads, and was lighted throughout with the electric light. Her length is 280 feet, breadth 37.5 feet, and depth of hold 25.6 feet. Her gross tonnage is 2,140.96 tons, and her registered tonnage 1,403.86 tons.
She was fitted with three triple expansion direct acting engines of 180 horse-power combined, which gave her a speed of about 9 1/2 to 10 knots when fully loaded. The engines were built by Messrs. Westgarth, English, and Co., of Middlesbrough, the cylinders being 21 inches, 34 inches, and 57 inches respectively. The "Attila" is classed A1 at Lloyds, and is owned and managed by the "Lennard Petroleum Carrying Company," of Middlesbrough. She had three spirit compasses, which were all in good order and condition, and were last adjusted on the 29th of December, 1895, by Messrs. Williams, of Newport, Monmouthshire. The vessel was navigated and the courses set and steered by the pole compass, which stood before the steering wheel on the upper bridge. The steam steering gear was placed on the lower bridge, and the small steering wheel on the upper bridge was connected to it by a connecting rod. She had two lifeboats and also lifebuoys, and life-saving appliances according to the statutory regulations, and was well found and properly fitted and equipped for the trade in which she was engaged.
The "Attila" left Philadelphia, bound for Aarhuns, in Denmark, on the 7th August last. She was under the command of Mr. John Hughes, who held a certificate of competency, numbered 88289, and she carried a crew of 24 hands all told, and one passenger. She had a cargo of 2,740 tons of petroleum oil in bulk, her draught of water on leaving being 19 feet 8 inches forward, and 21 feet 9 inches aft, and out of the 24 hands, there were six A.B.'s, three of whom with an officer were in each watch. Mr. Hughes had been in the vessel for nearly four years, having served as second and first officer before he was appointed to the command of her. He had been master for about 12 months.
The voyage proceeded all well with general fine weather, and on the morning of the 25th of August last she was off the coast of Norway.
The master stopped the ship during the day to verify the compasses, and there was found to be 18 degrees easterly deviation on the south 1/2 east, south, and south by west courses. This deviation did not agree with the deviation given by the card for these points, being in fact much greater, but they corresponded with the deviations, the master said, he had found for himself from time to time on previous occasions, and he was quite confident they were correct and reliable.
It should be here stated that all the ship's books and papers were left on board the ship when the crew left her, and the Court had, therefore, no means of verifying the corrections found and applied to the courses steered by the compass book. The chart used was a blue-backed chart of the "Kattegat," on a large scale by Norie, and is said to have been dated 1886. This was also left behind. There was no Admiralty chart on board.
At 9.15 p.m. on the 25th of August the "Attila" rounded the Skaw light-vessel, which was distant about 300 or 400 yards. The night was fine and clear, the wind was very light from S.S.W., almost calm, and the sea was smooth, but there was a light haze to the southeastward.
From the Skaw light-vessel a course S. by W. magnetic was steered until 11 p.m., when she was abreast of the Hirtsholm light, and, a four-point bearing having been taken of Hirtsholm as they approached it, she was found to be six miles off it. which was two miles further off than the master expected to have been by the course he steered from the Skaw light-vessel. An alteration was then made in the course, as the master assumed that the current had sent him to the eastward, but no allowance had been made for current up to the vessel being abreast of the Hirtsholm light. At 11 p.m. the course was altered to S.W. by S. 3/4 S. magnetic, and. the vessel was going full speed (9 1/2 to 10 knots). The second officer was told by the master to look out for the North Ronner light, and at 11.15 p.m. he reported to him a red and white light one point on the port bow, and about seven or eight miles distant. No notice was taken by the master of the bearing of this light, or the dangerous course on which he was approaching it; but at 11.55 p.m., when it was about abeam, a buoy or beacon was seen close to the vessel on the port side—in fact, only a few yards off. The helm was immediately ordered hard-a-port, and the engines to be stopped and reversed full speed astern, but before either order could be executed the vessel struck heavily and remained fast. The force of the blow put out all the electric lights in the ship. The helm suddenly jammed before it could be got over, and it was found impossible to move the wheel either way. Orders were given to the engineer to pump out the expansion tanks to lighten the ship, but whilst he was preparing to do this he began to smell oil strongly in the engine-room, and heard and saw the oil coming through the coal bunkers and running down upon the stokehole plates, which showed that the force of the blow in stranding had started the plating of the oil tanks forward of the coffer dam. The engineer stated in his evidence that he had made a regular examination, as far as he was able, of the oil tanks twice a day to see that everything was in order, and that no leakage of oil was taking place; and up to the time of the casualty there had been no sign of leakage anywhere.
Although the engine room and stokehole were in darkness, he could see the oil making its way to the fires by the light in the stokehole. Fearing that the ship would immediately be on fire fore and aft, or that there would be an explosion, he at once gave up any attempt to pump out the expansion tank, and rushed on deck to inform the master that the petroleum was making its way into the stokehole and to the fires. The two lifeboats were then got out, and all hands proceeded to get into them as soon as possible. The chief officer, with half of the crew in one boat, dropped astern and held on to the buoy beacon which the vessel had passed just before stranding. The master and the rest of the crew followed shortly afterwards in the other lifeboat, and in about 20 to 25 minutes flames burst out of the stokehole, and the whole of the after part of the vessel was on fire. The two lifeboats were then pulled away to the westward, and were afterwards picked up and taken into Frederickshaven by some fishermen, where all the crew were safely landed.
At the time of getting into the boats the master appears to have been considerably excited, and as he had slightly injured his hand on a previous voyage, and there was no ladder available to get over the side with, the steward or second mate passed a line around his waist and lowered or assisted him into the lifeboat, which in the circumstances was a very proper and very prudent thing to do, seeing that the master was a heavy man and had nearly lost the use of one hand. In these circumstances a charge had arisen against the master that he was intoxicated, the allegations of drunkenness being put forward by two A.B's., William Woods and John Hunter, in their depositions before the Receiver of Wreck. The charge of drunkenness against the master was entirely and completely refuted by the officers, engineers, and steward of the vessel, and was withdrawn by Hunter himself in the witness box. The Court is therefore of opinion that the master was not under the influence of drink at any time during the voyage in quest on, and that the witnesses who made the charge were entirely unworthy of belief.
From the above facts it is clear that the stranding of the "Attila," and the subsequent fire and abandonment of the vessel, were brought about by the neglect of the master to take proper and sufficient notice of the bearing of the North Ronner light when it was first seen at 11.15 p.m. by himself and the second officer. At that time they were seven or eight miles from the light, and the course they were steering, S.W. by S. 3/4 S., with the light only one point on the port bow, should have at once pointed out to the master, had he used ordinary precautions, that he was steering a dangerous course, and that he was not where he supposed himself to be, but that instead of being only six miles off Hirtsholm light in the position marked down on the chart he was in fact considerably further to the eastward (9 or 10 miles at the least), and, therefore, the course he was steering would not take him clear of the North West Reef if it cleared him of the North Ronner Reefs. No notice, however, was taken of either the course or the bearing of the light until the buoy beacon was sighted a few yards from the side, when it was too late to do anything, and the vessel stranded as described.
The Board of Trade desired the opinion of the Court on the following questions:—
1. What number of compasses had the vessel; were they in good order and sufficient for the navigation of the vessel, and when and by whom were they last adjusted?
2. Did the master ascertain the deviation of his compasses by observation from time to time; were the errors correctly ascertained, and the proper corrections to the courses applied?
3. Whether the vessel was supplied with proper and sufficient charts and sailing directions?
4. Whether proper measures were taken to ascertain and verify the position of the vessel at or about 9.15 p.m. of the 25th August last and from time to time thereafter?
5. Whether safe and proper courses were steered after 9.15 pm. of the 25th August last, and whether due and proper allowance was made for currents?
6. What was the light seen at or about 11.45 p.m. of the 25th August last, and was the master justified in taking it for the Læso Channel light?
7. Whether a good and proper look-out was kept?
8. What was the cause of the casualty?
9. Whether on the night of the 25th August last the master was under the influence of drink?
10. Whether the vessel was navigated with proper and seamanlike care?
11. Whether the loss of the s.s. "Attila" was caused by the wrongful act or default of the master, chief, and second officers, or any of them?
At the conclusion of the evidence, and after these questions had been read, Dr. Lennard addressed the Court on behalf of the master, and Mr. Burton replied on the part of the Board of Trade.
The Court then proceeded to answer the questions submitted for its opinion as follows:—
1. The vessel had three compasses, which were in good order and sufficient for the safe navigation of the vessel. They were last adjusted on 29th December, 1895, by Messrs. Williams at Newport, Monmouthshire.
5. The master stated that he did ascertain the deviation of his compasses by observations from time to time, and properly applied the corrections, but the Court had no means of ascertaining the correctness of the master's evidence on this point, as all the books and cards were left and burnt in the ship.
3. The captain stated that the vessel was supplied with a large scale blue-backed chart of the Kattegat, by Norie, for 1886, with Sailing Directions, which were left and burnt in the ship. He had no Admiral y chart on board.
4. For all practical purposes of navigation proper measures were taken to ascertain and verify the position at 9.15 a.m. on the 25th of August last, when the "Attila" passed close to the Skaw lightship.
5. A safe course was steered until the vessel was abreast of Hirtsholm lightship, but after that time a proper course was neither set nor steered to pass through the Læso Channel, which the master intended to take. No allowance was made for currents.
6. The light that was seen at 11.45 p.m. on the 25th of August last was the light of a fishing boat at anchor, and the master was not justified in taking it for the Læso Channel lightship, which would have been on the starboard bow.
7. A good look-out was kept, but proper measures were not taken to make use by bearings of the lights seen.
8. The casualty was caused by steering an improper course to pass through the Læso Channel after the North Ronner light was sighted at 11.15 p.m.
9. The Court is distinctly of opinion that the master was not under the influence of drink during the voyage in question. The witnesses who stated that the master was drunk were, in the opinion of the Court, unworthy of belief.
10. After passing the Skaw light the vessel was not navigated with proper and seamanlike care. Sufficient attention was not paid to the bearings of the lights seen.
11. The master alone is in default. The casualty was caused by the vessel being steered on an improper course after the North Ronner was sighted at 11.15 p.m. on the 25th of August last. The master, John Hughes, alone is in default, and the Court suspends his certificate as master, No. 88289, for the period of six months from the date of the casualty.
The Court makes no order as to costs.
Dated this 25th day of September, 1897.
CHARLES JAMES COLEMAN, Judge.
We concur in the above report.
C. Y. WARD,
(Issued in London by the Board of Trade on the 13th day of October, 1897.)
14744—180—10/97 Wt 48 D & S