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Wreck Report for 'Jean Stephen', 1958

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Unique ID:20702
Description:BOT Wreck Report for 'Jean Stephen', 1958
Creator:Board of Trade
Date:1958
Copyright:Out of copyright
Partner:SCC Libraries
Partner ID:Unknown

Transcription



THE MERCHANT SHIPPING ACT, 1894

REPORT OF COURT

(No. S.444)

s.t. "Jean Stephen" O.N.139937

In the matter of a Formal Investigation held at the Sheriff Court, Aberdeen, on the thirtieth day of June, and the first day of July, nineteen hundred and fifty eight before Archibald Hamilton, Sheriff-Substitute assisted by Captain C. V. Groves, Captain A. M. Atkinson, and G. H. Nicholson, Esquire, into the circumstances attending the stranding and subsequent loss of the steam trawler "Jean Stephen" of Aberdeen, Official No. 139937, at Sinclair Bay, North of Wick on the eighteenth day of January, nineteen hundred and fifty-eight.

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 accident was caused:—

(1) by the fault of the skipper, John Cowie, holder of certificate No. 24407 in respect that

(a) between the time of giving the order to lift the anchor and putting the engines slow ahead the vessel had come too close to the land under the influence of the wind and tide to enable her to swing from about west to east seawards, and

(b) having put the engines ahead the skipper handed the vessel over to the mate when, owing to her proximity to the land, and in the weather conditions of little or no visibility with a snow squall, it was his duty to remain on the bridge and keep control of the vessel, and

(2) by the fault of the mate, George Stewart Christie, holder of certificate as skipper No. 23728 in respect that

(a) in the knowledge as an experienced sailor that the position of the vessel was not accurately known he did not raise the question of her position with the skipper before taking her over and satisfy himself as it was his duty to do that she was in a position to swing from west to east in safety as she moved ahead, and

(b) he undertook control of the vessel alone in very difficult conditions in her position and the weather and failed to call a deckhand to take the wheel and another to go on lookout forward as it was his duty to do.

The Court suspends the certificate of the skipper, No. 24407, for 12 months from this date and orders him to pay one hundred pounds towards the cost of this Inquiry. The Court also suspends the certificate of the mate, No. 23728, for 6 months from this date and orders him to pay fifty pounds towards the cost of the Inquiry.

Dated this first day of July 1958.

ARCH. HAMILTON, Judge.

We concur in the above Report.

 

CHARLES V. GROVES

 

 

A. M. ATKINSON

Assessors.

 

G. H. NICHOLSON

 

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

The Court's answers to the questions submitted by the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation are as follows: —

Q. 1. By whom was the "Jean Stephen" owned at the time of her stranding and loss?

A. The Stephen Fishing Company Limited, 172 Market Street, Aberdeen.

Q. 2. Where, when and by whom was the "Jean Stephen" built?

A. At Aberdeen in 1917 by Alexander Hall & Company Limited.

Q. 3. With what compasses was the "Jean Stephen" fitted?.

A. Two: one overhead in the wheelhouse and one in the cabin.

Q. 4. When was the compass last adjusted and was it in satisfactory working order on 18th January, 1958?

A. 20th February 1957. The one in the wheelhouse was in satisfactory working order.

Q. 5. (a) Was the "Jean Stephen" fitted with echosounding apparatus, logs, leads, lead lines, direction finding equipment, radio telephone and Decca Navigator?

A. Yes.

Q. (b) Were these navigational aids in efficient working order on 18th January 1958?

A. Yes.

Q. 6. (a) With what type of steering gear was the "Jean Stephen" fitted?

A. Rod and chain: hand operated.

Q. (b) Was the steering gear in satisfactory working order on 18th January 1958?

A. Yes.

Q. 7. Did the "Jean Stephen" leave Aberdeen on 16th January 1958 for the fishing grounds north of 61°N.?

A. Yes.

Q. 8. Was the "Jean Stephen" supplied with adequate charts and publications for the voyage in question?

A. Yes.

Q. 9. Was the "Jean Stephen" supplied with adequate life-saving appliances and were they well maintained?

A. To the first part of the question the answer is No. For the reasons explained in the Annex she carried one lifeboat for 12 persons and one inflatable raft also for 12 persons. On the voyage in question she carried a crew of 13 all told and to comply as she was bound to do with Rule 18 of the Merchant Shipping (Life-Saving Appliances Rules) 1952, as amended by the Merchant Shipping (Life-Saving Appliances) (Amendment) Rules 1956, she should have had a boat capable of accommodating 13 lives and two inflatable rafts capable of accommodating 13 also. The boat she carried for 12 and the raft for that number also were well maintained.

Q. 10. Was the "Jean Stephen" in all respects seaworthy on leaving Aberdeen and during the remainder of her voyage?

A. No. for the reason stated in Answer 9.

Q. 11. Was the "Jean Stephen" under the command of Skipper John Cowie and did she carry a crew of 13 hands all told?

A. Yes.

Q. 12. (a) Did the weather become too bad for fishing during the morning of 18th January 1958?

A. Yes.

Q. (b) Did the "Jean Stephen" accordingly make for shelter in Sinclair Bay, north of Wick?

A. Yes.

Q. (c) At what time did the "Jean Stephen" anchor in Sinclair Bay?

A. Between 11 a.m. and 12 noon.

Q. (d) In what position in Sinclair Bay did the "Jean Stephen" anchor, and how was this established?

A. Noss Head bearing S.E. by S. This position is approximate only being established with the hand from the compass.

Q. (e) In what depth of water did the "Jean Stephen" anchor, and how was this established?

A. About 7 fathoms: by the echometer.

Q. (f) What readings were then shown on the Decca Navigator?

A. 44.2 green and D.C. Sector in red.

Q. (g) What were the wind force, state of sea, state of tide, and weather generally at the time of anchoring?

A. W.S.W. wind force 6; sea smooth; tide turning from flood to ebb; weather increasing outside.

Q. 13. (a) What action, relative to the "Jean Stephen", did the steam trawler "Strathdee" take about 11.30 G.M.T. on 18th January 1958?

A. Having anchored off her starboard side she came down on her anchor and lay alongside "Jean Stephen" on her starboard side there being a bosom or fender, a large rope some 20 feet in length put between the two vessels by "Jean Stephen" to keep them from damaging one another and she asked for a stylus belt for her echo-sounder.

Q. (b) What precautions were then, or thereafter, taken by the "Jean Stephen"?

A. See (a).

Q. (c) Until what time did the "Strathdee" remain in company with the "Jean Stephen"?

A. Until about 8.15 p.m.

Q. 14. (a) At what time on the evening of 18th January 1958 did the skipper of the "Jean Stephen" decide to proceed to sea?

A. About 8.45 p.m.

Q. (b) Why did the skipper then decide to go to sea?

Because the skipper wanted to fish if possible, and in the position in which the vessel was the wind was in any event tending to set him on a lee shore with the tide.

Q. (c) What was the state of the wind, sea, tide and weather at this time?

A. Wind about N.N.E. force about 6; no sea; flood tide setting south from about 6.30; weather bad with snow squalls reducing visibility to nothing at times.

Q. 15. (a) At what time on the evening of 18th January 1958 was the anchor of the "Jean Stephen" aweigh?

A. About 8.45 to 9 p.m.

Q. (b) What engine orders did the skipper of the "Jean Stephen" then give?

A. Slow ahead.

Q. (c) What orders as to course, speed and helm did the skipper give to the mate?

A. To bring her round to E.N.E., none with regard to speed.

Q. 16. (a) When did the skipper leave the bridge of the "Jean Stephen"?

A. About 9 p.m. immediately after ordering slow ahead.

Q. (b) Why did the skipper leave the bridge?

A. To speak to "Strathdee" which had already left the anchorage.

Q. (c) Was the mate then in the wheelhouse by himself?

A. Yes.

Q. (d) What course was the mate then steering?

A. The helm was hard aport but on what course the vessel was or whether she was swinging is not established.

Q. (e) What was the visibility at this time?

A. Heavy snow squalls with no visibility.

Q. (f) Was Noss Head Light then visible?

A. No.

Q 17. (a) At what time did the "Jean Stephen" strand?

A. Probably about 9.15 p.m.

Q. (b) What was the place of stranding?

A. Two miles south of Keiss Harbour.

Q. (c) What was the state of the tide at the time of stranding?

A. About an hour before high water.

Q. (d) What was the state of the wind, sea, and visibility at the time of stranding?

A. Wind Northerly force about 8: sea rough; visibility none.

Q. 18. What use was made of any of the navigational equipment on board the "Jean Stephen" between heaving up the anchor on the evening of 18th January 1958 and the time of stranding?

A. None.

Q. 19. What steps were taken to establish the position of the "Jean Stephen" and to put her into a safe position between heaving up the anchor as aforesaid and the time of stranding?

A. None.

Q. 20. After the stranding were all proper steps taken by the skipper for the preservation of his ship?

A. Yes.

Q. 21. How and when were the crew of the "Jean Stephen" brought off their ship?

A. By a rope from the bow at low water at 3 a.m. on 19th January.

Q. 22. Did the "Jean Stephen" remain aground and did she subsequently become a total loss?

A. Yes.

Q. 23. What was the cause of the stranding of the "Jean Stephen"?

A. Being too near the land when the engines were put slow ahead.

Q. 24. Was the stranding of the "Jean Stephen" caused or contributed to by the act or default of her skipper.

A. Yes. In respect that between the time of giving the order to lift the anchor and putting her slow ahead on the engines the vessel had come too close to the land under the influence of the wind and tide to enable her to swing from W. to E. out to sea. Further, having put the engines ahead, the skipper handed the vessel over to the mate when it was his duty to remain on the bridge, the position of the vessel not being accurately known, and the weather conditions, particularly regarding visibility, being very difficult.

Q. 25. Was the stranding of the "Jean Stephen" caused or contributed to by the act or default of her mate, or of any other person or persons?

A. It was contributed to by the default of the mate in respect that as an experienced sailor he knew the position of "Jean Stephen" was not accurately known, and did not raise the question with the skipper before taking over to satisfy himself that she was in a position of safety for swinging to the south and east as she went ahead. Further he failed to call the watch immediately and in particular have a deckhand at the wheel and a hand forward on the lookout. He also undertook himself the difficult duty which he should not have done of steering, keeping a lookout, attending to the control of the engine as might be required, and also the whistle.

ANNEX TO THE REPORT

On 16th January 1958 "Jean Stephen", a trawler of the Port of Aberdeen, 212 tons gross and 115 feet in length, built in 1917 by Alexander Hall & Company Limited, in Aberdeen, and owned by The Stephen Fishing Company there, sailed from Aberdeen for the fishing grounds N. of 61°N. She was manned by a crew of 13 all told including the skipper, named John Cowie, whose certificate of competency is numbered 24407. Her mate was one named George Stewart Christie who has a skipper's certificate of competency numbered 23728.

When the vessel sailed she was well found in all respects excepting that she failed to comply with Rule 18 of The Merchant Shipping (Life-Saving Appliances) Rules 1952 as amended by The Merchant Shipping (Life-Saving Appliances) (Amendment) Rules 1956. The vessel had one lifeboat for 12 persons on board and one inflatable raft for 12 persons also. Having 13 of a crew all told, to comply with the Rules she should have carried a lifeboat for 13 and at least 2 inflatable rafts. It is the view of the Court that having failed to comply with the rule the vessel strictly speaking was unseaworthy in this respect; seaworthiness meaning that the ship "shall be in a fit state as to repairs, equipment and crew and in all other respects to encounter ordinary perils of the voyage"—an old standing and simple definition of seaworthiness. In view of the provisions of the Rule "Jean Stephen" did not carry the equipment required by law in respect of life-saving, small though the margin under requirement was. The matter, however, is one which did not affect the accident which befell her and caused her loss although lives might have been lost. What happened was that the vessel had come in on a half landing. One of the crew had been discharged and the owners signed on two thinking, which is not unusual, that one would not turn up for sailing. Men fail frequently to sail at the last moment in Aberdeen as is well known. In this case both turned up and sailed and instead of the vessel carrying 12 hands, as she normally does, she had 13 on this voyage, probably quite unknown to the owners themselves. This Court has in a previous case made it plain that the requirements with regard to life-saving appliances must be complied with. Had it not been for the unusual circumstances in this case in which the requirements were not complied with the Court would have felt bound to deal with the owners. In the circumstances it does not think it should do so.

"Jean Stephen" fished 17 miles E by S from Noss Head on 16th January and continued until the morning of 18th, when, as the weather was increasing and becoming bad off the land, she went into Sinclair Bay for shelter anchoring there about 10 a.m. with Noss Head bearing S.E. by S. This bearing was not accurate as the skipper and mate knew being taken by the compass and by hand only. She lay in about 7 fathoms about 1/2 to 3/4 mile from the shore and her draft was 8 feet forward and 13 feet 6 inches aft.

A number of other trawlers came in and anchored nearby, one to the north being "Strathdee". Her skipper and the skipper of "Jean Stephen" are brothers. "Strathdee" required a stylus belt for her echo-sounder, and she fell down on her anchor coming alongside "Jean Stephen" on her starboard side, "Jean Stephen" putting out a bosom or fender, a heavy and long rope some 20 feet in length, between the two vessels to protect them. They lay alongside all day until "Strathdee" left to go to the fishing grounds some time about 8.15 p.m. The times given in the evidence are all very vague. No clock or watch appears to have been consulted when anything was done.

"Strathdee" having left, the skipper of "Jean Stephen" apparently decided to move also to try to fish and in the event of the weather being against him to take another place to anchor. Where he was, the wind having moved to the North and the tide setting South, the tendency was to put him on a lee shore and as he lay he was very near the land and not in deep water.

About 8.45 p.m.—the time again is only approximate—the skipper ordered the anchor to be lifted. This was done. It was secured and the bosom was taken in and secured also. How long this work took is not clear. The mate was assisting, and when finished, he went to the bridge where the skipper was. There was then a snow squall reducing visibility almost to nothing. When he went there, the skipper immediately handed the vessel over to the mate as he wished to go below to speak to "Strathdee" who had been calling him on the radio. Before leaving the bridge the skipper put the engines slow ahead. The helm was then hard a port. His evidence is that he told the mate to bring her round to E.N.E. and keep her there until he came up. There is a violent and very unsatisfactory conflict between the skipper and the mate on the evidence about what was said between them. The skipper is quite definite that he told the mate to bring her round on to E.N.E. The mate in the greater part of his evidence agreed that this was what he had been told and that when the vessel grounded the master asked him about the course and he said he had mistaken what the master said and thought he had said to bring her round to E.S.E. The ships head was about W.S.W. when the engines were put ahead. The mate when pressed about the course contradicted himself and ultimately said the skipper had given him no course at all. The skipper was recalled in view of the evidence of the mate but he adhered to his evidence that he had instructed the mate to bring her on to E.N.E. In saying he had mistaken the skipper and thought he had said E.S.E. the mate said he was trying to protect the skipper—how the Court does not understand—and he did not make himself any better by saying no course had been given at all. His evidence is very much to his discredit and the Court prefers the evidence of the skipper that a course was given. The course was not repeated to the skipper by the mate as is the invariable practice when handing over from one to another, and in view of this, and the unsatisfactory state of the evidence of the mate, and having seen both men, the Court feels quite definitely that a course was given. While it has been thought proper to refer to this particularly and deal with it, the Court does not find it necessary to base its decision upon this part of the evidence but to put it upon other facts in the case which are not in dispute and on a broader basis of seamanship since the Court regards the whole evidence as loose and indicative of the way in which the vessel was handled. In fact whether the course was E.N.E. or E.S.E. or none at all does not really arise for this reason that the Court is satisfied that when the vessel was handed over to the mate it was then too close to the land to swing through N. or S. to the Eastward and that it grounded before it had gone any distance. The mate says there was difficulty in reading the echo-sounder with snow coming through the window. The Court is not satisfied he had any real opportunity to read it at all before the vessel grounded. The Court is satisfied also about the position of the vessel when the mate took over as in their view he did not know and could give no real account of what happened before the vessel grounded. There is no evidence of her head having come round even well to the Southard. Any evidence such as it is suggests she may only have come round two points from W or W.S.W. It is the opinion of the Court having seen and heard the witnesses that a good deal of time was spent raising the anchor and before the engines were put ahead; that by that time the vessel had set to the Southard and more to the land and that when the engines were put ahead she was in shallow water and could not carry out the manoeuvre of swinging East without grounding as she did.

The Court is of opinion that the skipper is at fault and that very seriously. The position of the vessel was never accurately fixed even when she anchored, and at that time she was close to the land and not in deep water. The skipper should have known that between the time of beginning to raise the anchor and putting the engines ahead, she had come closer to the land under the influence of the tide and the wind, then from the North, and so close that she could not swing in safety. Visibility was about nothing with a snow squall when he handed over to the mate — that is common ground — and he left the bridge with the vessel in a position in which he ought to have known she was standing into danger and in which there was no visibility, to speak to the skipper of "Strathdee". What the urgency of this was the Court does not understand, and no satisfactory explanation was given to it. The opinion of the Assessors is, that it was the plain duty of the skipper to remain on the bridge and not hand her over to the mate in such circumstances, and they take a serious view of him having acted as he did. I accept the view of the Assessors. I have no doubt they are right.

The Court is of opinion that the mate is also to blame for the grounding though not to the same degree as the skipper upon whom the primary responsibility rests. The mate however is an experienced skipper as well as a mate. He knew that the position of the vessel was estimated only and he must have known that she had moved probably nearer the land when the skipper handed over to him. He raised no question with the skipper when he took her over as to what was her position making no enquiry as an experienced sailor to satisfy himself she could swing in safety. The Court appreciates the difficulties of a mate raising questions with his skipper about the position of a vessel when he takes her over, but when her position is not known and he is an experienced man as this mate is, the view of the Court is that it is his duty to enquire, particularly as in this case when her position had not been accurately fixed and she was known to be near land in any event.

The mate also failed to call the watch, a deck hand to take the wheel, and one to go forward in such weather conditions, as it was his duty to do. Instead he took over the vessel himself in such conditions keeping a lookout, steering, blowing the whistle and attending to the control of the engines as need be, instead of concentrating on lookout alone. This is another matter which has been the subject of comment in these cases. One man cannot in difficult conditions attend to everything and before the mate took over it was his duty to put a deck hand at the wheel and another forward on the lookout. Apart from proximity to the land there were other vessels about.

Coming to the question of penalty the Court is of opinion that in addition to suspension which it is satisfied it must impose, a payment towards costs should also be made. These Inquiries are conducted at public expense but the Court has power under Section 465, s.s.8 of The Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, to order payment in respect of costs. It is only reasonable that those who are found to be responsible for a serious loss such as this one was, should be made to bear part of the costs of the Inquiry.

ARCH. HAMILTON, Judge.

 

CHARLES V. GROVES

 

 

A. M. ATKINSON

Assessors.

 

G. H. NICHOLSON

 

Wt. 2237/151. Ps.306032. 9/53. K.3. Ppt. Ltd. 314.

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