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Wreck Report for 'Guadiana', 1885

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Unique ID:14960
Description:Board of Trade Wreck Report for 'Guadiana', 1885
Creator:Board of Trade
Copyright:Out of copyright
Partner:SCC Libraries
Partner ID:Unknown


(No. 2624.)


The Merchant Shipping Acts, 1854 to 1876.

IN the matter of the formal Investigation held at Westminster, on the 28th and 30th days of July 1885, before H. C. ROTHERY, Esquire, Wreck Commissioner, assisted by Captains METHVEN and HARLAND, as Assessors, into the circumstances attending the stranding and loss of the steamship "GUADIANA," on Paredes Reef, off the Coast of Brazil, on the 20th ultimo, whilst on a voyage from Santos to New York.

Report of Court.

The Court, having carefully inquired into the circumstances of the above-mentioned shipping casualty, finds, for the reasons annexed, that the stranding and loss of the said vessel was due to the wrongful acts and defaults of Charles William Hanslip, the master. The Court accordingly suspends his certificate for three months, but recommends that during the period of such suspension he be allowed a first mate's certificate.

The Court is not asked to make any order as to costs.

Dated this 30th day of July 1885.




Wreck Commissioner.

We concur in the above report.






Annex to the Report.

This case was heard at Westminster on the 28th and 30th days of July 1885, when Mr. McConnell appeared for the Board of Trade, and Mr. Myburgh, Q.C. and Mr. English Harrison for the owners, master, and officers of the "Guadiana." Nine witnesses having been produced by the Board of Trade and examined, Mr. McConnell handed in a statement of the questions upon which the Board of Trade desired the opinion of the Court. Mr. Myburgh then recalled two witnesses, and having addressed the Court on behalf of his parties, and Mr. McConnell having been heard in reply, the Court proceeded to give judgment on the questions upon which its opinion had been asked. The circumstances of the case are as follow:—

The "Guadiana" was an iron screw steamship, belonging to the Port of Glasgow, of 2,503 tons gross, and 1,597 tons net register, and was fitted with engines of 400 horse power. She was built at Govan on the Clyde in the year 1875, and at the time of her loss was the property of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, Mr. Thomas Augustus Bevis, of Lower House, Basset, Southampton, being the manager. She left Santos on the 13th June last with a crew of 69 hands all told, 25 passengers, and a cargo of coffee, bound to New York, viâ Rio, Barbadoes, and St. Thomas. She duly arrived at Rio, and having there taken in some further cargo, she left at about mid-day of the 18th, and at 5.30 p.m. the same day Cape Frio bore north, true, distant about half a mile. From there she was put upon a N. 56° E. course, true, there being no compass error on that course; and that course was kept until 5.30 a.m. the following day, when it being supposed that they had then passed Cape St. Thorné, the course was altered to N. 25° E. by compass, which we are told was equivalent to N. 27° E. true, there being 2° of easterly error on that course. At noon her position by observation was said to be latitude 21° 6' south, and longitude 39° 48' west, and accordingly at half-past 12 the course was altered to N. 20° E. by compass, equivalent to N. 22° E., true, there being the same error of 2° easterly on that course. It was intended to go about 15 miles outside or to the eastward of the Abrolhos Light, and accordingly at about 5.15 a.m., when it was supposed that she was getting within range of it, the chief officer, whose watch it was, sent a man aloft to look for the light. After remaining aloft for about an hour, but without seeing it, he was called down again, and the vessel continued her course, still going at full speed, and making from 10 to 11 knots an hour. At about a 1/4 past 6 the chief officer got an amplitude of the sun, which gave a westerly error of from 3° to 3 1/2°, and on his telling the master, the latter stated that it must be a mistake; but on the mate insisting that he was right, the master at length altered the course some two or three points to the eastward, to N.E. 1/2 E. by the compass. At this time the weather was perfectly clear and fine, the sea smooth, and there was a light breeze from the northward, and the vessel continued her course, still going at full speed, and making from 10 to 11 knots an hour, when at about 7 a.m. she suddenly struck the ground. The engines were at once stopped and reversed full speed, which caused her to come off, but she immediately struck again aft; and they then found that they were involved amidst a number of coral reefs, from which it seemed impossible to escape. Finding that she was beginning to make water fast, the captain ordered the boats to be got out, and having put the passengers into them, he ordered them to lie off; and for two hours or so he and the remainder of the crew endeavoured to get the vessel afloat; but at about half-past one it was found necessary to abandon her, the vessel being then hopelessly damaged, with the water over the main deck forward, and the wind and sea rising. After leaving the vessel they steered in a N.W. direction, and arrived at the mouth of the Caravellas River at about 6 p.m. the same day; and after remaining there for about two days, they were sent to Bahia, and thence to this country.

These being the facts of the case, the first question upon which our opinion has been asked is, "What " was the cause of the casualty, and where did the " vessel strand?" The captain has told us that he is not even now quite certain of the spot where the vessel did strand; it is clear, however, that it was on some reef inside the Abrolhos Light; and judging from the course steered, and the time which they took to reach Caravellas, he thinks it must have been on the S.E. extremity of the Parcel das Paredes, which is about 10 to 12 miles to the westward of the Abrolhos Light. The master attributes the casualty to his having been set by an unusual current some 25 miles to the westward of his proper course; but whether this was so or not, or whether it was due to some error in the compass or in the observations, and consequently to a wrong course having been steered, it is not now possible to say.

I will next take the second and third questions together; they are, 2. "Whether a safe and proper " course was set and steered after passing Cape Frio; " whether due and proper allowance was made for " tide and currents; and whether the master ascer- " tained the deviation of his compasses from time to " time and applied the proper corrections to the " courses?" and 3. "Whether safe and proper altera- " tions were made in the course at and after 5.30 a.m. " of the 19th June, and whether due and proper " allowance was made for tide and currents?" The master's log book, for this as well as the previous voyage, seems to shew that he took every possible opportunity of ascertaining from observation the errors of the compasses and of applying the requisite corrections to the courses. Whether, indeed, the observations on the 19th were correctly taken, and the proper corrections applied, it is not very easy to say; for the third officer who took observations at 8 a.m. and at noon on that day, put her in 39° 54' west, instead of 39° 48' west, or 6 miles to the west of the position assumed by the master; and the second officer, by an observation which he took at 4 p.m. that day, put her 10 miles further to the west. Whether, indeed, the observations taken by the second and third officers were more correct than those taken by the master and the other officers, or whether the vessel was set by a strong current to the westward, it is clear that the courses set and steered could not have been either safe or proper, as they took him inside the Abrolhos Light, whereas his proper course was outside of it.

The fourth question which we are asked is, "Whether " proper measures were taken to ascertain and verify " the position of the vessel from time to time after " passing Cape Frio, and especially when land was " sighted on the afternoon of the 19th June?" The master told us that at about 6.50 p.m. of the 18th they passed within half a mile of Cape Frio; and that after this they took an amplitude of the sun at sunrise of the following day, an azimuth at 8 a.m., an altitude at noon, another azimuth at 4 p.m., an amplitude at sunset of the same day, and another amplitude at sunrise of the following morning, the 20th. So far, therefore, as observations of the sun would help him to determine the vessel's position, the master seems to have done all that could be required of him; but there was one precaution which would have enabled him to fix the position of the vessel with more certainty, but which he omitted to take, and to which I shall presently have to refer.

The fifth question which we are asked is, "Whether " the master was justified, at or about 5.30 a.m. of the " 20th June, in assuming that the vessel was at that " time well to the east of the Abrolhos Light?" We are told that they expected to see the Abrolhos Light soon after 5 a.m. of the 20th, and that it was on this account that a man was sent up aloft at 5.15 a.m. to look for it; not seeing it, however, the master came to the conclusion that he was well to the eastward of the light, and therefore continued his course. Now, was he justified in so doing? In our opinion he was not. He admits that he knew that the general tendency of the current was to set him to the westward, and that for that reason he had put her on a course to pass 15 miles outside the Abrolhos Light, so as to allow for this current. The fact too that the observations taken by the third officer at 8 a.m. and at noon had placed the vessel 6 miles further west than the observations taken by himself and the other officers, and that the observation taken by the second officer at 4 p.m. had put her 10 miles further to the west, ought to have excited his suspicions, either that his other observations were not correct or that he was being set by a current to the westward of his course. Not, indeed, that he would have been justified in at once acting upon the observations of the second and third officers, but they ought to have induced him to act with caution; for, if correct, they shewed that the vessel had got to the westward of her course, and as there was nothing to shew that she had got to the eastward of it the presumption was against her having done so. The fact also that the Abrolhos Light was not seen could be no justification for his supposing that he had got so far to the eastward as to be out of sight of it; for on the Admiralty Chart, which he had, there is a caution in these words, "Too much reliance must not be placed " upon this light." This should have warned him that not seeing the light was no proof that he was out of its range, and certainly not that he was to the eastward of it.

The sixth question which we are asked is, "Whether " a good and proper look-out was kept?" There is no reason to think that a good and proper look-out was not being kept. The master and chief officer were on the bridge, and there was a man forward on the lookout.

The seventh question which we are asked is, "Whether the lead was used, and if not whether its " neglect was justifiable?" It is admitted that the lead was not used at all, and the question is whether the neglect thereof was justifiable. If the Admiralty Chart, which the master admits he had, is examined, it will be seen from the lines of soundings that, for a considerable time before you reach the Abrolhos, there is a gradually shelving bank running out to 27 fathoms at a distance of some 60 miles or more from the shore; so that, if a cast of the lead had been taken, when the man was sent aloft to look for the light and did not see it, they would, if they had been on their proper course outside of the Abrolhos, have got about 27 fathoms; whereas, if they were inside of it, the soundings would have been much less. Nor must it be forgotten that for the last half-hour before she struck, the vessel was, owing to the compass error, which the chief officer had discovered, not on a N. 22° E. course, but on a N.E. 1/2 E. course, and she would consequently have been for that time in something like from 11 to 13 fathoms of water. A cast of the lead then for some hours before he struck would have shewn him that he was to the westward of his course, and that he was in dangerously shoal water. In our opinion there was no justification for the neglect of the lead in this case.

The eighth and ninth questions which we are asked are, "Whether the vessel was navigated with proper " and seamanlike care?" and "Whether the master " and officers are, or either of them is, in default?" It seems that, although the master has commanded vessels belonging to the company for about 9 years, he has during that time been chiefly in the West Indies, and that this was only the second voyage which he had made along this coast since he has been in command. This ought to have made him all the more cautious, knowing as he must have done, the many dangerous reefs lying off and at a considerable distance from the coast. Under these circumstances it was of the utmost importance that he should fix the vessel's position accurately; and the best way of doing so was by frequent casts of the lead, but this he neglected to do. The whole blame for the casualty rests with the master, and with the master alone.

Under these circumstances it is said that "the Board " of Trade are of opinion that the certificate of the " master should be dealt with;" at the same time the learned counsel for the Board of Trade wished us to understand that the application was made rather as a matter of form, leaving it entirely to the discretion of the Court to say whether the certificate ought or ought not to be dealt with, and he added that he thought it very hard that counsel should be called upon to give any opinion on the point. I confess, however, that I do not think so, nor does it appear to have been the opinion either of the legislature, or of that very distinguished lawyer Lord Cairns. Formerly indeed it was the practice for the Board of Trade to express no opinion either one way or the other, and the result was that a master sometimes found his certificate taken away by the Court without his having had any previous intimation that it was likely to be dealt with. To meet this objection the legislature provided in section 30 of the Act of 1876 that, "Every formal investigation into a " shipping casualty shall be conducted in such manner " that, if a charge is made against any person, that " person shall have an opportunity of making a " defence." And to carry out the object, which the legislature seems to have had in view, the 16th Rule directs that on the completion of the examination of the witnesses "the Board of Trade shall state in open Court, " upon what questions in reference to the causes of the " casualty, and the conduct of any persons connected " therewith, they desire the opinion of the Court; and " if any person whose conduct is in question is a " certificated officer, they shall also state in open " Court, whether in their opinion the certificate " should be dealt with." Now it appears to me that the obvious intention of this Rule was that the officer should have a clear intimation given to him that his certificate was at stake, so as to afford him an opportunity, if he chose to avail himself of it, of making a defence; but if the counsel for the Board of Trade, whilst asking that the certificate should be dealt with, at the same time says that it is done as a mere form, and that he is unwilling to express an opinion whether the certificate should or should not be dealt with, it appears to me that the officer is not unlikely to be misled by thinking that it was not a case in which it was intended seriously to ask that his certificate should be dealt with. It appears to me, looking at the Act of Parliament and the Rule, that the Board of Trade and their counsel are bound to say whether in their opinion, after hearing all the evidence, the officer's certificate should or should not be dealt with, and that they are not at liberty to say that the application is made as a matter of form, and that they decline to express any opinion upon it. Moreover, it is placing the Court in a very false position, for if after such an intimation the Court were to suspend the certificate of an officer it might turn out that the Board of Trade, although they had asked for its suspension, were after all of opinion that it ought not to be suspended; and then, if there was an appeal, the Court of Appeal would be placed in this position, that both parties, the officer who had appealed, as well as the Board of Trade, whose duty it would be to appear and defend the finding, would be of opinion that the decision of the Court below was wrong and ought to be reversed. This is not an imaginary case, for in the case of the "Cowslip," where the counsel for the Board of Trade had asked that the master's certificate should be dealt with, and where the Court had acceded to the application by suspending it, it afterwards turned out that the counsel for the Board of Trade was of opinion that the certificate ought not to have been dealt with, so that when the case was appealed, as it naturally was, both the parties to it were of opinion that it ought to be reversed, and reversed it was accordingly. It appears to me that it is not fair either to the officer or to the Court that there should be any uncertainty as to what is meant by the application that the certificate should be dealt with; either the Board of Trade ought to say, through their counsel, that they are of opinion that the certificate should, or that it should not, be dealt with. I am induced to make these observations in consequence of what fell from Mr. McConnell, and which of course met with a ready response from Mr. Myburgh, who would naturally be very glad, if he went to the Court of Appeal, to know that the the Board of Trade had not expressed any decided opinion either one way or the other.

To return, however, to the present case in which we are asked, at all events in words, to deal with the certificate of the master. Now we are told that this gentleman has been for the last 23 years in the service of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, having risen through all the successive grades from fifth mate, and that he has commanded their vessels for the last 9 years without having met with any casualty before. Judging too from the log-book, and from the way in which he gave his evidence, we have no doubt that he is a very good officer, and that he has generally exercised due care and skill in the management of his vessel. But on the present occasion he has by the neglect of the most ordinary precautions caused the loss of a very valuable ship and cargo, for which he can make no restitution whatever, and at the same time has exposed the lives of nearly 100 people to very great risk. However reluctant, therefore, we may be to deal with the certificate of a gentleman who seems to have conducted himself generally so well, we think that we have no option but to deal with his certificate; but looking to his previous good conduct and to the general care and attention which he has shewn to his duties, we shall suspend it for only 3 months.

The Court, on the application of Mr. Myburgh, agreed to recommend that during the suspension of his master's certificate he be allowed a first mate's.




Wreck Commissioner.

We concur.






L 367. 2401. 180.—8/85. Wt. 408. E. & S.


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