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Wreck Report for 'Hans Gude' and 'Merchant Prince', 1885

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Unique ID:14964
Description:Board of Trade Wreck Report for 'Hans Gude' and 'Merchant Prince', 1885
Creator:Board of Trade
Date:1885
Copyright:Out of copyright
Partner:SCC Libraries
Partner ID:Unknown

Transcription

(No. 2582.)

"HANS GUDE" AND "MERCHANT PRINCE" (S.S.)

The Merchant Shipping Acts, 1854 to 1876.

IN the matter of the Formal Investigation held at Westminster, on the 23rd, 24th, and 25th days of June 1885, before H. C. ROTHERY, Esquire, Wreck Commissioner, assisted by Captains RONALDSON and KENNEDY, and Rear-Admiral MORESBY, as Assessors, into the circumstances attending the damage sustained by the steamship "MERCHANT PRINCE," of North Shields, through collision with the Norwegian barque "HANS GUDE," on the 20th of April last, off Tarifa Light, resulting in the loss of the "HANS GUDE," and the lives of 8 of her crew.

Report of Court.

The Court, having carefully inquired into the circumstances of the above-mentioned shipping casualty, finds, for the reasons annexed, that the said collision was due to Joseph Newton, the master of the "Merchant Prince," for not having taken any steps, after seeing the flare-up from the "Hans Gude," either by slowing his engines, or altering his course, to keep out of her way, until he had got so close to her as to render a collision inevitable; and that no blame attaches to those on board the "Hans Gude." The Court is also of opinion that everything was done on board the "Merchant Prince" after the collision to save life, and under the circumstances it will not deal with the certificate of the master of that vessel.

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

Dated this 25th day of June 1885.

 

(Signed)

H. C. ROTHERY,

Wreck Commissioner.

We concur in the above report.

 

(Signed)

A. RONALDSON,

H. C. KENNEDY,

J. MORESBY,

Assessors.

Annex to the Report.

This case was heard at Westminster on the 23rd, 24th, and 25th days of June instant, when Mr. Lyttelton appeared for the Board of Trade, Sir Walter Phillimore, Q.C., for the owners of the "Hans Gude," Mr. Barnes and Mr. Baden Powell for the owners, and Mr. Botterell for the master of the "Merchant Prince." Ten witnesses having been produced by the Board of Trade and examined, Mr. Lyttelton handed in a statement of the questions upon which the Board of Trade desired the opinion of the Court. Mr. Stokes for Sir Walter Phillimore, Mr. Barnes, and Mr. Botterell then addressed the Court on behalf of their respective parties, and Mr. Lyttelton having been heard in reply, the Court proceeded to give judgment on the questions upon which its opinion had been asked.

The case of the "Hans Gude" is as follows:—She was a Norwegian barque of 909 tons register, and at the time of her loss was the property of Mr. Erasmus Olsen, of Bergen. She left Marseilles on the 26th of March last in ballast, and with a crew of 16 hands all told, bound for St. Ubes in Portugal; and on the evening of the 20th of April following was approaching the Straits of Gibraltar. At 9 p.m. they passed Gibraltar Light, and at 11 Tarifa Point. The weather we are told was dark but clear, the wind blowing a strong breeze from about E. S. E., and the vessel was under topsails, foresail, and fore topmast staysail, heading W. by N., and making from 8 to 9 knots an hour. Shortly before 12, Tarifa Light then bearing about E. N. E., distant from 6 to 8 miles, the masthead light of a steamer, which afterwards proved to be the "Merchant Prince," was observed about two points on the starboard bow; and in about 5 minutes afterwards her red light appeared; upon which one of the men was sent forward to see whether their lights were burning; and he reported that they were burning brightly. The steamer continued to approach, still showing her red light, upon which the captain, who was also on deck, directed the second mate to go and get a flare-up, which he did, and exhibited it twice. At this time the chief officer came up to relieve the watch, upon which the second officer left the poop, and the red light of the "Merchant Prince" being then shut in, and the green light appearing, he went below to turn in. Almost immediately afterwards, however, the red light again appeared, upon which the captain ordered the chief officer to show the flare up again, which was done; but the steamer continued her course, and in a short time afterwards she struck with her stem and port bow the "Hans Gude's" starboard bow, a little forward of the fore rigging, with such violence, that the latter vessel sank within a few minutes. Of the crew of 16 hands, four succeeded in getting on board the "Merchant Prince," while the two vessels were alongside of one another; 4 others got into a boat, from which they were afterwards rescued by the "Merchant Prince;" but the remaining 8 including the master were drowned. The "Merchant Prince" remained on the spot for about 2 1/2 hours, when it was deemed prudent to run for Gibraltar, where the survivors from the "Hans Gude" were landed.

The case of the "Merchant Prince" is as follows:—She is an iron screw steamship, belonging to the Port of North Shields, of 1,721 tons gross, and 1,110 tons net register, and is fitted with engines of 154 horse-power. She was built at Howden on the Tyne in the year 1883, and at the time of the collision was the property of Mr. James Knott, of Newcastle-on-Tyne, and others, Mr. James Knott being the managing owner. She left Penarth Roads on the 15th of April last, with a cargo of 1,850 tons of coals, and a crew of 19 hands all told, the captain's wife being also a passenger on board, bound to Genoa; and in the evening of the 20th was nearing the Straits of Gibraltar. It was the chief officer's watch on that night from 8 p.m. to midnight, and at about 20 minutes before 12 the captain came on the bridge, and he and the chief officer then took the bearings of Tarifa Point and Cape Spartel, and found Tarifa Point to be bearing E. by S., distant about 10 miles, and Cape Spartel S.W. At this time it is said that the weather was clear but dark, the wind blowing a strong gale from E.S.E., and the vessel was proceeding at full speed, heading about S.E., and making about 6 knots an hour. At about 5 or 6 minutes before 12 o'clock a flare-up was observed about a point on the steamer's port bow; upon which the master and chief officer directed their glasses towards it, but could only make out the flare-up, and they therefore concluded that it was being shewn from the stern of a steamer, which was proceeding the same way as themselves. They accordingly continued their course, still going at full speed, and in about 5 minutes afterwards they observed a dim green light. The vessels were then, however, only from a length and a half to two lengths from each other; and although orders were at once given to hard-a-port the helm, and to reverse the engines full speed, it was too late, and the two vessels came together in the manner already stated, the stem and port bow of the "Merchant Prince" coming in contact with the starboard bow of the "Hans Gude."

Now these being the facts of the case, the first question upon which our opinion has been asked is, "Was " a good and proper look-out kept on board (a) the " 'Hans Gude' (b) the 'Merchant Prince' before the " collision?" As regards the "Hans Gude," although the men who were on the look-out, as well as those who were at the wheel, both before and after midnight, have all been drowned, there seems to be no doubt that the lights of the "Merchant Prince" were seen a considerable time before the collision, for the second officer of the "Hans Guide" has told us that he saw the masthead light before the red light came in view, and as the "Merchant Prince's" lights seem to have been exceptionally good, she must have been a long way off at that time. The "Merchant Prince's" lights were also seen when she was still a long way off by the chief officer, as well as by those of the crew of the "Hans Gude" who have been produced before us, and there can therefore be no doubt that there was a good look-out on board the "Hans Gude." The case, however, is not quite so clear as regards the "Merchant Prince." We are told that there was a look-out man stationed on the starboard side of the bridge, it being impossible owing to the heavy head sea that was running to station him forward, that the master was on the port side of the bridge, and the mate amidships near the wheel, and that they were all keeping a good look-out. It is said, however, that the captain and the chief officer had been just before taking the bearings of Cape Spartel and Tarifa Point, and that in all probability they were comparing notes of the bearings, and not looking out ahead, and that the look-out therefore was left to the man who was on the starboard side of the bridge, and who would therefore not be looking in the direction from which the "Hans Gude" was approaching them. But we were told that the captain and chief officer of the "Merchant Prince" had completed their observations before 1/4 to 12, when the bell was struck to call the next watch, and that they had been engaged looking out forward some 10 minutes before the flare-up was seen. Whether this be so or not, it seems clear that the "Hans Gude's" flare-up was seen some 5 or 6 minutes before the collision, when the two vessels must have been more than a mile apart from one another, and consequently in ample time to have avoided a collision had the proper steps been taken.

The second question which we are asked is, "Did " both the said vessels, before and at the time of the " collision, carry proper and sufficient lights, as " required by the Regulations for Preventing Collisions " at Sea?" There seems to be no question that the lights which the "Merchant Prince" carried were exceptionally good, for it is admitted that they were seen from the "Hans Gude" when the vessels were yet a very long way from one another. As regards the lights of the "Hans Gude" we were told by the second mate that, as soon as he made out the red light of the "Merchant Prince," he told Lars Nilsen, one of the men, to go forward and see if their lights were burning, and that Lars Nilsen reported that they were. The chief officer also stated that as soon as he came on deck he did the same thing, sent forward to satisfy himself that their lights were burning properly; and Lars Nilsen has confirmed the evidence that he went forward and saw them burning properly. The carpenter also, whose watch terminated at midnight, said that he satisfied himself that their lights were burning brightly, and then calmly turned in. Lastly, we have the witness Monsen, who said that he stood close to the fore rigging on the starboard side as the steamer was approaching them, and that he could see their green light, and that it was burning brightly. The evidence therefore that the "Hans Gude's" green light was burning brightly is very strong, for although neither of the two officers who were saved speak to having seen it, there are three of the men who do, and we can see no reason why their evidence should not be accepted. On the other hand, however, we have the evidence of the master and chief officer of the "Merchant Prince," who say that, when the flare-up was seen they directed their glasses upon the ship, and that they did not see any green light until the two vessels had got to within a length and a half or two lengths of one another, and that, when at length they did see it, it was very dim. Now it is admitted that the "Hans Gude" bad her fore sail set immediately above the lights, and it is suggested that the down draught from the sail might have caused the lamps to smoke, and thus dimmed the glass. No doubt this is possible, and may account for the green light of the "Hans Gude" not having been seen by the master and chief officer of the "Merchant Prince" sooner, although they had their glasses directed upon it. But then the question arises whether, assuming the glass to have been dimmed, those on board the "Merchant Prince" did not see the "Hans Gude" in sufficient time to have avoided a collision, as to which we shall presently have to say a few words.

The third question which we are asked is, "Was the " master of the 'Hans Gude' justified in ordering a " flare-up light to be exhibited before the collision?" It is admitted that if there was a risk of collision the master of the "Hans Gude" was quite justified in exhibiting a flare-up, or indeed in taking any means in his power to indicate his presence to the approaching vessel. That this is so is obvious, and is entirely in accordance with what fell from Mr. Justice Butt in the case of the "Simla" and "City of Lucknow," where he held that "it was justifiable and the right " thing for the 'Simla,' on seeing the danger, to make " a signal," such signal being the burning of a blue light, and that she was not to blame for so doing. It is said, however, that the "Hans Gude" is to blame for having exhibited the flare-up too soon, and when the vessels were at such a distance that there was no risk of a collision. It certainly is strange to hear it contended that a ship is to blame for having given a warning signal too soon; the charge generally is that it was given too late. But how stand the facts? The "Hans Gude" sees a red light approaching her about two points on her starboard bow; she knows that she is herself running before the gale at the rate of 8 or 9 knots an hour, that she is bound to keep her course, and that if the two vessels continue their respective courses a collision is probable, if not inevitable. Under these circumstances her duty is to indicate her presence to the approaching vessel by every means in her power; and if her green light was not so good as it should have been, a fortiori was it her duty to indicate her presence at as early a period as possible. We cannot think that the "Hans Gude" was in any way to blame for shewing a flare-up, or for shewing it too soon; in our opinion, the sooner she showed it the better chance she gave the "Merchant Prince" of getting out of her way.

The fourth question which we are asked is, "Was " the master of the 'Merchant Prince' justified in pro- " ceeding at full speed after seeing the said flare-up " light, and did he comply with Article 18 of the " Regulations?" The master of the "Merchant Prince" has told us that when he saw the flare-up he thought that it came from a vessel which he was overtaking, and that she was exhibiting a flare-up from her stern as directed by Article 11 of the Regulations ; and in confirmation of that view he said that it appeared to him to be getting broader on his port bow. Looking, however, at what we now know to have been the respective courses of these vessels, it is quite impossible that the flare-up could have become broader on his port bow except by his porting his helm, and we are disposed to think that the suggestion of her becoming broader on his bow is an afterthought; for the entry in the official log book, made by the master himself recenti facto, and when the facts were fresh in his memory, is in these words, "Saw a flare-up little on our port bow, " nearly ahead, continued on our course S.E., kept " seeing flare-up light but could not make it out." Mr. Barnes has said that the words "but could not " make it out," must be taken in a nautical and a nonnatural sense, and that they have quite a different meaning amongst sailors to what they would have amongst ordinary people. But the assessors tell me that the only meaning which they can give to these words is the ordinary and obvious one, namely, that they saw the flare-up, but could not make out what it meant. And if this was so, it is clear that the master had no right whatever to continue his course towards it at full speed. Knowing, as he ought to have done, that there was risk of collision if he continued his course, he ought, in accordance with the terms of the 18th Article of the Regulations, to have slackened his speed or stopped and reversed, unless, indeed, he had thought it better to have altered his course and gone clear away from her. The master admits that he saw this flare up for 5 or 6 minutes before the collision, and assuming that he may have been justified at first in mistaking it for a signal from a vessel which they were overtaking, he was not justified in continuing in that belief, and in bearing down upon it at full speed, without taking any steps to avoid a collison.

The fifth question which we are asked is, "Whether " both vessels were navigated with proper and seaman- " like care?" and with it I will take the seventh question, which is, "Whether and in what respects " both or either of the masters of the said vessels was " in default?" The charges which are brought against the "Hans Gude" are, first, that she infringed the Regulations by burning a flare-up; secondly, that she had not a good green light burning ; and thirdly, that she altered her course, and thus brought about the collision. With the two first charges we have already dealt, and have said that seeing that there was risk of collision, if the two vessels continued their respective courses, it was her duty to take every means in her power to indicate her presence to the approaching vessel; that she was justified in so doing by exhibiting a flare-up; and that, if she knew that her green light was not so good as it should have been, but of which there is no proof, the sooner she exhibited the flare-up, the better, as it would give the other vessel more chance of getting out of her way. And now as to the third charge that she altered her course, and thus brought about the collision, Mr. Barnes has contended that when the two vessels first sighted one another the "Hans Gude" was not on a W. by N. course as she says, but on a N.W. course, directly opposite to that of the "Merchant Prince," and that she was one point on the "Merchant Prince's" port bow. If so, however, they would have been red light to red light, and under these circumstances it is difficult to conceive with what possible object the "Hans Gude" should have starboarded her helm, and thus thrown herself across the course of the approaching vessel. But we do not believe that she did anything of the kind; we think that she kept her course, as it was her duty to do; and that the collision was brought about entirely by the "Merchant Prince" continuing her course after she has seen the flare-up, bearing down at full speed upon the "Hans Gude" until she was so close to her that it was impossible to avoid a collision. In our opinion no blame is attributable to the master or officers of the "Hans Gude;" the blame for the collision rests with the master of the "Merchant Prince" alone.

The sixth question which we are asked is, "Did the " master of the 'Merchant Prince' make every rea- " sonable effort to save life after the collision?" It is not denied that everything was done that could be done to save the lives of the unfortunate crew of the "Hans " Gude." The boats of the "Merchant Prince" were all swung out ready to be lowered, but it is stated that the sea was so high that it would not have been safe to lower them; and we have the fact that the four men who were taken out of the "Hans Gude's" boat were hauled on board by means of ropes thrown to them from the "Merchant Prince." We are told that she continued to steam about the place for about two hours and a half, when finding that the fore compartment was full of water, the master deemed it to be advisable to run for Gibraltar. I may add that the witnesses from the "Hans Gude" do not charge the "Merchant " Prince" with not doing everything in their power to save life.

Lastly, it is said that, "in the opinion of the Board " of Trade, the certificate of the master of the 'Mer- " 'chant Prince' should be dealt with." We concur with Mr. Lyttelton that to say that the master of the "Merchant Prince" was to blame for continuing his course is a totally different thing from saying that he has been guilty of a wrongful act or default, which would justify us in dealing with his certificate. We are quite prepared to believe that he may at first not unnaturally have thought that the flare-up came from a vessel which he was overtaking; his mistake was in continuing his course at full speed for 5 or 6 minutes after he had seen the flare-up, and in not taking any steps to avoid a collision. On the whole, although the master of the "Merchant Prince" has in our opinion been guilty of a grave error of judgment, which has caused the loss of a valuable vessel and of the lives of 8 of her crew, we do not think that it is a case in which we should be justified in dealing with his certificate.

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

 

(Signed)

H. C. ROTHERY,

Wreck Commissioner.

We concur.

 

(Signed)

A. RONALDSON,

H. C. KENNEDY,

J. MORESBY,

Assessors.

L 367. 2359. 180.—7/85. Wt. 408. E. & S.

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