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Wreck Report for 'Behera', 1895

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Unique ID:16689
Description:BOT Wreck Report for 'Behera', 1895
Creator:Board of Trade
Copyright:Out of copyright
Partner:SCC Libraries
Partner ID:Unknown


(No. 5138.)


The Merchant Shipping Act, 1894.

IN the matter of a formal Investigation held at Glasgow on the 19th and 20th days of April 1895, before Sheriff-Substitute ERSKINE MURRAY, assisted by Captains ANDERSON and WOOD, into the circumstances attending the stranding of the British steamship "BEHERA," of Glasgow, off the east coast of Alderney on or about the 23rd March 1895.

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 an improper course having been steered in thick weather, but, in the circumstances after narrated, the Court does not deal with the master's certificate.

Dated this 20th day of April 1895.




We concur in the above report.









Annex to the Report.

The "Behera," official number 49,619, was a screw steamship, built of iron by Messrs. Marshall & Co., of Willington Quay, Newcastle-on-Tyne, in the year 1864. Her dimensions as per register being:—Length 239.5 ft., breadth 32.7 ft., and depth of hold 24.9 ft. She was fitted with two compound direct-acting engines of 127 horse-power combined, and at the time of her loss, which forms the subject of this investigation, was the property of the Behera Steamship Company, Limited. Messrs. Joseph Paton Maclay and Thomas Walker McIntyre, of 123, Hope Street, Glasgow, being joint managers. Her amended tonnage, dated 17th August 1887, shows that her gross tonnage was 1,384.10 tons, and after deducting 555.12 tons for engine-room and crew space, her nett registered tonnage was 828.98 tons. She had four boats, two of which were fitted as lifeboats. All the boats were carried in chocks and had the usual appliances, in accordance with the regulations. She was provided with 25 life-jackets and seven life-buoys. There were three compasses in use and a spare one below. The standard (Dobbie's patent) was new on the voyage in question, and it was this compass by which the vessel was steered and navigated. The "Behera," being in Sunderland in March last, loaded a cargo of coal of about 1,650 tons, bound for Saint Mazaire (France), and being so laden her draught of water was 20 ft. 10 in. aft and 20 ft. forward. She left Sunderland at 11 a.m. of the 20th March with a crew of 21 hands all told, and under the command of Mr. George Russell, who holds a certificate of competency, No. 018,736. At the time of leaving she appears to have been in good order, and well found in every respect. The standard compass, already referred to, was adjusted on leaving Sunderland by Mr. Plumb, and a deviation card was handed to the master, a copy of which was produced in Court. After swinging the vessel for adjustment of compasses, the pilot was landed, and the "Behera" left on her voyage at 1 p.m. of the 20th, the weather being fine and the sea smooth. All appears to have gone well, when at 4.30 a.m. of the 22nd March Dungeness was abeam, bearing N.N.W. at an estimated distance of two miles. Previous to the vessel arriving off Dungeness, the master stated that on his passage from Sunderland he had found that on the south-westerly courses there was half a point easterly deviation on the standard compass. On leaving Dungeness the master set a course W. by S. 1/4 S., which would be, in the master's opinion, W. 3/4 S. magnetic, and upon this course the master expected to pass about one mile outside of the Royal Sovereign Lightship. Shortly after setting the course the master went into the chart-house, leaving the mate in charge of the deck. At 8 a.m. the master came on deck and the mate reported to him that he first made the Royal Sovereign Light-vessel on the port bow, and hat having starboarded a little he passed it on his starboard side, close to, at about 7.40 a.m. The master stated that he thereupon came to the conclusion that his compass was out a quarter of a point, and that instead of there being half a point easterly deviation he concluded, from the position in which the Royal Sovereign Light-vessel was sighted, that there was three quarters; that the only grounds he could give for this was the making of the Royal Sovereign on the port instead of the starboard bow. It will be noted that he started from an assumed position off Dungeness, and consequently the start was an unreliable one; again, that the course might not have been made good, or the tide might have slightly set the vessel off her course. The Court is therefore of opinion that the master was very injudicious in so readily coming to the conclusion that his compass was in error on such data as he appears to have done. Returning to the voyage, from the Royal Sovereign, it appears that very shortly after the master came on deck, viz., 8 a.m., the weather came on thick, and the compass course was altered to W. by S. 1/2 S. to make allowance for the quarter of a point additional deviation. which the master assumed he had found to exist. The magnetic course he assumed was the same, viz., W. 3/4 S. At 8.20 a.m. the engines were put at half speed, and at 9 a.m. the fog lifted for a few minutes, when Beachy Head was seen bearing N.N.E., at an estimated distance of five miles. At this point the patent log was re-set, and the engines put at full speed. At 9.30 the fog came on again, whereupon the engines were put variously at half speed and slow up to 2.30 p.m., when the fog having cleared, the engines were put at full speed again. The weather remained clear up to 4.30 p.m. and the vessel kept at full speed during the last two hours, but no land or any other shore mark appears to have been seen; the sun also being obscured. At 4.30 p.m. the weather came on thick again, whereupon the vessel's speed was reduced. The W. by S. 1/2 S. course was continued, and this course was intended to pass the Caskets at a distance of three miles. The weather remained thick from this time. The master appears to have been on deck attending to the navigation of the vessel during the greater part of the day. At midnight of the 22nd—23rd March the mate relieved the second mate, the weather still very thick, and the compass course W. by S. 1/2 S.; the patent log at this time showing 86 miles from Beachy Head. At about 12.10 a.m. of the 23rd, while the engines were going at half speed, the vessel suddenly struck the ground forward, the master being on the bridge at the time. The look-out man appears to have been at his post, but nothing whatever appears to have been seen by anyone on board to indicate that they were approaching danger. There was a light breeze from the S.W. at the time, and the sea was smooth. On striking, the vessel heeled over to port and remained fast. The master ordered the port lifeboat to be lowered, and the crew to get into it. The engines were stopped—rang off. No orders were given, nor was any attempt made to the get the vessel off by reversing the engines. The master appears to have given no instructions whatever in order to ascertain whether or not the vessel was making water. The second engineer, who was on watch at the time of striking. stopped the engines, opened the safety valves, shut the dampers, and hearing the crew lowering the boat he came on deck and got into it. The second mate, who had just been relieved, and who was writing up his log, went into the forepeak shortly after the vessel struck and found it dry, and the vessel making no water. On coming on deck he assisted at getting the boat out. In about 20 minutes after the vessel striking, the port lifeboat was lowered, and all hands left the vessel. Seeing some lights they rowed for them, and shortly after they landed at Fort Quenard on the south-east side of the island of Alderney. The master on being asked why he left the vessel so hurriedly without ascertaining whether the vessel was making water or not, and why he did not take measures to get the vessel off, replied that he thought it was dangerous to stay on account of the vessel taking so strong a list to port, which some of the witnesses described as being so great as to place from one to one and a half feet of the main deck under water. At about 2 a.m., about two hours after the vessel struck, the master, officers, engineers. and some of the men went on board again. They found the list had considerably diminished, there being no water on the port side of the deck, this no doubt being due to the fact that the tide was easing. The wind was light, and the water quite smooth, so much so that the boat could lie alongside. Instead, however, of remaining on deck and taking some steps to save the vessel, on the rising of the tide, they simply got their clothes and left again for the shore. No examination was made in the engine-room or holds, they simply came for their clothes, got them, and left. After remaining at the Fort for some time the master left to get some assistance, giving instructions to the mate to go on board at day-break. At day-break the mate found that the vessel had floated from the place where she had stranded, and was not in sight; he immediately mustered some of the crew, consisting of the second mate, second engineer, and five A.B.'s, and after rowing about for an hour they found her afloat, about a mile from the place where she had stranded. On getting on board the mate sent one A.B. down into the stoke-hole to assist the second engineer to get up steam, which at this time was standing at 15 or 20 lbs., and at the same time gave orders to the second mate to get the anchor over and let it go as soon as possible. They sounded and found the vessel in 17 fathoms of water. The condition of the vessel was, at this time, stated to be as follows:—A little more water in the engine-room than usual, four feet of water in the forepeak, and a list to port. Instead of steam being turned on at once to the fore winch in order to get the anchor out, valuable time was lost in trying to raise steam to get the engines to move, and just as there was sufficient steam to move the engines, after being on board for about 20 minutes, steam was put on the fore winch and efforts made to get the anchor out. They succeeded in getting the anchor over the rail, and the engines were going ahead when the vessel again took the ground, in about half an hour from the time they got on board. How long she had been afloat between the two strandings no one could tell the Court. After the second stranding they again left the vessel, and at about 7 a.m. the master returned with Lloyd's agent, who went on board and found the vessel was making water. The master went to Guernsey to get assistance, as the telegraph cable was broken, and on his return two days later he found the vessel and cargo a total loss.

In conclusion, the Court would wish to make it clear that in dealing with this case it has considered itself bound to limit its conclusions to the results naturally flowing from the answers to the questions asked as after written. No questions, it will be observed, were asked as to the abandonment of the vessel, or as to her second stranding, which was the real and only necessary cause of her loss. Had such been asked, the Court would probably have been obliged to hold the master much more seriously in default, and to have dealt with his certificate. The abandonment appears to have been far too hasty and needless. There was no examination to see if the vessel was making water; as a matter of fact she was making very little, if any. Six or seven hours thereafter the second engineer was able to raise the fires and get up steam. Had the master and crew remained or board and kept up the fires then, when she floated at daybreak, the anchor could have been dropped in from five to ten minutes, and the second stranding prevented. It is true that she had a heavy list, but there was nothing to prevent her having been taken into port where her cargo could have been adjusted, and she would have been afloat this day. But, as above mentioned, the Court considers itself debarred from dealing with these matters, as they did not fall under the questions asked. Had the Court, as the case stood, suspended the master's certificate, he would have probably got what he deserved, but he would have been punished for a default which he committed but with which he was not charged, a grave irregularity.

These being the facts of the case, the following questions were submitted by Mr. McGregor for the opinion of the Court:—

1. What number of compasses had the vessel, were they in good order and sufficient for the safe 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. Was the vessel fitted with any appliances whereby soundings could readily be obtained?

4. Whether proper measures were taken to ascertain and verify the position of the vessel when off the Royal Sovereign Lightship and Beachy Head respectively and from time to time thereafter?

5. Whether a safe and proper course was set at or about 8 a.m. on 22nd March and thereafter steered, and whether due and proper allowance was made for tide and currents?

6. Whether the weather was thick from 4.20 p.m. on 22nd March and thereafter, and whether the neglect to use the lead was justifiable?

7. Whether at midnight on the 22nd—23rd March the patent log registered 86 miles, and whether the master was justified in assuming that that was the correct distance the vessel had run from Beachy Head?

8. Whether a good and proper look-out was kept?

9. Whether the vessel was navigated with proper and seamanlike care?

10. What was the cause of the stranding of the vessel?

11. Whether the master and officers are, or either of them is, in default?

In the opinion of the Board of Trade the certificates of the master and officers should be dealt with.

Dated this 19th day of April 1895.


Solicitor representing the

Board of Trade.

Answers thereto.

1. The "Behera" had three compasses besides a spare compass down below. One of the three was a pole compass, and a standard compass on the bridge, and the third was aft. The courses were set and steered by the standard compass. The compasses were in good order, and sufficient for the safe navigation of the vessel. The standard was new, one of Dobbie's patent, and had just been put on board at Sunderland before sailing; it was adjusted on 20th March by Mr. Plumb at Sunderland. The pole was adjusted in July 1892.

2. The master states that' he ascertained the deviation of his standard compass from time to time. The errors of the compass, on the courses steered from Sunderland to Dungeness, appear to have been correctly ascertained and applied up to that point. As to the course then set, reference is made to the answer to Question 5.

3. Assuming that this question refers to sea soundings, the vessel seems to have been fitted with the ordinary deep sea and hand lead appliances for taking soundings.

4. As regards the Royal Sovereign Lightship, she was passed within 300 yards; and as regards Beachy Head, the second mate was ordered to take a four-point bearing, but the fog closing in, made it impossible for this to be done. There was no opportunity to verify the vessel's position thereafter.

5. The course set and steered about 8 a.m. on 22nd March was not, in the opinion of the Court, a safe and proper course. On the voyage from Sunderland to Dungeness the master had ascertained that there was about half a point easterly deviation on the standard compass. But while off Dungeness the master assumed that he was two miles distant therefrom, and set a course based on that assumption, so as to pass the Royal Sovereign Light on the starboard side at about a distance of one mile. it was found that when the Royal Sovereign Lightship was reached it was a little on the port bow. He therefore too hastily concluded that the amount of his deviation was in error to the extent of a quarter of a point, and consequently altered his course to that extent. The Court does not consider that he was justified in so doing, or at least in persisting in that course after he had passed Beachy Head, especially considering the thick state of the weather and the dangers of the French coast. He made no allowance for tides and currents.

6. The weather was thick. In the circumstances the non-use of the lead was justifiable.

7. According to the evidence the patent log did register 86 miles at midnight on 22nd March. Assuming that it did so, the master was justified in assuming that that was the correct distance the vessel had run from Beachy Head; plus four miles, being 5 per cent. which had been the log's ascertained error, and also plus about as many more miles, being the additional distance the "Behera" would be carried ahead in the circumstances by the tide.

8. A good and proper look-out appears to have been kept.

9. The vessel was navigated with proper and seamanlike care up to Beachy Head. After that point, considering the state of the weather and the dangers of the French coast, the vessel was not navigated with proper and seamanlike care, as the master ought, in the circumstances, to have adopted a course which would have taken him down mid-channel till the weather cleared.

10. The first stranding of the "Behera," which it is presumed is referred to in the question, was caused by an improper course having been steered in thick weather. The Court considers itself precluded from dealing, in the answers, with the questions of abandonment and the subsequent, or second, stranding, because no question has been asked on these matters.

11. Having in view the above answers, and restricting its conclusions to them alone, without dealing with points on which no question has been asked, the Court is of opinion that the master, and he alone, was in default; but, in the circumstances above mentioned, the Court does not consider it necessary to deal with his certificate.




We concur.









Issued in London by the Board of Trade on the 7th day of May 1895.

81564—267. 180.—5/95. Wt. 60. E. & S.


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