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Wreck Report for 'Sultan', 1895

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Unique ID:16811
Description:BOT Wreck Report for 'Sultan', 1895
Creator:Board of Trade
Copyright:Out of copyright
Partner:SCC Libraries
Partner ID:Unknown


(No. 5150.)


REPORT of a Court of Inquiry held at Bombay on the 27th and 28th days of March 1895 to investigate the circumstances attending the stranding of the steamship "SULTAN," of Bombay, at Jeddah, on the 27th February 1895.


Chief Presidency Magistrate's Court,

2nd April 1895.

In pursuance of Government Resolution, Marine Department, No. 63, dated 23rd March 1895, appointing J. Sanders Slater, esquire, Acting Chief Presidency Magistrate, Bombay; Captain Peters, master of the P. & O. Company's s.s. "Brindisi"; and Captain W. A. Fraser, master of the s.s. "Samoa," to conduct an inquiry into the circumstances attending the grounding of the s.s. "Sultan" on the rocks at Jeddah, the Court met on the dates noted in the proceedings.

2. Upon the assembling of the Court, and upon perusal of the papers, it appeared to the Court that the investigation was likely to involve a question as to the cancellation or suspension of the certificate of the master of the s.s. "Sultan." The Court, therefore, in accordance with section 13 (1) of Act V. of 1883, constituted Captain J. K. Durant, master of the s.s. "Knight Commander," and Captain James Dunn, master of the s.s. "Lord Erne," its assessors for the purpose of the investigation, and proceeded to hear the evidence adduced.

3. It appears from that evidence that the s.s. "Sultan," which is registered at Bombay, is a three masted schooner-rigged clinker-built screw steamship with a frame of iron, of 1,775.23 tons register, owned by Messrs. Hassonbhoy Vishram, Fazubhoy Vishram, and Hajibhoy Vishram, of Bombay. She was built at Glasgow in 1874, and was last surveyed at Newcastle-upon-Tyne in June 1894; she had a passenger certificate granted at that place and dated the 14th June 1894, and also passenger certificates "A" "B" granted at Calcutta and Singapore, and obtained respectively about two and a half and two months before the date of this inquiry. During the times hereinafter referred to she was under the command of Captain William Furlong Collin, who had been in command of her for about three years and three months, and who holds a certificate as master granted by the Board of Trade, No. 08188. issued at Liverpool and dated the 29th April 1880. Captain Collin has been at sea for about 38 years, 28 or 29 years of which period he has been in command of steam and sailing ships. Captain Collin had under his command Mr. H. H. Williams as chief officer, who holds a master's certificate granted by the Board of Trade, No. 32516, issued at Liverpool, and dated the 16th December 1868; Mr. Charles Napier as second officer, who holds a Board of Trade certificate as second mate, granted in 1893; Mr. J. H. Collin as extra second officer, who holds a Board of Trade certificate as second mate, dated 1893; Mr. Abdul Kader as third officer, whose qualifications did not transpire; chief, second, and third engineers; and a lascar crew—making up a total of 25 hands all told. The "Sultan" was furnished with Admiralty charts, which had been corrected at Newcastle-upon-Tyne in June 1894, and with a copy of "the Red Sea Pilot, 1883."

4. Early in January 1895 the "Sultan" shipped a half cargo of rice at Culcutta for Berbera, Aden. and Jeddah, and proceeded to Singapore, where she took in as passengers 1,309 pilgrims, all for Jeddah. She left Singapore on the 30th January 1895. and proceeded to Berbera and Aden. At Aden the ship's agents, Messrs. Cowasji Dinshaw and Company, sent an Arab pilot on board to navigate the vessel into and out of Red Sea ports. This pilot is described as a man of about 52 or 53 years of age, "neither feeble nor robust." One of the witnesses states that he was "rather shaky on his legs," and he appears to have been somewhat lame; but the Court are of opinion that his lameness did not in any way interfere with the efficient discharge of his duties as pilot. His competency to act as pilot in Red Sea waters was evidenced by his possession of two medals, granted respectively by the French and Russian Navies, for services rendered by him as pilot to their vessels, and by a book of recommendations from master mariners. It appears that there are no licensed pilots for Red Sea ports.

5. The "Sultan" left Aden on the 19th February, and after calling at Kamaran, proceeded for Jeddah. On leaving Kamaran her draught was 11 ft. 2 in. forward and 17 ft. 10 in. aft. In this trim she had about 14 ft. freeboard amidships and about 17 ft. 6 in. forward. She proceeded on her voyage to Jeddah, and at about noon on the 27th February she arrived off the Massowri, Reef, having been navigated up to this point from Kamaran by Captain Collin. The Massowri Reef is about nine miles from Jeddah. At this point Captain Collin banded over the navigation of the ship to the Arab pilot above-mentioned.

6. At the time when the pilot took charge of the ship the tide was on the ebb, nearly low water. There was a slight current of from one to two knots from the north; the wind was strong from the north, and the water smooth; the atmosphere was clear, and as Jeddah lay to the east, the sun was behind the ship, which the Court understands is the most favourable position for navigating a vessel amongst reefs. The pilot directed the navigation of the vessel from the upper bridge; Captain Collin was close by the pilot, engaged in transmitting his orders to the wheel and to the engine-room; the chief officer was on the forecastle-head, standing by the anchors, which were ready to let go at a moment's notice; the second officer was standing on the starboard side of the bridge, watching the steam-steering gear and seeing that the orders to the helm were properly carried out. The extra second officer was on the upper bridge, working the engine-room telegraph; and the quartermaster, a Sicani, was at the wheel. The second and third engineers were in the engine-room, and the chief engineer was standing on the engine-room skylight, watching the bridge telegraph and the tops of the engines, to see that the orders telegraphed were correctly received and promptly obeyed. When working at the full pressure of 120 lbs. of steam, the compound high pressure engines, by which the ship is propelled, give her a speed of 12 knots an hour at full speed; but as the anchorage was close at hand, the pressure had been slightly reduced, and appears to have been about 115 lbs. while the ship was entering Jeddah.

7. Under the circumstances noted in the preceding paragraph, the "Sultan" passed through the outer and middle gateways, under the directions of the pilot, whose orders were in every instance promptly carried out. Up to the time when the ship passed through the middle gateway, there had been no occasion, throughout the whole voyage, to find fault with the action of the steam-steering gear, or the steering of the ship. After passing through the middle gateway, it is necessary, in order to avoid rocks and shoals, to turn first to the southward, and then to come round to the northward with a sharp turn, in a distance of about a mile. The first of these manœuvres was safely accomplished, and the engines were slowed by order of the pilot to half speed when within about one-fourth of a mile of the inner gateway, the helm was put hard-a-starboard, and the engines were moved full speed ahead, so as to enable the ship to answer her helm more rapidly. This movement had the effect of bringing the ship up broadside to the wind, which at that moment seems to have increased. At first the ship answered readily to her helm, but as soon as the full force of the wind was felt on her bows, she was checked in her movement, she failed to continue her course to the northward, and almost immediately afterwards she grounded heavily on a submerged and isolated rock at a distance of about 25 feet from the nearest exposed part of the reef on the southern side of the channel, which is about 180 yards broad. The ship struck first on the port bow, and healed over about 20 degrees to port, but she afterwards settled back again, remaining fixed with a list to port. The moment she struck, the engines were stopped and reversed full-speed, but they failed to extricate her from her position.* The fore sluice was immediately closed, and the fore peak was found to be making water rapidly, but in the other wells there was no sudden increase of water. The time of striking, by the engine-room clock, was 1.21 p.m., but that clock had not been corrected that day before the accident. As soon as it appeared that the ship was fast, Captain Collin lowered a boat and went ashore to get pratique, so that he might land the pilgrims, and to get permission to land the cargo day and night. Having obtained pratique, boats came alongside the ship at about 3 p.m., and by 5.30 p.m. all the pilgrims and their baggage were landed. At 9 p.m. that night, being high water, an attempt was made to get the ship off, but it was unsuccessful. Cargo was discharged all night, and the ship was lightened as far as possible, and at about 8.30 a.m. on the 28th February another attempt was-made to-get the ship off, which proved successful. The ship -was then taken into the inner harbour and anchored, whilst temporary repairs were effected, and she was subsequently brought to Bombay in ballast for repairs. With the exception of the damage sustained by the ship, the casualty involved no loss of life, personal injury; or damage.

8. On her arrival in Bombay the "Sultan" was inspected by the engineer surveyor and shipwright surveyor to the Port of Bombay, who found a jagged hole in the third strake-from the garboard strake on the port bow, about 12 inches by 9 inches in extent. It was one frame space forward of the collision bulkhead. One plate on the port side was dented in, several rivets were started, and there were marks of grazing on the port side. Three plates were badly dented in on the starboard side, one of them being cracked through three rivet holes, and two or three plates were slightly dented in. There were also heavy marks of grazing all along the midship section on the starboard side. Inspection of the inside of the ship showed that seven or eight floors adjacent to the injury were bent and buckled, seven or eight frames were broken right through, and eight or ten others were more or less bent and cracked, the injury extending from the fore part of the engine-room to the coal-bunker spaces. The engineer surveyor estimates the cost of repairing the ship at from 600l. to 700l. The engines and screw-shaft seem also to have been considerably strained in the efforts made to release the ship. On her return to Bombay in ballast the ship does not appear to have made an excessive amount of water.

9. Under the above circumstances, the first question which this Court has to decide is whether Captain Collin, or any of his officers, was to blame for the happening of the casualty. Upon this point the Court and its assessors, whose opinions are hereto annexed, are unanimous in acquitting Captain Collin and his officers of all blame. It appears to the Court that at the time of the casualty the ship was in charge of a pilot who was perfectly competent to navigate the ship in these waters. We do not consider that the fact that the pilot was not licensed by any defined authority in any respect diminishes the confidence which Captain Collin should have placed in him. It appears that the pilot was no novice at his employment; in fact that he was a man of considerable experience in the navigation of ships on the Red Sea coast, and that he was physically capable of doing the work required of him. He was engaged at the ordinary rate of remuneration by the ship's agents, Messrs. Cawasji Dinsha & Co., of Aden, who are well known to be a very old established and highly respected firm of shipping agents at Aden, and whose recommendation in a matter such as the engagement of a pilot for Red Sea ports is itself equivalent to a certificate of competency. It also appears to the Court that the pilot was fully aware of the responsibility which rested upon him, and would rightly have been intolerant of any interference with him in the execution of his duties. The navigation of a vessel into the harbour of Jeddah is, as a glance at the chart will show, a matter requiring very considerable skill and local knowledge, and this Court is of opinion that Captain Collin was fully justified in handing over the navigation of his ship to the pilot, at the time he did so, and in relying upon his judgment and skill.

10. This Court is further of opinion that the evidence in the case establishes the fact that the s.s. "Sultan" was well found and provided in all respects, and that the officers and crew obeyed promptly and correctly all the orders which were given to them by the pilot. With regard to the trim of the ship, it appears that she had a great deal of freeboard forward, and was thus open to a great extent to be influenced by a wind on either bow, but it does not appear from the evidence that this had affected her steering capabilities up to the time of the casualty, and this Court considers that under ordinary circumstances the fact of her being so light in the bows would not render her navigation dangerous or uncertain..

11. The Court is' further of opinion that upon the evidence it does not appear that the force of the wind at the time when the s.s. "Sultan" arrived off Jeddah was such as to have rendered the attempt to enter the harbour either reckless or imprudent, so as to have called for any resumption of his authority-by Captain Collin, nor does the Court think that at the moment when it was seen that the "Sultan" had ceased to answer her helm, it was his duty to take the vessel out of the hands of the pilot. Upon both these points this Court is of opinion that Captain Collin was right in abstaining from interfering with the pilot. The pilot is engaged chiefly on account of his knowledge of local conditions and influences, and the Court considers that the questions whether it was advisable to enter the harbour of Jeddah under the conditions then existing (which do not appear to have been in any way abnormal), and what steps should be taken when the ship ceased to answer her helm, were essentially questions for the pilot and not for the master of the ship.

12. A question was raised by the Government solicitor as to whether the bridge is the best place from which to direct the movements of a ship in narrow waters or intricate channels. Without presuming to lay down any general rule on this point, the Court is of opinion that in all the circumstances of this case there can be no doubt whatever that the bridge was the proper position for the pilot and captain to take up, and that they acted properly in remaining there up to the moment of the casualty.

13. It appears to the Court that the grounding of the s.s. "Sultan" was caused by her failing effectually to answer her helm while she was passing through the inner gateway, and that such failure was caused by the action of the wind, which appears to have been blowing stronger at the channel of the inner gateway than in the more open waters outside, upon the very light bows of the ship. Whether in the trim in which the ship was at the time of the casualty, it would not have been wiser for the pilot to have starboarded the helm sooner, or to have taken a more weatherly course, the Court, in the absence of any evidence from the pilot or from any other person thoroughly acquainted with the locus in quo, is unable to form an opinion. It appears from the chart that these waters are extremely intricate, and before forming any judgment on this point it would be necessary to show that any deviation from the course pursued was practicable. Upon this point there is no evidence whatever before the Court.

14. In conclusion the Court desire to record their opinion that the energy and promptitude of the measures taken by Captain Collin and his officers to place the pilgrims and their baggage out of danger and to extricate the ship from her perilous position contributed very largely to the success which attended those measures, and to the satisfactory result that, with the exception of the damage to the ship and her engines, there is no loss of life, personal injury, or damage to property to deplore in this case.




Acting Chief Presidency





Master of the P. & O. Company's

s.s. "Brindisi."




Master of the s.s. "Samoa."

To the Chief Magistrate,

Police Court, Bombay.

s.s. "Lord Erne,"

Bombay, March 28th, 1895.

DEAR SIR,—In reference to the stranding of the s.s. "Sultan," of Bombay, at Jeddah, in the Red Sea on February 27th, 1895, I beg to report that in my opinion no blame can be attached to Captain Collin or any other person on board the "Sultan," and that I consider the ship has been navigated with reasonable caution.

I feel quite satisfied that the stranding was owing to the ship not answering the starboard helm as quickly as anticipated, the strong wind on the port bow having more effect on the ship in preventing her coming to than expected by the captain or pilot.

Your most obedient servant,





Master of the s.s. "Lord Erne."

To Mr. S. Slater,

Chief Presidency Magistrate.

Bombay, 29th March 1895.

SIR,—Re the stranding of s.s. "Sultan" on the 27th of February last, on the southern reef of inner gateway at the entrance to Jeddah.

From evidence adduced by Captain Collin and his officers, I am of an opinion, that the casualty is due to as follows:—First, to the strong northerly wind blowing at the time, and the necessity of altering the course four points or more towards the wind, bringing it before the beam, also a current in the same direction; secondly, the great buoyancy of steamer, she having seventeen feet freeboard amidships, and much more forward; add to this, awnings and upper permanent structures, all very detrimental to her coming to as required, to clear the reef. And further, I think the pilot made an error in judgment in not keeping a more weatherly position when entering this narrow channel.

I do not blame Captain Collin in the least for not interfering with the pilot.

From his high credentials, long servitude as pilot in these waters, he must have been a fit and proper man, and evidently one who would stand no interference, and moreover, he was specially chosen for this particular work by the agent who represents the owners at Aden. It is presumed age being fifty-two or three years, in no way disqualifies him in my estimation, but to the contrary.

I would here remark, I have had a pilot on this steamer's bridge, seventy-five years of age, and could not wish a better.

For the prompt and able manner in which the work of disembarking such a number of pilgrims, discharging cargo, and floating the steamer was carried out, I commend Captain Collin and his officers.

I am, Sir,

Your obedient servant,





Commander, s.s. "Knight Commander."

Issued in London by the Board of Trade on the 17th day of June 1895.

* The Court think that the entry in the engine-room log of "slow" at 1.20 must be a clerical error, and that the order actually given and carried out was "stop."

87089—13. 110.—6/95. Wt. 165. E. & S.


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