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Wreck Report for 'Cairnryan', 1910

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Unique ID:19761
Description:BOT Wreck Report for 'Cairnryan', 1910
Creator:Board of Trade
Copyright:Out of copyright
Partner:SCC Libraries
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(No. 7392.)


The Merchant Shipping Act, 1894.

IN the matter of a Formal Investigation held at Sheriff Court, Edinburgh, on the 29th and 30th September, and 4th and 6th October, 1910, before ROBERT Low ORR, Esquire, K.C., Sheriff-Substitute of the Lothians and Peebles, assisted by Captains ALEXANDER WOOD and JENKIN THOMAS, into the circumstances attending the stranding of the British steamship "CAIRNRYAN," of Leith, near the Sierra River on the coast of Spain, on 8th June, 1910.

Report of Court.

In this case the Court are of opinion that the vessel struck the Praquina Rock or a rock in that neighbourhood. The master stated in evidence that as soon as possible after the vessel struck he took a cross-bearing of Corrobedo and Salvora Lighthouses; that Corrobedo bore N.E. by E. 1/2 E. magnetic, and Salvora bore S.E. by E. 3/4 E. magnetic. This showed Corrobedo was about 8 miles distant and Salvora about 9 miles. The Court are unable to accept as reliable the position obtained from cross-bearings stated to have been so taken. The circumstances which have led the Court to this conclusion are as follows:—

The distance measured, on Chart 1,756, Cape Finisterre to Vigo Bay, from the position obtained from the abovementioned bearings taken by the master to the position where the vessel was beached (stated by the master to have been S.W. of Sierra River three-quarters of a mile) is about 12 miles. The time occupied by the vessel in sailing this distance as given by different witnesses varies from an hour and a half to an hour and forty-five minutes; but in the engine-room log book we have the time entered as taken from the engine-room clock. From this log it appears that at 3 p.m. the ship struck something and the engines were stopped. At 3.2 p.m. they went full speed ahead. At 4.35 p.m. the ship was beached and the engines stopped, so that the time which elapsed between the striking and the beaching was only one hour and thirty-five minutes. The vessel's rate of speed from the Burlings was on an average 7 1/2 knots, so that she could just about cover the distance of 12 miles in the time stated in an uncrippled condition going full speed and steering a straight course to the point of beaching. But these were not the conditions in which the ship proceeded to the beach.

(a)The vessel struck an object which reduced the way of the vessel, and the engines were stopped, and remained so for two minutes.

(b)When the engines were started, the vessel was steered on a N. by E. course for five or ten minutes, at the end of which time the inrush of water was so great that the vessel was headed directly for the beach to prevent her sinking in deep water. As a suitable place to beach her was not found on the nearest part of the shore, the vessel was steered a winding course along the coast line. The master describes it (p. 56 of his evidence) as "a tortuous course winding in and out." The mate (p. 71) says "the vessel had to go a zig-zag course to get into the place where she was beached," so that the distance the ship had to cover was very much greater than the straight line between the place of starting and the place of beaching.

(c) The condition of the vessel made it impossible for her to maintain her average speed. There was a large opening in the starboard bilge forward. Although none of the witnesses had been able to see the full amount of damage, the bottom had received a rent which was observed to extend from 8 to 10 feet long and from 2 to 4 inches in width. The water poured into the vessel so rapidly that she was soon in a waterlogged condition. Previous to being placed on the beach the deck forward was only 3 or 4 inches above the water-line, and she was so much down by the head that the man at the wheel had difficulty in steering her.

(d) At first, when the water began to rise inside the vessel, the donkey ballast pump was put on, but, owing to the amount of steam used, it had to be stopped to get the vessel on shore. Before the vessel was on the beach the water in the stokehold had risen to within a few inches of the furnaces, which would prevent the steam from being so effectively kept up as under ordinary circumstances.

In view of these facts it is evident that the vessel could not have been where the cross bearings, said to have been taken by the master, placed her. Again, when the vessel struck the object, the second officer had just commenced the operation of taking a four point bearing of Cape Corrobedo, and had the lighthouse on that point bearing at the time about N.E. by N. This bearing leads over the rocks in the vicinity of Praquina Rock. On the other hand it differs materially from the master's bearing taken almost immediately after the accident. This latter is impossible if the second officer's bearing be correct. The Court think the master's observation, taken, as it was, under circumstances of excitement, is less likely to be correct than that of the second officer taken in the course of his duty before the ship struck. The master stated that at midday on the 8th he took an observation by the sun, and worked out his position from that observation. The position thus ascertained was 42° 7' N. and 9° 15' W., which placed the position of the vessel 15 miles from the land. He further stated that about 1 p.m. he estimated the vessel was 8 to 10 miles from the land. The second officer stated that he looked at the log when Cies Island was nearly abeam, and found the distance it registered to be 35 miles, and that the distance off Cies was then (at 12.35 p.m.) 8 or 9 miles. He adds that he made an entry regarding this in the log. This entry has not, however, been copied into the log produced in Court, which was stated to be a copy of the scrap log. The first officer, who had instructed the second officer to take a bearing and read the log when Cies was abeam, stated that from the appearance of Cies before he left the deck, he considered Cies would be passed at a distance of from 10 to 12 miles. Now, taking all these statements into account, it is apparent, from the impressions of each witness, that the vessel was much nearer the land than the position obtained from chronometer observations. There is no entry in the log produced showing that the chronometer had been checked at any time during the voyage. If this had been done, it should have been recorded. In the absence of such record, the Court cannot attach much importance to the distance from the land obtained by the master from his chronometer observations. The Court are disposed to think that the ship was much nearer the land. An examination of the chart shows that if she were slightly less than 8 miles off the land when passing Cies Island, then the course steered would bring her into the vicinity of the Praquina Rock.

It was maintained on behalf of the master that the manner of striking and the damage sustained, shewed that the vessel had struck not against a rock but against a piece of submerged wreckage. To this conclusion the Court cannot assent. The vessel struck an object which offered great resistance. According to the second officer, who was then on the bridge, the blow was "a severe blow" which caused the ship "to tremble or vibrate"; he felt her "heeling a little bit, going over a little bit as it were with the knock that she got." The Court con sider it much more likely that the resistance which produced these effects was caused by a rock than by contact with submerged wreckage, which must have been at a considerable distance below the surface of the water to have struck the ship where it did on the bilge. The nature of the damage done to the ship as described by the witnesses is, in the opinion of the Court, quite consistent with this view.

The Court are of opinion that the master was in default on the following grounds :—

(a) In leaving the deck at 1 p.m. and remaining below without having ascertained that his vessel was a safe distance from the land for the course on which she was being steered. The vessel's position could have been definitely obtained at any time during the afternoon of the 8th June by cross-bearings, or by a single bearing, and the latitude obtained from the latitude by observation at noon;

(b) In leaving the deck in charge of the second officer, who was unaware of the outlying dangers on the coast, without giving him instructions with regard to these dangers, or even ascertaining if they were within his, the second officer's, knowledge. According to the master's own statement, the only instructions he gave the second officer were to steer N. by E. and to take a four-point bearing of Cape Corrubedo ; but before Cape Corrubedo could be brought on the four-point bearing, with the ship's head on this course, N. by E., the vessel had struck the rocks.

The Court consider that the second officer was in default for not being on the bridge continuously during his watch, and for occupying himself with varnishing hen coops on the after deck during that time, and not giving sufficient attention to the navigation of his vessel; and also for not calling the master at once when a doubt was raised in his mind as to the proximity of the vessel to the shore. With regard to the degree of default of the second officer, considering that the master had been on deck himself so shortly before attending to the navigation, and the favourable circumstances that then existed for establishing the vessel's position, the Court find that the second officer was to a considerable extent justified in believing that the vessel was in a safe position and on a safe course.

The Court suspend the master's certificate for three months. They do not deal with the second officer's certificate, but censure him.

The first officer is not in default.

Dated this 6th day of October, 1910.

R. L. ORR,


We concur in the above Report.





This inquiry was held at the Sheriff Court, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, on the 29th and 30th days of September, and on the 4th and 6th days of October, 1910. Mr. Henry Smith, W.S., appeared for the Board of Trade; Mr. Lippe, Advocate, instructed by Messrs. Beveridge, Sutherland & Smith, S.S.C., Leith, appeared for the master; Mr. Thomas Henry Willmott, Chief Officer, and Mr. John Murray, Second Officer, who were parties in the case, were not professionally represented, but appeared in person; and Messrs. Snody & Asher, S.S.C., Leith, watched the case on behalf of the owners.

The "Cairnryan" (Official Number 95203), was a British screw steam-ship built of steel at Newcastle-on-Tyne in 1888 by Palmers Shipbuilding and Iron Company, Limited, and was of the following dimensions: length 260 feet; breadth 36.3 feet; and depth of hold from tonnage deck to ceiling at midships 16.5 feet. Her gross tonnage was 1663.17 tons; her registered tonnage 1060.05 tons.

She was registered in the Port of Leith, and was owned by Mr. Robert Cairns and others, Mr. Robert Cairns of 8, Commercial Street, Leith, being designated in the transcript of Registry managing owner, advice under his hand as registered owner of seventeen shares received .30th December, 1892.

She was fitted by the builders with triple expansion engines of 150 nominal horse-power combined, the diameter of the cylinders being 18½ inches, 31 inches and 51 inches respectively.

She carried three boats, two of which were life-boats, in chocks under davits on the bridge deck. She had four compasses as described in answer to No. 1 question. The master stated that he verified the deviation of the bridge compass from time to time and kept a record of the deviations thus found in a book, which went amissing after the vessel was beached. The vessel was supplied with a large scale "blue back" chart for the west coast of Spain and Portugal, and proper sailing directions.

The "Cairnryan," laden with a cargo of about 2,372 tons of maize mainly in bulk, left Braila in the Danube for Liverpool on the 23rd day of May last. She was under command of Mr. Richard Murray, who held a master's certificate, Number 024324, and the crew consisted of twenty hands all told; both the first and second officers held master's certificates, and the second officer had been in the "Cairnryan" for about a twelvemonth. The vessel's draught on leaving Braila was 18 feet 3 inches forward and 18 feet 1 inch aft.

All went well on the passage till the vessel reached Algiers on the 1st of June, at which port the vessel called for bunker coals. Having finished coaling by 6 p.m. of the same day, the "Cairnryan" unmoored and proceeded on her passage, her draught of water then being 18 feet 3 inches forward and 17 feet 9 inches aft. All went well till the Burlings were passed. The vessel passed between the island and the mainland. At 2.20 p.m. the lighthouse was abeam, and found by a "four-point bearing" to be a mile and a half distant. From this point a course N. by E. 1/2 E. by compass, being N. by E. 3/4 E. magnetic, was set for Cape Finisterre. This course was too fine to clear Cape Finisterre, and the master's explanation of this was that he wished to go very close to Cape Finisterre in order to have a message sent to the owners from that place. The weather was very fine and clear, the sea smooth, and the wind very light from southward. This condition of weather, wind, and sea continued till after the vessel was beached.

On the forenoon of the 8th June an observation of the sun was taken in order to find the longitude by chronometer, and at noon the meridian altitude of the sun was observed for latitude. From these observations the position of the vessel at noon was found to be in latitude 42 7' N., and longitude 9° 15' W., which placed the vessel about 15 miles distant from the land.

About 12.20 p.m. the second officer relieved the first officer, at which time Cies Island was bearing before the beam. The first officer pointed it out to the second officer, and told him when it was bearing right abeam to note the distance registered by the patent log. The second officer stated that he noted the reading on the patent log when Cies Island was about abeam and recorded it in the log-book at the time; but there was no record of this in the log-book produced in Court, which was said to be a copy of the deck or scrap log. From the appearance of Cies Island when the chief officer left the deck he estimated that when abreast of it the vessel's distance off would be from 10 to 12 miles. The second officer estimated when it was about abeam that it was distant from 8 to 9 miles from the vessel. The master when he left the deck at about 1 p.m., from the appearance of the land, estimated the distance from it to be from 8 to 10 miles.

The course the vessel was being steered would take her very little closer to the land at 1 p.m. than she was at noon, so that from the master's own rough estimate of the distance off he should have realised that his chronometer was in error, and should have found his distance off the shore by compass bearings, which he could have done with accuracy that afternoon. The estimate of the distance from the land given by the second officer (who gave special attention to this matter) when Cies Island was about abeam, gives a point from which the course steered would take the vessel in dangerous proximity to Praquina Rock.

The second officer says that when he relieved the first officer he was varnishing a hen coop on the poop, and according to the usual practice he, the second officer, proceeded with the varnishing, the master being then on the bridge. This the first officer denied, and said that he was relieved by the second officer on the bridge, and stated further that it was not the practice on board the "Cairnryan" for the officer of the watch to leave the bridge for any purpose except going to the chart-house.

The second officer also said that before the master went below at 1 p.m. he came to him where he was at work varnishing, and told him he had altered the course by compass to N. by E. and that he was to steer that course. The master denied this, and said he left the second officer on the bridge. The evidence on this point is in direct contradiction. The Court having seen the witnesses is inclined to credit the second officer's statement that both the master and mate knew that the second officer was at work off the bridge during his watch; but that they also expected him while doing this work to look after the safety of the vessel.

The master also said that in addition to giving the second officer instructions with regard to the course to steer, he told him to take a "four-point" bearing of Cape Corrubedo. The second officer admitted that the master may have done so, but that he had no recollection of it, and said that he knew he had to take a "four-point" bearing of that point without being told, as it was the usual practice to do so.

The master said nothing to the second officer regarding the dangers of the coast, and the second officer said in Court that he was under the impression that there was deep water close up to the shore. There was a chart in the chart room under the bridge, but the second officer did not consult it although it was there for his inspection.

The second officer continued varnishing except while going on the bridge occasionally, about every half hour, to see that the course was being steered, and that there was nothing in the vessel's way, till about 2.45 p.m., when a man in his watch called his attention to a fishing boat on the port bow, which was standing to the south-east. He went on the bridge at once and altered the course to N.N.W. in order to clear the boat. As they passed the boat the men in her were observed to be vigorously waving the "Cairnryan" to seaward; one man was observed waving his cap or hat, and another man was observed to be waving his jacket. They continued making these signals till the figures faded in the distance against the dark background of the boat's sail.

After the fishing boat had passed, the second officer, noticing that he was nearer to the shore at that part than ever he had been on former voyages, instead of bringing the vessel back to her course, N. by E., kept her N. by W., as on that course he found he could at once bring the lighthouse on Cape Corrubedo four points on the starboard bow and thus begin the run for finding the distance from that point; but just after commencing this operation the vessel struck something with her starboard bilge which offered great resistance to her progress. Under the force of the blow she heeled to port to such an extent that, according to Huxton A.B., the port side was hove down till spray came over the gunwale.

The shock brought all hands quickly on deck. When the master got on the bridge the engines were stopped and the way was pretty well off the vessel. The second officer sounded the tanks and the master took cross bearings of Cape Corrubedo, which was said to bear then N.E. by E. 1/2 E. magnetic, and Salvora, which was said to bear S.E. by E. 3/4 E. magnetic. These bearings were passed down to the chief officer in the chart room under the bridge, who wrote them down in the scrap log, which was not produced in Court. The Court has been forced for reasons already stated to reject these bearings as being inconsistent with the other evidence.

The time when the vessel struck and the engines were stopped was 3 p.m. by the engine-room clock. At 3.2 p.m. the engines were put ahead full speed and a course N. by E. by compass steered with the intention of entering Corcubion Bay in order to have the vessel surveyed; but before the vessel had been ten minutes on this course the inrush of water was so great that the helm was put to port and the vessel headed for the shore to prevent her from sinking in deep water. After this alteration was made in the course, no course could be given, the vessel being steered as circumstances required. On getting close to the shore no suitable place for beaching was found, and the vessel proceeded north along the coast, winding in and out by the rocks, towards Muros Bay; but she failed to reach this port and was run ashore, according to the master's statement, on a sandy part of the beach about three quarters of a mile S.W. of Sierra River. When she reached the beach, the deck forward of the bridge was within 3 or 4 inches of being level with the sea, and the water in the stokehold was nearly up to the furnaces.

When first the vessel was found to be making water all the pumping power in the engine room was applied to keep it under; but the pumps had little or no influence in doing this, the inrush being so great. Before the vessel reached the spot where she was beached, the chief engineer deemed it advisable to stop the ballast donkey pump in order to utilise all the steam to propel the vessel.

In contending on the master's behalf that it was not Praquina Rock on which the "Cairnryan" struck, a point was made of the fact that the sea was not breaking on it, when according to the sailing directions the sea should break if there was any swell. The Court, however, finds from the description of the weather and the state of the tide at 3 p.m. of the 8th of June last, that unless the sea always broke on this rock it would not probably be breaking then.

After the vessel was on the beach the chief officer landed and wired for assistance. On the 11th of June a Spanish salvage steamer arrived with a diver, who inspected the vessel's bottom. By blocking up the damaged part with cement and stones on the inside, the vessel was eventually floated and towed into Muros Bay. On 29th of July she was abandoned to the underwriters. The vessel and cargo were ultimately sold to Spanish owners. At the conclusion of the evidence, Mr. Smith, on behalf of the Board of Trade, submitted the following questions for the opinion of the Court:—

Questionsfor 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) Were proper measures taken to ascertain and verify the position of the vessel at or about 2.20 p.m. of the 7th June last ? Was a safe and proper course then set and thereafter steered, and was due and proper allowance made for tide and currents ?

(4) Were proper measures taken to ascertain and verify the position of the vessel at or about noon of the 8th June ?

Was a safe and proper alteration made in the course at or about the last-mentioned time, and was due and proper allowance made for tide and currents?

(5) Did the master leave any, and, if so, what instructions with the second officer before going below at or about 1 p.m. of the 8th June last ?

Was he on deck thereafter when the safety of the vessel required his personal supervision?

(6) Did the second officer take adequate steps after 1 p.m. of the 8th June to verify the position of the vessel from time to time, and report to the master if she was getting too close to the shore ?

(7) Were safe, proper and sufficient alterations made in the course at or about 2.30 p.m. of the 8th June and thereafter, and was due and proper allowance made for tide and currents?

(8) Was a good and proper look-out kept?

(9) Where and upon what did the vessel strike? Was she materially damaged thereby?

(10) Was the vessel navigated with proper and seamanlike care ?

(11) Was serious damage to the s.s. "Cairnryan" caused by the wrongful act or default of the master, chief and second officers, or of any of them?

Mr. Lippe addressed the Court on behalf of the master. The first and second officers spoke on their own behalf.

Mr. Smith replied for the Board of Trade, and the Court gave judgment and returned the following answers to the questions:—

Answers to Questions.

(1) The vessel had four compasses, one on the bridge by which the courses were set and the vessel steered, one in the chart room, and two spare ones in the cabin. They were in good order and sufficient for the safe navigation of the vessel, and were last adjusted on 4th June, 1909, by Mr. David Stalker, 6 and 8, Commercial Street, Leith.

(2) The master ascertained the deviation of the compass from time to time. The errors appear to have been correctly ascertained and the proper corrections to the courses applied.

(3) Proper measures were taken to ascertain and verify the position of the vessel at or about 2.20 p.m. of the 7th of June last. The course which the master then set, with the object of having information of his vessel transmitted to the owners from Cape Finisterre, was too fine a course, and was only safe and proper provided the necessary precautions were taken when the vessel approached the land with its outlying rocks and dangers south of Cape Finisterre. In setting this course no allowance was made for tide and currents. In view of the information relating to currents on page 13 of the "Pilot" for the west coast of France, Spain, and Portugal (produced at the Inquiry), and the clear condition of the atmosphere at the time, the Court does not consider that any allowance for currents required to be made, until the master ascertained by the course he was making good with what force and in what direction the current was running, if any.

(4) Proper measures were not taken to ascertain and verify the position of the vessel at or about noon of the 8th of June. Considering the vessel's proximity to the land, in addition to finding the latitude by the sun, the vessel's distance from the shore should have been ascertained by bearings of points of land or shore objects.

The alteration. made in the course shortly after the last-mentioned time was in the direction of safety but was not sufficient. The remarks made in answer to question 3 apply also to tides and currents here.

(5) When the master went below at or about 1 p.m. of the 8th June last, he left instructions with the second officer to steer N. by E. He further stated that he instructed the second officer to take a four-point bearing of Cape Corrubedo. The second officer did not quite support the master in this latter statement, but said it was the usual practice of the officer of the watch to take a four-point bearing of Cape Corrubedo without being instructed to do so.

The master was not on deck thereafter when the safety of the vessel required his personal supervision.

(6) The second officer did not take adequate steps after 1 p.m. of the 8th June to verify the position of the vessel from time to time, and report to the master if she was getting too close to the shore.

(7) No alterations were made in the course between 1 p.m. and 2.45 p.m. of the 8th of June About 2.45 p.m. the course was altered to avoid a fishing boat. After the fishing boat was cleared, the second officer, instead of bringing the vessel back to her original N. by E. course, steadied her on a N. by W. course. He did this, he said, for two reasons; (a) because he thought the vessel was getting too close to the land, and (b) by keeping the vessel heading N. by W. he brought Cape Corrubedo, which was bearing N.E. by N., four points on his starboard bow, and was thus enabled to commence the operation of finding the vessel's distance from Cape Corrubedo by a "four-point bearing." These alterations in the course were not then sufficient for the vessel's safety. Considering the vessel's close proximity to the rocks and the energetic signals made by the fishermen, waving the vessel off the land, her head should have been directed to sea and the master promptly called. The remarks made in answer to question 3 regarding tide and currents apply also here.

(8) A good and proper look-out was not kept.

(9) The vessel struck on the Praquina Rock or on a rock in that vicinity. The vessel was materially damaged.

(10) The vessel was not navigated with seamanlike care.

(11) Serious damage was caused to the s.s. "Cairnryan" by the default of the master and second officer. The chief officer is not in default.


We concur.




(Issued in London by the Board of Trade on the 1st day of Noxember, 1910.)

(17846—1.) Wt. 72—57. 180. 10/10. D & S.



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