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Wreck Report for 'Ambassador', 1964

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Unique ID:20829
Description:BOT Wreck Report for 'Ambassador', 1964
Creator:Board of Trade
Copyright:Out of copyright
Partner:SCC Libraries
Partner ID:Unknown




(No. 8035)

m.v. 'AMBASSADOR' O.N. 169205

In the matter of a Formal Investigation held at Agriculture House, Knightsbridge, London, S.W.1., on the 31st March and 1st, 2nd, 5th, 6th and 7th days of April, 1965, before Waldo Porges, Esquire, QC. assisted by Captain H. S. Hewson, Mr. R. H. Wetherall, MRINA, MI Mar E, MNE COAST I E S and Dr. E. C. B. Coriett, MA, PHD, MRINA, into the circumstances attending the sinking of the m.v. Ambassador on or about the 21st February, 1964 in the Atlantic Ocean.

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 principal cause of the loss of the Ambassador was the breaching in heavy weather, whilst her list was increasing, of her No. 3 hatch which was not fitted with locking bars resulting in the entry of large quantities of sea water into many compartments and that the loss was contributed to by the negligence of her late master and chief officer.

Dated this 31st day of May, 1965.


We concur in the above report.







This inquiry was held at Agriculture House, Knightsbridge, London, on the 31st March and 1st, 2nd, 5th, 6th and 7th April, 1965.

The Board of Trade was represented by Mr. Barry Sheen and Mr. N. A. Phillips (instructed by the Treasury Solicitor).

The following were also parties to the inquiry:

The owners of the Ambassador, represented by Mr. H. V. Brandon, Q.C. and Mr. A. L. G. Stewart Richardson (instructed by Messrs. Norton, Rose, Botterell & Roche).

The relatives of Captain H. G. Strickland (master) and Mr. J. E. S. Newby (chief officer), both deceased, represented by Mr. R. F. Stone and Mr. G. K. Beattie (instructed by Messrs. Ingledew, Brown, Bennison and Garrett).

Mr. Michael Thomas (instructed by Messrs. Crawley & de Reya) watched the proceedings on behalf of the owners of the s.s. Leonardo Da Vinci.

Mr. M. O. Tomkins, of Messrs. Ince & Co. watched the proceedings on behalf of the North of England P. & I. Club.

The Ambassador, Official No. 169205, was a motor vessel built in 1945 and registered at Newcastle, of 7,307.09 tons gross and 4,025.44 registered tonnage, 429 feet in length, 56.5 feet in beam and 35.5 feet in depth.

She was a two deck ship and was flush decked. The upper deck had normal sheer and a 14 inch camber. The second deck was almost parallel to the keel with no sheer and had a 14 inch camber.

She had five main hatchways and seven complete watertight bulkheads all extending up to the upper deck apart from the after watertight bulkhead which terminated at the second deck. The tween deck bulkhead coinciding with the after end of the machinery space had 4 feet x 2 feet openings port and starboard provided with watertight bolted plate covers giving access to two side tanks formerly used as water ballast tanks.

The principal compartmentation of the hull from forward to aft was as follows:

Fore peak, fore peak stores and chain locker.

No. 1 hold and tween decks.

No. 2 hold and tween decks (fed by No. 2 and 3 hatchways).

No. 3 hold (deep tanks) and tween decks (fed by No. 3 hatchway).

Machinery space (forward end almost amidships).

No. 4 hold and tween decks.

No. 5 hold and tween decks.

Aft peak tank, overhang store space, steering gear and crew accommodation.

The cargo hatchways on both decks were closed by wood covers and tarpaulins laid on steel beams except that No. 3 hold (deep tanks) which had port and starboard compartments was closed by bolted steel covers. The upper deck hatchways were served by steel derricks and steam winches and locking bars were provided.

The ship was constructed on a system of transverse framing and was all riveted with overlap seams and butts for shell and decks. Steel centre line bulkheads were fitted in all holds clear of the hatchways so obviating the need for pillars. The No. 3 hold (deep tanks) steel centre line bulkhead was non-watertight. Apart from the midship deep tanks (No. 3 hold) and fore and aft peak tanks already referred to, the ship had port and starboard deep wing ballast tanks between Nos. 1 and 2 holds and deep wing tanks under No. 5 hold at each side of the tunnel. These latter were common with the double bottom of the ship.

The ship had a double bottom extending from the collision bulkhead to the after end of No. 4 hold. As stated in the previous paragraph the tunnel side tanks included the space normally occupied by the double bottom.

The allocation and capacities of the tanks spaces were as follows:



Total capacity in tons



Fore peak tank

134 tons W.B.



No. 1 double bottom

99 tons W.B.



Forward deep tanks (both sides)

322 tons W.B.



No. 2 double bottom

391 tons O.F.




435 tons W.B.



No. 3 double bottom

140 tons O.F.




156 tons W.B.



No. 3 hold (deep tanks)

1205 tons W.B.



No. 4 double bottom

50 tons F.W.



No. 5 double bottom

75 tons O.F.




84 tons W.B.



No. 6 double bottom

231 tons O.F.




258 tons W.B.



Tunnel side tanks

469 tons W.B.



Aft peak tank

165 tons F.W.


All double bottom tanks were sub-divided by a centre line division except Nos. 1 and 4.

Hold and machinery space bilge drainage was achieved by the conventional sloping margin plate arrangement except at No. 5 hold where the tunnel side tank tops formed the bottom of the hold. In this case the hold drained into "hat boxes", one each side adjacent to the step in the hold at the tunnel recess. In the engine room there was a double bottom cofferdam one frame space in length separating Nos. 3 and 4 double bottom tanks extending the full width of the ship without a centre line division. Another cofferdam extended across the ship at the after end of No. 4 double bottom tank extending the full width of the ship and on the middle line under the main engines this cofferdam extended aft to No. 5 double bottom tank. In the middle of this extension there was a lubricating oil sump about 1 foot 6 inches in depth under the tank top.

All peak tanks, deep tanks and double bottom tanks were provided with air and filling pipes which were carried above the upper deck. The closure of the heads of these pipes was in the form of mushroom or hood tops of self-closing type, but with screwed ring collars which could be fixed in the open position. The tops of the mushrooms or hoods could be removed by unbolting two bolts for filling purposes. The following natural ventilation system was provided:—

1 8-inch diameter cowl vent on upper deck leading to fore peak store;

2 24-inch diameter cowl vents on upper deck leading to forward end of No. 1 tween decks with 18-inch extension tubes leading to No. 1 hold;

2 34-inch diameter cowl vents on forward mast-house top leading to Nos. 1 and 2 tween decks each with 2 18-inch diameter extension tubes leading to Nos. 1 and 2 holds;

2 24-inch diameter cowl vents on upper deck leading to aft end of No. 2 tween decks each with 18-inch extension tubes leading to No. 2 hold;

2 12-inch diameter cowl vents, on upper deck leading to the forward end of the deep tanks;

2 12-inch diameter cowl vents, on upper deck leading to the after end of the deep tanks;

2 10-inch diameter cowl vents on upper deck leading to the after end of the deep tanks tween decks;

2 24-inch diameter cowl vents on the upper deck leading to the forward end of No. 4 tween decks each with extension tubes leading to No. 4 hold;

2 34-inch diameter cowl vents on the after mast-house top leading to Nos. 4 and 5 tween decks each with 2 18-inch diameter tubes leading to Nos. 4 and 5 holds;

2 15-inch diameter cowl vents on the upper deck leading to the aft end of No. 5 tween decks;

2 18-inch diameter cowl vents on the upper deck leading to the aft end of No. 5 hold;

2 8-inch diameter cowl vents on the upper deck leading to the steering gear.

The erections on deck consisted of the following:—

A three-tier bridge house accommodating the master, deck officers, apprentices, chief steward, with the navigating bridge etc. as the conventional top tier. This house was situated between Nos. 2 and 3 hatchways and was set in about 6 feet from the ship's side port and starboard.

A midship house accommodating engineers, radio operator, catering staff, engine casing and galley, extending from abaft No. 3 hatchway to forward of No. 4 hatchway. This house was set in each side about 4 feet 6 inches from the ship's side and the side-to-side boat deck, on which was situated the funnel and machinery space skylight, formed its top.

A one-tier house about 19 feet wide situated right aft accommodated the seamen's and firemen's washplaces.

Main and auxiliary machinery

The Ambassador had a vertical direct acting three cylinder two stroke cycle internal combustion engine of the Doxford opposed piston type designed to develop 2,500 B.H.P. at 105 r.p.m. to give the ship speed of about 11 knots. The average overall fuel consumption was about 11 tons per day.

The associated auxiliary machinery, practically all of which was steam driven, was situated on tank top level in the engine room. Steam for the auxiliary machinery, the steering gear, and domestic services was supplied from an oil fired Riley Scotch type boiler situated in the port forward part of the engine room and a Cochran composite boiler adapted for oil fuel or exhaust gas situated on a 16 foot flat at the forward end of the engine room. Both boilers had a working pressure of 120 lbs/sq in.

Oil fuel arrangements

Only the one grade of fuel was carried for both main engine and boilers. Oil fuel storage apart from double bottom tanks consisted of:—

One boiler oil tank of 3 tons capacity situated against the tween deck engine room casing, port side; one dirty oil supply tank and two purified oil tanks each of 5 tons capacity (1,300 gallons), situated on the 16 foot flat port side.

The boiler fuel tank was arranged for gravity supply to the Cochran oil burners and to the suction chest of the Riley boiler oil burning unit, the tank being pumped up direct by one of two 25 tons per hour oil fuel transfer pumps. The same pumps were used for pumping up the dirty oil tank, from which the settled fuel gravitated to the centrifugal purifier, situated almost underneath the tank at main platform level. From this centrifuge the purified oil was pumped back into the clean oil tanks whence the fuel gravitated to the suction manifold of the main engine fuel injection pumps, to be finally discharged to the main engine fuel valves at 6000 p.s.i. For the purpose of oil purification two Sharples No. 6 Pressurtite purifiers were installed, each with a maximum capacity of 400 gallons per hour. One was for fuel oil and the other for lubricating oil. The Riley boiler could also, if necessary, be supplied from the main engine clean oil supply line.

The outlet valve on each clean oil tank was positioned in relation to the main engine fuel pump suction manifold such that it was 8 feet 4 inches above, and 22 feet 6 inches horizontally to port from the manifold, giving an included angle of 20° between the manifold and the valve.

Oil level indication in each of the four oil tanks consisted of a light chain attached to a float in a guide tube in the tank, the chain being led over pulleys on to a pointer which traversed a graduated scale mounted on the inboard side of each tank. The boiler oil and clean oil tanks were graduated in gallons whereas the dirty oil tank was graduated 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 and full.

Combined air and vapour pipes from these tanks were led to the engine casing top, port side of the skylight and each of the air outlets was fitted with a hood type vent head with an internal gauze ring.

Oil fuel filling was effected by connecting the shore supply fitting to a 6 inch bore stand pipe on the deck abaft of No. 3 hatch which in turn was connected to the 6 inch filling main. From this 6 inch main branch lines were led to the change over chests of the four double bottom tanks adapted for the carriage of oil fuel or water ballast.

A stop valve was fitted in the rising main at the forward end of the engine room and for satisfactory operation of the oil fuel transfer pump this valve would require to be kept closed at all times other than when oil filling was in progress.

Combined air and vapour pipes to the double bottom tanks were led to 30 inches above the upper deck. Those leading to the after ends of the deep tanks, the after ends of No. 3 double bottom tanks, the tween deck side tanks, the forward and after cofferdams, the No. 4 double bottom tank, the No. 5 double bottom tanks, and the forward ends of No. 6 double bottom tanks were situated in the port and starboard alleyways close to the bulwarks abreast of the amidship accommodation. With the exception of No. 4 port and starboard air pipes, each of these air pipes was fitted with a hood type vent head with an internal gauze ring.

Steering gear

This was a steam driven gear manufactured by Messrs. Donkin & Co., Newcastle-on-Tyne. The gear was controlled by telemotor system from the bridge with a linkage to the steering position on top of the after deck house. For emergency steering, provision was made by which blocks and wire ropes could be connected to the warping winch aft.

Water pumping arrangements in the engine room

Main engine driven sea water circulating pump; 160 tons her hour.

Steam driven bilge and general service pumps, each of 40 tons per hour, situated on the starboard side.

Steam driven ballast pump, 250 tons per hour, situated on the starboard side.

Main engine driven jacket water pump and steam driven stand-by jacket water pump, each of 110 tons per hour.

Safety equipment

The safety equipment certificate was issued at Glasgow on 14th January, 1964, and was valid until 12th January, 1966.

The principal items of safety equipment were as follows:—

Four wooden lifeboats housed in crescent type davits, capable of accommodating sixty persons on the port side and sixty-four persons on the starboard side. One of the lifeboats was fitted with a class B motor.

40 lifejackets and 8 lifebuoys.

2 inflatable life rafts each certified for 10 persons.

A Schermuly line throwing appliance.

Distress signals.

A lifeboat portable radio apparatus.

Oil and electric navigation lights and sound signal apparatus.

Fire extinguishing appliances complying with the requirements for a Class VII vessel and

Stability data.

The safety radio-telegraphy certicate was issued at Glasgow on 15th January, 1964, and was valid until 13th January, 1965.

Grain fittings

The court is of the opinion that the loss of the Ambassador was not caused or contributed to by any failure of the grain fittings. The following particulars are, therefore, considered to be sufficient for the purposes of this report.

The fittings complied with the provisions of the grain regulations embodied in the revised International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, 1960. These regulations had, at the material time, been accepted as adequate by the United Kingdom Government and British shipowners had been informed accordingly.

The Ambassador was loaded at Philadelphia with a full cargo of 9,516 tons of wheat and corn in bulk. The evidence of a cargo surveyor for the National Cargo Bureau, who attended the final stages of the loading, was to the effect that each of the compartments was completely filled. The mechanical trimmers used were well capable of throwing the grain to the extremities of all compartments and the grain level reached well up between the beams overhead in all holds and in those tween decks which carried grain. The level of grain in the various feeders when loading was completed was as follows:

No. 1 hold feeder-two thirds full;

No. 2 hold feeder-full;

No. 2a hold feeder (No. 3 hatchway)-full;

No. 4 hold feeder-full;

No. 5 hold feeder-one-half full;

The deep tanks required no feeders and the grain level was to the top of the coaming;

No. 2 tween deck feeder (after space of No. 2 hatchway)-full;

No. 2 tween deck feeder (forward space of No. 3 hatchway)-full;

No. 4 tween deck feeder (forward space of No. 4 hatchway)-full;

No. 4 tween deck feeder (after space of No. 4 hatchway)-full;

No. 5 tween deck feeder (forward space of No. 5 hatchway)-full.

On completion of loading the draughts were 25 feet 9 inches forward and 29 feet 3 inches aft, giving a mean draught of 27 feet 6 inches. The mean freeboard was 10 feet 9 3/4 inches in fresh water. On sailing the vessel had a port list probably amounting to a little under 2°. Her G.M. was about 2 feet 4 inches. She was not overloaded and her stability was adequate.

The Ambassador sailed from Philadelphia on the 12th February, 1964, bound for the United Kingdom. She was in a seaworthy condition and the disposition of fuel in her tanks was such that her slight list to port could have been corrected without difficulty by the transfer of some fuel from port to starboard. No such steps appear to have been taken, however, and, as her cargo gradually settled, it tended to settle to port with the result that the list slowly increased as she proceeded on her voyage.

Locking bars were provided on board the vessel and, by the time she left Delaware Bay, were in position on all the weather deck hatches with the exception of the No. 3 hatch which led to the deep tanks and the after part of No. 2 hold. There is some evidence that it was intended to fit locking bars on this hatch during the early part of the voyage, but this was never done. A heavy gangway was, in fact, lashed on the top of this hatch and on this gangway a turntable, but it is said that their presence would not have prevented the locking bars being fitted on the hatch.

On the 14th February the vessel was hove to for a few hours for engine repairs. The weather until the 16th February was moderate with a following wind. On the 16th it began to deteriorate and in the evening the wind was south-west by south and increased to force 8. A lifeline was rigged on deck on the port side. On the morning of the 17th the engines were slowed down and the engine room watches were doubled. During the day it was found that water had entered the No. 6 and No. 5 port fuel tanks, and the cofferdam abaft the No. 4 tank. The court is satisfied that the water gained access to these compartments through air pipes leading to the upper deck. The tops of these pipes were fitted with closing devices but many, if not all these, had been fixed in the open position and no steps had been taken to close them before the weather became too bad to allow this to be done, particularly in view of the increasing list to port. During the 17th the weather had continued to deteriorate. At about 0930 hours the wind was west-north-westerly, force 9, and one of the port side lifeboats was smashed.

The gangway on the No. 3 hatch shifted a little, tearing two of the three tarpaulins. Some strips of timber were then nailed across the tarpaulins and the port side lashings of the gangway were renewed. Steps were taken to re-lash the canvas covers of the two ventilators to the deep tanks but this work was stopped before it was completed on the port side ventilator. The vessel was rolling heavily and at times her port side rails were under water. In the evening the wind increased to force 10. Due to water in the fuel, difficulties were experienced in maintaining steam on the Cochran and Riley boilers. At 1950 hours the vessel was hove to.

At about 0100 hours on the 18th, when the port list had increased to an angle probably in the region of 10° or 12°, the gangway on the No. 3 hatch broke in half, tearing the three tarpaulins and dislodging some of the hatch covers, allowing water to enter No. 3 tween deck, the deep tank and the after part of No. 2 hold. All hands-were called on deck and the hatch covers were replaced and covered with one new tarpaulin. These measures only proved effective for a short time and within about half an hour all the hatch boards on the port side of the No. 3 hatch had gone. The tarpaulin had been washed over to the starboard side. In spite of the fact that the vessel was now frequently rolling her port side under water, attempts were made to secure the No. 3 hatch, but these proved ineffective.

At about 0100 hours on the 18th and again at about 0200 hours the main engines had stopped due to lack of fuel. At about 0330 hours they finally stopped as the list had now become so bad that the gravity feed from the settling tanks on the port side was interrupted. Water in the engine room reached almost to the level of the purifier starters on the port side. At about 0930 hours the engine room was abandoned. The list was now probably about 20° or a little more. The vessel lay with the wind and weather on her starboard beam and her roll to starboard never brought her beyond the upright position. Both lifeboats on the port side had now gone and those on the starboard side could not be launched safely with men on board. A radio message for assistance was sent out shortly before 0730 hours and was almost immediately acknowledged by the s.s. Leonardo Da Vinci. Other vessels, which included the U.S. Coastguard cutter Coos Bay, the Norwegian vessel Fruen and the motor tug Elbe, and aircraft of the U.S. Coastguard also proceeded to the assistance of the Ambassador.

The Leonardo Da Vinci arrived at the position in the early afternoon of the 18th. In the meantime aircraft had dropped one or more inflatable rafts, but they were not close enough to be secured by those on board the vessel. The crew were all on deck and some of them placed some essentials in the starboard lifeboats and slackened the falls so as to enable them to be released by slipping the gripes in case any members of the crew might jump into the water. These actions were reported to the chief officer but on the evidence now available, it is not possible to say what, if any, definite orders were given by the deck officers during this period.

When the Leonardo Da Vinci was observed, the two inflatable ten man rafts of the Ambassador were put overboard on the port side. The first one to be manned included amongst its ten occupants no deck officers. It was unable to get clear of the ship and capsized. Largely owing to the outstanding courage and presence of mind of Able Seaman Wallerson, who, on his own initiative, took charge on board this raft, the lives of all but four of its occupants were saved and they reured on board the Ambassador from the capsized raft. The second raft probably also contained ten men. This raft got successfully clear of the Ambassador and was thereafter sighted by those on board the Leonardo Da Vinci but, in the prevailing weather conditions, could not be picked up. It drifted out of sight and was never seen again.

There were now twenty-one men, including the Master, left on board the Ambassador. On the 19th February the Fruen rescued nine of these and the Coos Bay eleven. In addition the master of the Ambassador was brought on board the Coos Bay by lifeline but unfortunately he did not reach her alive. Although the weather moderated to some extent during the 19th, the port list had increased and the port side bulwarks were almost continually under water. The Fruen, a vessel of over 10,000 tons, was under the command of Captain Gunnar Melver. The Coos Bay, a twin screw vessel of 2,500 tons discplacement, was commanded by Captain Bailey of the U.S. Coastguard and he, upon his arrival at the position at about 1100 hours on the 19th, took charge of all rescue operations. Both these commanders deserve high commendation for their courage and skill in bringing their vessels into sufficiently close proximity to the Ambassador and holding them in position to allow rescue operations by lifeline to be carried out in the prevailing weather. The crews of both these vessels worked courageously in dangerous conditions. Five members of the crew of the Coos Bay who manned one of her life rafts with the intention of proceeding to the Ambassador were thrown into the water, but the Coos Bay was fortunately able to rescue them.

At about 2200 hours on the 19th the Elbe arrived and her second mate and four other members of her crew boarded the Ambassador by jumping on to her port quarter from a motor-boat. They made fast one end of a towing hawser forward and two members of the boarding party then returned to the tug with the hawser. The remaining three then covered the No. 3 hatch with various pieces of timber and a tarpaulin. They found the water level to be about 1 1/2 to 2 metres below the hatch coaming and a metal cover to the deep tanks adrift. The remaining hatches on the main deck appeared to be intact with locking bars in place. Before returning to the tug they closed various doors and portholes. In the early hours of the morning of the 20th the Elbe began to tow and the Ambassador followed well throughout the day. At about 0400 hours on the 21st, however, when the wind had again increased to about force 10, the towing hawser parted. The weather was too bad to re-establish connection. During the morning the vessel appeared to be more upright but lower in the water aft. During the afternoon it was seen that the No. 3 hatch was again open, with wheat washing out as the vessel rolled. She now appeared to be even lower in the water aft. At about 1930 hours on the 21st the Ambassador could no longer be seen on the radar screen of the Elbe and she was never seen again.

The Ambassador is presumed to have sunk at about 1930 hours on the 21st February in an estimated position of lat. 37° 22' N and long. 48° 51' W. The principal cause of her sinking was the breaching of the No. 3 hatch which resulted in large quantities of water entering the No. 3 tween decks, the deep tank, the No. 2 hold and subesquently the machinery spaces and other compartments. It would appear that before she finally sank water also entered the No. 5 hold, possibly through the ventilators to that hold. For some time prior to the breaching of the No. 3 hatch water had been entering the fuel tanks and probably other double bottom tanks through the air pipes, causing her port list to increase.

The loss was contributed to by the negligence of the master, Captain Strickland and the chief officer, Mr. Newby. In reaching this conclusion the court has borne in mind that both these officers were lost and are therefore not available to explain their actions and that no deck officer survived to give evidence. The court is satisfied, however, that certain actions and omissions contributing to this casualty, for which the master and chief officer were both responsible in their respective capacities, were inexcusable. The most important of these matters was the failure to ensure that locking bars were fitted on the No. 3 hatch before the vessel left sheltered waters. This omission was aggravated by permitting the gangway to be carried on the top of this hatch, a practice never to be restorted to at sea on a laden vessel of this type not fitted with mechanical hatch covers. It is highly probable that if locking bars had been fitted, the No. 3 hatch would not have been breached and the vessel would not have been lost. It is significant that the remaining hatches, all situated in more exposed positions than the No. 3, but fitted with locking bars, were still apparently intact when last seen by the boarding party from the Elbe. The master also failed to take adequate steps to correct the vessel's initial list, and the chief officer failed to ensure that the covers to air pipes were in the closed position before the weather deteriorated.

When the No. 3 hatch had finally been breached and the vessel was lying helpless, beam on to wind and sea, with her port side bulwarks almost constantly under water, her master was faced with the responsibility of deciding on the best action to take to save the lives of the thirty-four men under his command. The problem was virtually insoluble. The vessel was in danger of sinking, both the port lifeboats had gone and those on the starboard side could not be safely launched. Two inflatable rafts were available, but each of these could accommodate only ten persons. It is known that both life rafts were launched after the Leonardo Da Vinci was seen, but the evidence does not indicate on whose orders this was done. Able Seaman Wallerson was ordered into one of these rafts, but it is not known what other orders may have been given. The first raft was unable to get clear of the vessel and it is presumed that four of its occupants were lost. The second raft appears to have got clear, but quickly drifted out of sight and was lost. This raft probably carried, amongst others, all the deck officers except the master. It is otherwise difficult to explain why none of these officers was amongst the persons subsequently rescued by lifelines from the ship. It is known that, surprisingly, none of them was on the first raft. Although the court is left in some doubt as to the general standard of organisation and control on board the vessel at this stage, the available evidence is insufficient to allow any specific criticism to be made in this regard.

Although the inflatable life rafts did not, in fact, prove effective to save life in this case, it is clear that they have in general a much better chance of being launched than lifeboats, particularly in circumstances where the stricken vessel is listing substantially. Even in the present case it proved possible at least to launch and man both rafts. The court recommends that the Board of Trade, in consultation with other shipping interests, should give further consideration to the provision on British cargo vessels where reasonably practicable, of a sufficient number of life rafts to accommodate all persons on board. The court is aware that the inclusion of a suitable form of radio beacon in the equipment of life rafts is under consideration and is of the opinion that the provision of such a device might well have assisted in saving life in the circumstances of this casualty.

The court had before it two notices to owners and masters dealing with the use of locking bars on hatches. The court is aware that, in some circumstances, particularly in the case of voyages in light condition, it is not the general practice to fit locking bars. The court recommends that further consideration be given to this matter with a view to giving clear information to owners and masters of the circumstances in which the Board of Trade considers it imperative that locking bars should be fitted and the circumstances, if any, in which the board considers that this precaution may be dispensed with. Nothing in this paragraph should be taken to modify in any way the very serious criticism which the court makes concerning the failure to fit locking bars on the No. 3 hatch in the present case.

The court further recommends that, wherever practicable, fuel oil service tanks in machinery spaces should be placed on or near the centre line of the ship and also that, where a drain is provided leading from the tween decks to the engine room, passing through a watertight bulkhead, the valve should be fitted at the inlet end.


Q. 1. By whom was the Ambassador owned and managed at the time of her loss?

A. Hall Brothers Steamship Company Limited. Designated manager William Hope Laverick.

Q. 2. When, where and by whom was the Ambassador built?

A. 1945. Sunderland. William Doxford & Sons Limited.

Q. 3. How many crew did the Ambassador carry on her last voyage?

A. Thirty-five hands all told.

Q. 4. Immediately prior to the loading of her cargo in Philadelphia in February, 1964, was the Ambassador seaworthy?

A. Yes.

Q. 5. (a) What was the nature and amount of her cargo on her last voyage, and how was it distributed in her holds?

(b) Was her cargo properly loaded and stowed?

(c) Did the stowage comply with the relevant Regulations?

A. (a) Wheat and corn. 9516 tons. Corn in Nos. 1, 2 and 5 holds tween decks and feeders. Wheat in No. 4 hold, tween decks and feeder. No. 3 deep tanks and hold contained wheat and corn. All compartments were full. For levels in feeders see annex. Cargo was loaded adjacent to the feeders except the No. 1, the No. 2 forward and the No. 5 aft.

(b) Yes.

(c) Yes.

Q. 6. (a) To what freeboard was the Ambassador permitted to load at Philadelphia?

(b) What was her actual freeboard on leaving Philadelphia?

A. (a) 11 feet 5 3/4 inches in salt water.

(b) 10 feet 9 3/4 inches mean in fresh water.

Q. 7. Was her stability satisfactory on leaving Philadelphia?

A. Yes.

Q. 8. Were the hatches of the Ambassador properly secured on her departure from Delaware Bay?

A. Yes, except the No. 3 hatch on which locking bars were not fitted.

Q. 9. What life-saving appliances were carried by the Ambassador on her last voyage and were they in a satisfactory condition?

A. See annex under heading Safety equipment. They were all in a satisfactory condition.

Q. 10. Was the radio transmitting apparatus on the Ambassador in satisfactory working condition at the commencement of her last voyage?

A. Yes.

Q. 11. What were the conditions of weather wind and sea from the time the Ambassador left the Delaware River on 13th February until she was finally abandoned by her crew on 19th February?

A. Moderate, with westerly winds until the 16th February, when it began to deteriorate. See annex.

Q. 12. (a) By what time and on what date was the list to port of the Ambassador first a cause of concern to her crew?

(b) What measures were taken thereafter by the engine room staff to correct that list, and to whom was the situation reported?

A. (a) On the available evidence the court is not able to answer this question with any degree of accuracy but there appears to have been some conversation about the matter between a member of the deck crew and the chief officer on the 16th February.

(b) There is no available evidence of any such measures being taken or of any such report being made.

Q. 13. (a) When did the main engine of the Ambassador stop for the last time?

(b) What was the cause of the stoppage?

(c) When did the auxiliary machinery in the engine room of the Ambassador cease to function, and what was or were the cause or causes of this failure?

A. (a) About 0330 hours on the 18th February.

(b) The gravity feed from the settling tanks on the port side was interrupted owing to the list.

(c) At or about 0330 hours on the 18th February the purifying motors burnt out and shortly afterwards the bilge pump and one other pump seized up. Steam was finally lost at 0800 hours. All these failures are attributable to the presence of water in the engine room and the heavy list.

Q. 14. What distress messages were sent out from the Ambassador and when were these messages sent?

A. Urgent message for assistance at 1122 hours G.M.T. on the 18th February. S.O.S. at 1140 hours G.M.T. on the 18th February.

Q. 15. When was the engine room of the Ambassador abandoned?

A. About 0930 hours on the 18th February.

Q. 16. (a) What attempts were made to abandon the ship, at what time, and with what result?

(b) Were all possible measures taken by the master and other officers of the Ambassador for the safety of the crew?

A. (a) On the afternoon of the 18th February both the ten man inflatable life rafts were launched. The first was manned by ten persons and it is probable that this also applied to the second.

(b) In the absence of any evidence from the deck officers, all of whom were lost, the court is not able to answer this question. For details of the general position as disclosed by the available evidence, see annex.

Q. 17. What efforts were made to rescue the crew of the Ambassador, by whom and with what result?

A. See annex.

Q. 18. What attempts were made to salve the Ambassador?

A. On the evening of the 19th February five men from the tug Elbe boarded the Ambassador and established towage connection. Towage began on the morning of the 20th February and continued until the hawser parted on the morning of the 21st February.

Q. 19. At what time did the Ambassador sink and in what approximate position?

A. The Ambassador is presumed to have sunk at about 1930 hours on the 21st February in an estimated posision of lat. 37° 22' N and long. 48° 51' W.

Q. 20. How many lives were lost?

A. Fifteen.

Q. 21. What was the cause of the loss of the Ambassador?

A. The principal cause of the loss was the breaching in heavy weather, whilst her list was increasing, of her No. 3 hatch which was not fitted with locking bars resulting in the entry of large quantities of sea water into many compartments.

Q. 22. Was the loss of the Ambassador caused or contributed to by the negligence of any person or persons?

A. Yes, the master and the chief officer.







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