Crew of the Waratah
The Court of Inquiry
Transcribed from South Africa Magazine, 25 February 1911 (by Ellen Stanton)
THE LOST “WARATAH”
COURT OF INQUIRY’S JUDGMENT
SUDDEN WRECK IN A GALE
VESSEL’S STABILITY ESTABLISHED
Judgment was delivered on Wednesday by the Court which inquired into the loss of the Waratah, and which was presided over by Mr. J. Dickinson, one of the Metropolitan stipendiaries. The Court found that the ship was lost in the gale of July 28, 1909, which was of exceptional violence for those waters, and was the first great storm she had encountered. They were led to this conclusion by the facts that she overhauled the Clan Macintyre, which afterwards experienced the gale, was last seen heading in a direction which would take her into a position where she would feel the full force of the storm, and was never afterwards sighted by the Clan Macintyre. Had she been only disabled it is almost certain that she would have been so sighted, and, if not, would have been picked up by one of the many ships subsequently on the lookout for her. In the total absence of direct evidence, and with only conflicting evidence of an indirect character, the Court could not say what particular form was taken by the catastrophe, but the fact that no wreckage had been found, in spite of the most careful and exhaustive search, indicated that it must have been sudden. On the whole they inclined to the opinion that she capsized, but what particular chain of circumstances brought about this result must remain undetermined. The Court did not desire to travel outside the scope of its functions as a tribunal inquiring into a specific casualty; but, in view of the great prominence which the question of stability had assumed, felt it not out of place to suggest whether it might not be possible, with the help of a committee of experts appointed for that purpose, to arrive at some conclusions concerning the minimum stability requirements of different types of vessel consistent with safety at sea. A careful investigation by such a committee, including as it would necessarily do, examination of stability curves of many vessels in all trades, might show the feasibility of recommending minimum curves for different types of vessel for general adoption. If so, rules for the stowage of cargo for a particular ship could be formulated by the builder for the guidance of the shipowner, with greater precision than now possible. The Court was fully aware of the complexity of the subject and of the difficulties of making rules sufficiently elastic to meet the requirements of varying types of ships.
The Court found:--
1. The vessel had three Lord Kelvin compasses. So far as the Court could learn they were in good order and sufficient for safe navigation.
2. When the vessel left Durban on July 26, 1909, (a) she was supplied with proper and sufficient boats and life-saving appliances, in good order and ready for use; (b) she was manned considerably in excess of Board of Trade requirements, but in the opinion of the Court an early opportunity might be taken of reconsidering whether those requirements are sufficient in the case of large ships carrying passengers; (c) the Court was of opinion that the cargo was properly stowed; and (d) on the basis of the calculations made by the expert witnesses, with the results of which the Court was in general agreement, she had sufficient stability as laden. She was in proper trim for the voyage she was about to undertake. She was in good condition as regards structure, and so far as the evidence went in a seaworthy condition; but there was not sufficient evidence before the Court to show that all proper precautions, such as battening hatches, securing ports, coaling doors, &c., had been taken.
3. The cost of the ship to her owners was, in round figures, £154,000, and the insurances were—on hull and machinery, £135,000; on disbursements, £15,000.
4. So far as the Court had been able to ascertain, the Waratah, after having been spoken by the Clan Macintyre, was not seen or spoken by any other vessel.
5. The cause of the Waratah not having been heard of after being sighted by the Clan Macintyre on July 27, 1909, was her loss during the gale of July 28. The precise manner of her loss could not be determined upon the evidence available.
THE MAIDEN VOYAGE
No special report, as Mr. F. M. Lund assured the Court, was made by Captain Ilbery as to her behaviour on her maiden voyage. In view of the fact that the Waratah was a new departure for this line, and that her specification was being used as the basis of the specification of another new ship, the Court was quite unable to understand how silence could have been preserved on such an important and interesting subject as her stability and behaviour at sea. Mr. Lund endeavoured to explain away his strong letters by saying that at the time he wrote them his firm and the builders were in conflict over a question of demurrage, the vessel having been delivered after the contract date. He said that his complaints about the ship were mere “bluff” intended to facilitate the forcing of a settlement of the monetary claim.
THE SECOND VOYAGE
The Waratah left London on her second voyage on April 27, 1909. She was again surveyed and reported satisfactory by Captain Clarke. It was not known what cargo she carried outward. The bunker coal when leaving consisted of 3455 tons, none of which was in the spardeck space. The Court had carefully collated all the documents, and acknowledged its great indebtedness to Mr. Larcombe, the Board of Trade Surveyor, who was called as a witness. From the manifests, it appeared that, making reasonable allowance for measurement cargo, about 6500 tons of cargo were placed in the ship in Australia. The largest items were 976 tons of leady concentrates shipped at Adelaide, and heavy consignments of wheat, oats, flour, tallow, wool, and skins, taken at the three Australian ports. About 240 tons of this total were consigned to Durban and Beira, and were discharged at Durban. No cargo was shipped at that port. The Waratah left Durban on July 26, 1909. She exchanged signals with the Clan Macintyre at 6 a.m. next day. The Court attached value to the description of the great storm which occurred on July 28 contained in the affidavit of Mr. G. P. Phillips, chief officer of the Clan Macintyre. Reports of the supposed sighting of the Waratah after she left Durban came from three other ships, in addition to the Guelph.
INCIDENTS OF THE SECOND VOYAGE
On the second voyage outward two incidents should be recorded. The first was related by Pinel, carpenter’s mate on the Waratah, who had been nine years in the Navy. There was, he said a big roll crossing the Bight, and he thought two or three times she was never going to come back. The second incident was spoken to by Mr. Mason, an engineer with a first-class certificate and 33 years’ sea experience. Coming out of Melbourne, bound for Sydney, when there was a breeze the ship heeled heavily and did not recover herself properly. He made strong remarks to the chief officer. Mr. Mason was corroborated by Dr. Thomas, then surgeon on the Waratah. On the other hand there was considerable evidence that she behaved well on this voyage. The ship was in a distinctly light condition, her draught when crossing the Bight being about 25 ft. mean, and coming out of Melbourne 21 ft. 5 ins. Mean. The results arrived at by the owners’ experts were in substantial agreement with the figures of Mr. Larcombe, the Board of Trade Surveyor, based on the same documents. Upon these figures the metacentric height of the ship appeared to have been, when leaving Durban, about 1.5 ft. In this condition the vessel had a maximum righting lever of 3.15 ft., at an angle of 55 degs., and a range of stability of 90 degs. The bases of these calculations were not free from ambiguity and possible sources of error, but the Court thought no serious error had been made.
MR SAWYER’S EVIDENCE
After dealing with the metacentric heights of the vessel on leaving some of the ports, the Court said it was not easy to reconcile these metacentric heights with the positive testimony of some of the witnesses, as, for example, the tenderness on entering Adelaide spoken to by McDiarmid, whose deposition showed signs of careful observation. There was, however, a fair amount of evidence to show that the ship was upright when leaving each of the Australian ports. Mr. Sawyer’s evidence showed considerable prescience, but while the Court was convinced that this gentleman was doing his best to assist them, there were only three points which required detailed examination. He said the ship started from the wharf at Melbourne with a list to port. Outside the roads it changed to starboard, and later on returned to port. The initial list could not have been very appreciable, because Mr. Dew, the pilot, noticed “no sign of a list while at the pier or while going down the bay.” The effect of a strong south-east wind on a ship coming out of the bay would be to list her to starboard. When she had proceeded further she would have the wind aft, and the initial list, if existing, would again become evident. The weather conditions seemed adequately to explain Mr. Sawyer’s observations. As to the behaviour off Cape Leeuwin, the Court had the letter of Mr. Ebsworth written to his wife and his description in his diary at the time. Mr. Richardson also dealt with the point. He described the rolling as a slow majestic roll with a distinct pause at the extremity. Mr. Sawyer was probably describing the same action. Mr. Sawyer’s complaint was that she did not rise forward as she encountered successive waves; but there was nothing in the construction, trim, or loading which would make her behaviour in this particular different from that of other ships of similar size and type in like conditions of sea. Two qualified people deposed as to theWaratah’s condition when leaving Durban, Mr. John Rainnie, the port captain, and the master of the tug Richard King, which towed her from the Wharf to outside the bar. Mr. Rainnie’s statement that she had no list when leaving the wharf, and that none was created by the tug pulling upon her, was important, and the evidence of the tugmaster was conclusive. The master and chief officer of the Clan Macintyre stated that she had no list and was proceeding steadily.
The Court found an explanation of the large amount of adverse comment upon the Waratah’s behaviour during her career in her undoubted tenderness throughout her first voyage and while loading. In such a condition quite observable lists could be produced by moderate wind pressures, relatively small alterations of water ballast, the consumption of fresh water, or non-symmetrical working out of coal. Regarding the cause of the vessel’s loss, one suggestion, based upon the statement of the master of the Harlow, Captain Bruce, was that her bunker coal had heated and she had blown up. Such an occurrence was possible, but several circumstances told against the probability. The chief officer of the Harlow said that what Captain Bruce took for a steamer’s lights was the flare of a distant bush fire, several of which were visible at different heights, some on the hills and some low down towards the shore. He added, and the Court agreed, that had a steamer been fire, she would have sent up rockets and signals of distress.
REPORTS AS TO THE SIGHTING OF BODIES
These came from two ships, and related to August 11. The master of the Insiswa said that when ten miles off the Bashee River he sighted four objects floating beneath the surface which looked suspiciously like human bodies. The sea was too heavy to lower a boat. Two of his officers saw the objects; one was inclined to agree with him, the other declined to express an opinion. Certain officers of the steamshipTottenham stated that when she was 30 or 35 miles south of East London they saw some human bodies in the water. This was reported to the master, who at once put back, and from what he saw he was disposed to consider that what was taken for human remains was nothing more than dead sunfish or whale offal. There is a whaling station at Durban, where much offal is sent adrift. The Court was inclined to the master’s explanation.
The search established the moral certainty that the Waratah did not break down and drift, or that if she did, she succumbed at some point to the heavy weather which was frequently met by the Sabine. It was the carefully-considered opinion of the Court that it must now be regarded as a certainty, so far as certainty can be attained in human affairs, that no person survives of those who left Durban in the Waratah. Conflicting evidence was given as to the boats. The Court did not accept the loose accounts by some of the Colonial deponents of the boats’ rotten and useless state, but it seemed they were not in a satisfactory, seaworthy condition on the first voyage. The boats appeared to have been put into good condition before the second voyage, or they would not have been passed by Captain Clarke, as in fact they were. The fire gear on this ship was all new, and presumably in good condition. But no fire drill ever seemed to have been carried out. The Court was aware that fire drill was held on most large passenger ships, and strongly urged on the owners of others where it is not adopted the necessity of accustoming the crew to the use of fire gear. The Court desired to express its regret for the loss of life and its sympathy with the relatives and friends of those lost. It had been particularly trying to wait from week to week and from month to month in the hope that something would be heard, but the Court trusted that this very full inquiry would set at rest the minds of those concerned. There was no reasonable doubt that, whatever the cause, all the passengers and company of the Waratah met their deaths at sea soon after she left Durban. The Court regarded it as the kindest course to emphasise this view in the strongest manner.
HOW SAFETY IS ENSURED
Many people will have wondered that such a wide variety of opinions should have been forthcoming respecting the characteristics of theWaratah with regard to her construction and seagoing qualities. The moment is opportune to explain the precise value of some of the terms used and points raised during the inquiry. Stability may be taken to mean the ability of the vessel to remain in an approximately vertical position in spite of the violent buffeting of wind and waves. “Recovery powers” describes the ability of a ship to return quickly to a normal position after having been heeled over by a gust of wind or an extra heavy wave. What the average reader wishes to know is to what extent a vessel can safely heel—in other words, what is the limit of her recovering power. This, however, is a point that cannot be settled on general lines, since the stability of ships depends not only upon individual design, but upon the character of the cargo of each vessel, and the method in which it is loaded. As the Daily Graphic remarks in this connection, if the cargo is to be one of human beings, the problem before the designer is comparatively simple, for he has only to allow such a margin of safety that with all the passengers sheltering from a gale on the lee side at the highest portion of the ship above the water line—that is to say, under the worst possible conditions the vessel shall still be stable. A vessel must have the combination of great recovering power and comfortable riding, but, unfortunately, these are two opposed virtues, for if a vessel has the maximum recovering power that can possibly be provided, she will ride uneasily, owing to the rapidity and jerkiness with which she will endeavour to return to her normal position. An appearance of top-heaviness, such as characterizes many a modern boat, does not necessarily indicate that the vessel is of faulty and dangerous design. That appearance is caused solely by the desire of passengers to live during their short stay on the boat as high above the water line as their means permit, and this natural tendency ahs brought about a type of vessel having a series of super-imposed decks, a style of construction which must necessarily lend an air of instability to the boat in the eyes of the uninitiated. The real fact of the matter, however, is that it is as easy to provide for a wide range of stability in a vessel having many decks as in a boat having but one. This is simply a question of design, and, indeed, the tall sides or high freeboard of the liner make it the safest of all vessels, so that the “top-heavy” appearance may be a virtue instead of the fault that it seems at first sight. It is a simple law that for a vessel to float with stability the metacentre must be above the centre of gravity, and upon the precise relation of the positions of these two points to each other and to the ship itself the stability and comfort of the vessel depend. The height of the one point above the other directly determines the power of the vessel to return to the vertical, and the safest and most comfortable ship is that in which this relation has been most accurately estimated for average requirements.