El Capitain

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Eric Marshall Schoonmaker

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Probably an incredibly rediculous thought, however I was wondering if anyone has any ideas about what would happen to Captain Smith if he had survived or even boarded a life boat. Would there have been a trial against him? Would people have accused him of negligence, cowardice or possibly have had him prosecuted for involunatry manslaughter?
I'm not of the opinion that he was a bad person. I think he was doing the job in the best and safest manner possible. I think that he was honorable in his standards with everything he did. My question is: What do you envision happening if he survived?
 

Jeremy Lee

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Jun 12, 2003
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I think he would have suffered a public backlash a million times worse than Ismay. (But anyway, its not his fault. He was not the lookout neither was he the pple who were in charge of steering the ship that time)
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Jeremy, just so you understand how things work on a ship, the ship's master is responsible for absolutely everything that happens on or too his/her command and Smith was no exception to that rule. The collision happened while the ship was under his command and had he lived, there is simply no way he would have escaped some measure of accoutability for it.
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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I think the matter would have been handled in a very British way. Captain Smith would have been allowed to resign, rather than being fired. Ismay would have given him this honorable way out.

Captain Smith would probably have been tried for negligence in the usual way. Even that would have needed careful handling. Somehow the trial would have had to be held before Mersey's inquiry, in order to get an unbiased court. Given media coverage, a fair trial would have been hard to arrange. If a trial was held he would have possibly been convicted and stripped of his certificate. That would have been mostly symbolic, since nobody would be likely to give him a new command. He would have then handled the rest of his life as best he could. We can only speculate on what he might have done.

It's not even certain that Smith would have been convicted. It's a matter of record that the only jury verdict delivered in in the Titanic affair found negligence only in respect of excessive speed. White Star very nearly got off the hook and with a top defence Smith might just have escaped. Remember Lord Mersey's comments on Captain Smith.

"He made a mistake, a very grievous mistake, but one in which, in face of the practice and of past experience, negligence cannot he said to have had any part; and in the absence of negligence it is, in my opinion, impossible to fix Captain Smith with blame. It is, however, to be hoped that the last has been heard of the practice and that for the future it will be abandoned for what we now know to be more prudent and wiser measures. What was a mistake in the case of the Titanic would without doubt be negligence in any similar case in the future."

If you think he would have got off lightly, you're probably right. Captain Williams, who wrecked Atlantic with great loss of life, got off with a two year suspension and returned to command White Star ships. That was how it was in those days.
 
Nov 17, 2005
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"But anyway, its not his fault. He was not the lookout neither was he the pple (sic) who were in charge of steering the ship that time"

Sorry, but I respectfully disagree. Under International Maritime Law both then and now, the ONLY person responsible for the safety of a ship, and it's passengers crew and cargo, is the Captain. The Captain is in full command, and his wheelman, his lookouts, his officer on the bridge, and virtually all other crewmen, are under his command. He merely delegates responsibility to them, but is nevertheless in command. Under law, the only time a captain is not in command is when he is unable to command, being injured or otherwise incapacitated. All other claims pointing to the culpability of others are irrelevant, including substandard materials and construction (it's his ship, he decides if its safe to sail her), mislaid ice warnings (he alone was responsible to ensure warnings were properly delivered), insufficient lifeboats (he could have personally protested), etc. And to back up this commentary, I checked with an attorney friend who specializes in Maritime Law. Perhaps "how it was in those days" (the customary attitude of society and the law) may have gotten Smith a slap on the wrist. But this does not change how the law reads. Mr. Standart is correct.
 

Noel F. Jones

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May 14, 2002
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Kirk, your "attorney friend who specializes in Maritime Law" omits to take into account the eventuality of 'wilful breach of duty' on the part of any crew member, be that via act or omission, whereby the vessel is endangered.

I don't know which jurisdiction your friend is postulating in but under the UK British Merchant Shipping Act 1894 such breach of duty would be criminally actionable as a misdemeanour and thereby no culpability would attach to the master.

I could take exception to other elements of your rationale but that is the most pertinent in the circumstances of the loss of Titanic.

Noel
 

Noel F. Jones

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May 14, 2002
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I’ve just popped back to say that the above transgression encompasses the wilful endangering of life as well as the vessel; and it is germane to the subject that in this context the term “crew”￾ can indeed include the master.

I have to say Kirk that I find your all-encompassing investment of the hapless shipmaster somewhat risible. Moving on to the matter of seaworthiness for instance:

Shipmasters are manifestly not naval architects nor are they marine engineers and the law does not expect them so to be.

While it is true that we have lately seen the shipmaster being held liable as the objective of first recourse, particularly in trans-jurisdictional issues, it is preposterous to maintain that in any equitable jurisdiction any action thereagainst would disensconce the doctrines of inherent or latent defect apropos hull, machinery and appurtenances. Any action brought in disregard thereof, whether in the civil or criminal area, would not survive the most cursory juridical scrutiny.

Noel
 
Nov 17, 2005
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Then you would deny Smith's obvious culpability, in favor of a melting pot of error by builder, crew, and circumstance? Wasn't Smith obligated to tell Marconi operators that ice warnings and other ship-to-ship messages on sea and sailing conditions were to be delivered without delay? And as to substandard construction and materials, I would point out that metallurgy and the the forensics associated therewith were practically non-existent in 1912. No sorry, Smith was the only one to blame, others are mere scapegoats to use to absolve him.
 

Noel F. Jones

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“Then you would deny Smith's obvious culpability…”

Your inferred approach is refreshing; in these pages it’s usually some fellow named Lord who’s so obviously culpable.

“…in favor of a melting pot of error by builder, crew, and circumstance?”

By reason that I was addressing shipmasters in general, I’m not disposed on this occasion to descend into the minutiae of the Titanic case.

“Wasn't Smith obligated to tell Marconi operators that ice warnings and other ship-to-ship messages on sea and sailing conditions were to be delivered without delay?”

I would imagine that the responsible prioritising of incoming traffic was already well covered by Marconi’s standing instructions and would in any case routinely be served by the dutiful responses of the operators; not that any harm would ensue by a particular shipmaster’s emphasizing of it in prevailing circumstances.

“ And as to substandard construction and materials, I would point out that metallurgy and the the forensics associated therewith were practically non-existent in 1912.”

You’ve lost me there jackson! Try Abraham Darby.

“ No sorry, Smith was the only one to blame, others are mere scapegoats to use to absolve him.”

I can only congratulate you on having got the Titanic case put to bed in your own mind.

Noel
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>Then you would deny Smith's obvious culpability,<<

I don't think Noel has done anything of the kind.

>>...in favor of a melting pot of error by builder, crew, and circumstance?<<

Mmmmmmm...this is not an either/or proposition I'm afraid. Courts of inquiry invesigate that sort of thing all the time with an eye towards figuring out what happened and why. (Even the inquiries that are often political hackjobs manage to do that much.) Lawyers do the same with an eye towards getting some sort of "justice" for their clients and it's not always misplaced. This doesn't in any way absolve the Captain of his own accountablity. All it does is point to other players in the game who have some explaining to do of their own.

>>Wasn't Smith obligated to tell Marconi operators that ice warnings and other ship-to-ship messages on sea and sailing conditions were to be delivered without delay?<<

Was he? He *might* have been. Can you perhaps point to legal and regulatory source material that says as much?

In any event, it wasn't as if ice warnings and position reports never made it to the bridge and the information derived from same was enough to cause discussion and instructions to the watch to be extra watchful for ice. They were not going in blind or totally ignorant of conditions.

>>No sorry, Smith was the only one to blame, others are mere scapegoats to use to absolve him.<<

I wish it was that simple. It wasn't just Titanic and White Star on trial here but a whole range of practices...some of them quite dangerous...that were put under the microscope and not without good reason.
 
Dec 4, 2000
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The problem with this thread is that it plays the "blame game" used by the legal profession to extort money from corporations and individuals. If blame can be assigned, a lawsuit can make a lawyer rich.

But, "blame" is only valuable in that regard. What is more critical is understanding how and why a group of professionals performing their jobs in the usual and customary manner still managed to run over something the size of a large building on a calm, clear night.

Getting away from "blame" clears the thinking process and allows real learning to take place. Smith, Murdoch, Fleet, Lee, Hichens, Olliver, Boxhall and Moody all participated in what must be called a fully-controlled allision with a recognized danger on a night when every one of them knew that danger existed. How did that happen? It wasn't one man's fault--in the blame sense--but rather a collective effort that also involved the IMM/White Star company rulebook, the ordinary practice of North Atlantic mail ships, and the expectations of the passengers.

To assert that Captain Smith willingly and knowingly on one night decided to become irrationally foolhardy is preposterous. And, the record speaks to him actually acting in a prudent manner for 1912. He returned early from dinner, conferred with his officers about the dangers, and proceeded to plot the ice (presumably) against the track of his ship.

Meanwhile, the OOW (Lightoller) issued special orders to the lookouts to be watchful of smaller but dangerous ice.

The one wireless message that always raises questions is the warning from Mesaba. The BOT report made the claim it was not delivered to Captain Smith but that report failed to provide one scintilla of evidence supporting this claim. Lightoller later expanded the story to include a paperweight, but again gave no evidence which can be corroborated by any other source.

My research shows the professionals of Titanic's bridge team were victims of a condition we now recognize as "loss of situational awareness." This problem was first recognized as a primary factor in aircraft incidents and was then found to apply to all transportation accidents, including marine casualties. A simple explanation of the condition is that everyone involved is performing their duties, but by doing so they all lose contact with the larger picture.

In Titanic, this loss of awareness was in part the result of the design of the bridge with placement of the critical standard compass 230 feet aft with no 2-way communications. It was also in part due to the expectations of sailors that ice could and would be seen at a distance of three miles or more. Wireless may also have played a role in that Captain Smith may have been a bit more confident because he had ice information than he would have been a decade earlier without those radio messages.

Titanic was not the first ship on which loss of situational awareness caused disaster. It is probable that many of the "ships gone missing" were victims of this problem. Nor was Titanic the last. I doubt there is an officer walking the deck of any ship who at one time or another has not experienced the condition, but been lucky enough to awaken in time to prevent disaster.

-- David G. Brown
 
Feb 24, 2004
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>>Getting away from "blame" clears the thinking process and allows real learning to take place.

Thank you, David. Thank you.
 
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patrick toms

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captain smith was almost exonerated as he did the right thing according to some people and went down with his ship,he was painted as a hero
but the disaster was down to him,also the authorities covered for failures,and the press made a scapegoat of captain lord of the california who was blamed for a disaster not of his making.
pat toms Shannon Ulster Titanic Society
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>...captain lord of the california who was blamed for a disaster not of his making.<<

Errrrrrrr...not quite. Captain Lord was pilloried for a lack of response to signals of distress. Whether this is/was appropriate is a matter of some decidedly heated and emotional debate, but I don't think you'll find even his most passionate critic ever blamed him for the disaster itself.
 
Apr 30, 2007
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Michael. Have to disagree with you on that one. It was the loss of life that defined the Titanic as a 'disaster' or a 'tragedy' otherwise we'd be describing it now as a catastrophe, a major accident or a good old fashioned calamity.

Those who believe (rightly or wrongly) that Capt Lord could have saved everyone blame him for the loss of life thereby turning an accident into a full blown 'disaster'.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>Those who believe (rightly or wrongly) that Capt Lord could have saved everyone blame him for the loss of life thereby turning an accident into a full blown 'disaster'.<<

I don't think that you'll find that anyone who knows anything about the sea and how and why things work on a ship as they do realistically believed that he could have. Even when it was politically expediant to suggest that he could have.

What got Captain Lord into hot water and kept him there was his ship's lack of response and his fibbing about it afterwards. Had he tried and failed, or stated that in his view as commander, that moving his vessel would have been too dangerous, (And he could have made that case under the circumstances) we wouldn't be having this discussion now.
 
Mar 22, 2003
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But political expedience has much weight. From the Wreck Commission report:
When she first saw the rockets the “Californian”￾ could have pushed through the ice to the open water without any serious risk and so have come to the assistance of the “Titanic.”￾ Had she done so she might have saved many if not all of the lives that were lost.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>But political expedience has much weight. From the Wreck Commission report:<<

Yes it does. Especially when it can serve as a distraction from larger issues.

>>Had she done so she might have saved many if not all <<

And a slick piece of weasal wording it was. I'm sure you noticed the qualifyer I bolded in red, but that's not the sort of thing the public tends to pick up on. Kind of like the way practically unsinkable was perverted into "Unsinkable."
 
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patrick toms

Guest
erich marshall shoonmaker has posed a question about captain smith,if he had survived,it was reported that he had shot himself on the bridge by witnesses,and also other sightings,practically no one has ever been prosecuted for negligence causing death at sea,commonly called corporate crime,but it was sad for smith and his family.
patrick toms president shannon ulster titanic society