Inspector's notes called for more boats


Aug 2, 2007
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There has been a bit of a stir in the UK where some notes made by an official after inspecting Titanic have just come to light. The news accounts are not very useful but the Daily Mail offers very readable images of two critical pages from the notes at Titanic safety officer Maurice Clarke's warning that they needed '50% more lifeboats' were ignored as astonishing cover-up is revealed after 100 years | Mail Online.

The official was Capt. Maurice H. Clarke, a Board of Trade marine surveyor who was stationed in Southampton and was responsible for clearing Titanic for her voyage as an emigrant ship. At the Mersey hearings he carefully hewed to the BoT party line, but on pages 9 & 10 of his inspection notes (the ones reproduced in the Daily Mail's article) he made it clear that he thought the ship should have more boats and speculated about ways in which this could have been done.

But at the end, under a heading of "Exercising Powers" he wrote, "To deviate from Regulations which had been drawn up by the Advisory Committee of ship owners and approved by my department would leave me without support. I might be shifted as suggest [sic] to me by Owners if I enforced my views as to efficiency."

In other words, the fix was in and Clarke did not want to sacrifice his position in a futile gesture.
 
Mar 18, 2008
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Indeed very interesting stuff! Would be good to see all the pages.
However, I don't see how the White Star Line should be responsible for that and how they would have "influenced" Maurice Clarke. It was the failure of the BOT and not White Star Line.
Even with additional lifeboats not all would have been saved. In roughly 2 hours the crew was able to launch only 18 lifeboats most of them were even not half filled with people.
 
Aug 2, 2007
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Having been an officer in oceangoing steamships (although not liners) myself, I have a perspective on the question that may be a bit different from many. There's absolutely no question in my mind that with a bit of training and competent leadership and supervision it would have been possible to get everyone in boats in the time that was available, using the kinds of boats and gear that Titanic had. But the fact that you had too few boats discouraged any attempts to organize to use them. Imagine you're conducting a boat drill -- a real one, not the little show put on for the emigration officer. What are you going to do? Tell half the people aboard, "No, you won't be needed for this; the boats are for the others"? No, I don't think so.

Thus when the time came, no one was trained or prepared. Poor Smith just wandered between the wireless shack and the bridge like a lost soul. The officers supervising the evolution had no idea what they were doing, didn't even know that the boats and gear were plenty strong enough to permit lowering with full boats. The hands were just a motley bunch with no training, not a team at all. No one knew what was going on, didn't even know how serious it all was until the water was practically lapping at their feet. When I was at sea we used to have a very politically incorrect term for such evolutions.

But if there had been enough boats there would have been more incentive to actually exercise at filling and lowering them, to get good at it. Smith was a competent seaman and given the resources I would bet he would have done the smart thing.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>There's absolutely no question in my mind that with a bit of training and competent leadership and supervision it would have been possible to get everyone in boats in the time that was available, using the kinds of boats and gear that Titanic had.<<

They would have also needed more trained seamen (I was surprised to find out that some of the people in Titanic's Deck Department weren't even ordinary seamen much less AB's) or have people in the engineering or hotel staff trained such as what's required today.

I remain skeptical that they could have saved everybody, but with adaquate boats and trained people to handle them, there would have been no reason to be selective or to play it cool. (That and hope that nobody noticed that at least half the people aboard were going to die!)

I've handled Welin style davits. While they were no sweet picnic, to work with, they were a vast improvement on what had been in use before.
 
Mar 18, 2008
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Imagine you're conducting a boat drill -- a real one, not the little show put on for the emigration officer.
Many of them were well trained and know what to do. On each ship there was more than the usually boat drill done by the BOT. Especially crew members coming from the Olympic had experience in a drill and how to handle a welin davit.



Poor Smith just wandered between the wireless shack and the bridge like a lost soul.
Actually, Smith was not "a lost soul". He was actually very active during the loading and lowering of the lifeboats.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Call me suspicious of this whole thing for reasons I expressed on Titanic-Titanic yesterday. There was nothing unusual about the boat fit which the Titanic carried save that they exceeded the requirements of the day by a considerable margin. None of the crack express mail boats had lifeboats for all, and none of them had any issues with gaining any sort of clearance either. This includes Olympic, Mauritania, Lusitania, and all their german, French, and American competitors.

I hope somebody is closely scritinizing these documents for authenticity.

If they turn out to be authentic, then one would have to wonder why Clarke would suddenly become obsessive about the Titanic's fit and no others. (And if he was concerned, where are the documents to prove it?)
 

Scott Mills

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Jul 10, 2008
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Indeed very interesting stuff! Would be good to see all the pages.
However, I don't see how the White Star Line should be responsible for that and how they would have "influenced" Maurice Clarke. It was the failure of the BOT and not White Star Line.
Even with additional lifeboats not all would have been saved. In roughly 2 hours the crew was able to launch only 18 lifeboats most of them were even not half filled with people.
Given that at the moment of her foundering, not all of the available boats were launched, I tend to subscribe to the theory that you will still would have had a catastrophic loss of life near the level of what really occurred even if you had lifeboat capacity over the total passenger load.
 

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