News from 1887: CENSURING BOTH CAPTAINS


Mark Baber

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On 19 May 1887, Britannic I was struck amidships by Celtic I in heavy fog about 350 miles off Sandy Hook, killing four of Britannic's steerage passengers. Both ships returned to New York, where an inquiry was conducted. Its findings were released on this date in 1887 and this article appeared the next day.

The New-York Times, 10 June 1887

CENSURING BOTH CAPTAINS
---
THE BLAME FOR THE BRITANNIC-CELTIC COLLISION
---
The finding and order of the Naval Court held at the British Consulate,
to investigate the circumstances of the collision between the White Star
steamships Britannic and Celtic, May 19, was read yesterday morning.
Capt. Hamilton Perry, of the Britannic, was "very severely censured,"
and Capt. Peter John Irving, of the Celtic, was "severely censured."
Second Officer James Burnett MacKenzie, of the Britannic, was also
censured.

The court summed up the evidence at some length, and reaches the
following conclusions:

"The weather before the collision had been such as should have induced
the masters of the Britannic and Celtic, as a matter of precaution, to
moderate their speed according to regulations, until more favorable
conditions prevailed. In neither case was this done. Both steamers
were running at an excessive speed under the circumstances. A speed of
about 15 1/2 knots an hour in the case of the Britannic and 13 1/2 in
the case of the Celtic was not a moderate speed in the conditions of the
weather at the time the vessels were nearing each other, and the court
finds that neither the master of the Britannic nor the master of the
Celtic observed the above mentioned regulations. Article 18 of the
regulations provides that 'every steamship, when approaching another
ship so as to involve risk of collision, shall slacken her speed or stop
and reverse if necessary.' The court finds that the master of the
Celtic did observe this regulation when he first heard the whistle of
the Britannic, and that he immediately gave orders to slow the engines,
and the Celtic was run at a gradually reduced speed until the Britannic
was sighted. The court finds that the master of the Britannic did not
comply with this regulation, inasmuch as on hearing the Celtic's whistle
he gave no order to reduce the Britannic's speed, but only to the
engineer to 'stand by,' the Britannic maintaining her speed of 15 1/2
knots an hour until the Celtic was sighted. The court is of the
opinion, considering the distance the steamers were apart from each
other when their whistles were first heard, that if this regulation had
been complied with by the master of the Britannic, the possibility of
the collision would have been considerably lessened, and probably the
collision might have been averted altogether.

"Article 12 of the same regulation states that a steamship should be
furnished with a steam whistle or other efficient steam sound signal, so
placed that the sound may not be intercepted by any obstruction, and
with an efficient foghorn to be sounded by a bellows or other mechanical
means, and also with an efficient bell. A sailing ship shall be
provided with a similar foghorn and bell. In fog, mist, or falling
snow, whether by day or night, the signals described in the article
shall be used as follows, viz.: 'A steamship under way shall make with
her steam whistle or other steam sound signal, at intervals of not more
than two minutes, a prolonged blast.' The court finds that the
regulation was complied with by the master of the Celtic, but not by the
master of the Britannic, inasmuch as it was not until the Celtic's fog
whistle had been heard that the one-minute blasts of the Britannic were
sounded. The court is also of the opinion that the master of the
Britannic was to blame for not giving distinctive whistles to the other
vessel to moderate her course, as was done by the master of the Celtic
on hearing the Britannic's whistle a second time. The court is aware
that under the regulations it was optional for him to do so, but it
considers that such distinctive signals should have been given by him."

In censuring the two masters the court stated that it had taken into
consideration the previous long service and excellent record of both,
but it thought at the same time that the long and practical experience
of both ought to have made them more prudent and careful in taking
needful precaution. It was due to Capt. Perry to record that, in the
opinion of the court, "in ordering full speed on the Britannic after
having sighted the Celtic, he exercised the best judgment, which
probably averted a much more serious disaster to his own vessel and to
the Celtic." In censuring Office MacKenzie the court stated that he
"was to blame for having left the bridge to the fourth officer during
hazy weather, and that he committed an error in judgment, after hearing
the Celtic's double whistle, in porting his helm and not slowing his
ship down." The court in conclusion thought that the signals of
steamships at the present time were not sufficiently distinctive, and
that there should be a separate shrill whistle on the bridge under the
control of the officer in charge to indicate to any approaching vessel
the way he is putting his helm.

The finding was signed by acting Consul-General W. R. Hoare, Capt.
William McMickan, of the Umbria; Capt. F. Archer, of the Tower Hill, and
Capt. J. B. Purvis, of the Metropoedia.

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groups.yahoo. com/group/OceanicSte amNavigationCo/files /Perry

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Mark Baber

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The New York Times, 12 August 1888

SUCCEEDS ONE OF HIS CENSORS
---
Capt. Hamilton Perry, who arrived yesterday in command of the steamship
Tower Hill of the Twin Screw Line, from London, was in charge of the White
Star steamship Britannic at the time of her unfortunate collision with the
Celtic in the Spring of 1887. Capt. Perry was censured by the court of
inquiry and left the service of the White Star Line. He succeeds Capt.
Archer, who recently died, in the command of the Tower Hill. Capt. Archer
was a member of the court of inquiry which investigated the Britannic-Celtic
collision and censured Capt. Perry.

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