News from 1889-1890 Inquiry into Coptic's grounding at Rio


Mark Baber

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MAB note: Unstated in this report is that the commander of Coptic at the
time of the incident described here was a Capt. Burton, about whom I know
nothing other than his name.

West Coast Times, Holitika, New Zealand, 20 February 1890
Retrieved from the National Library of New Zealand web site


THE COPTIC'S MISHAP

An inquest into the cause of the stranding of the Coptic on Mai Island,
Brazil, on October 12, was held before Mr Marsham, the Greenwich magistrate,
with Captains Parfitt and Baker, nautical assessors.

The Coptic left Wellington on September 19 for London via Rio Janeiro and
Teneriffe, with 35 passengers and about 4000 tons of cargo, including 33,000
carcases of frozen mutton. She arrived at Rio on October 11, and having
coaled, proceeded on the voyage about midnight. The captain remained on the
bridge in charge of the ship until shortly after 1 a.m. on the 12th, when he
went below to the chart room, leaving the chief and other officers on the
bridge. A few seconds later land was suddenly seen ahead, and although the
engines were immediately put full speed astern the vessel struck on what
proved to be the south-west end of Mai Island. She afterwards slid back off
the rocks into deep water, and an attempt was made to continue the voyage
but by 10 a.m. she had 24ft of water in her fore compartment and it was then
determined to put back to Rio where she arrived the same evening.

The evidence was extremely contradictory in important particulars,
especially as to the courses steered after the vessel left Rio Harbor. The
testimony of the captain also differed from that of some of the officers as
to the deviation of the compass, the contention of the master being that the
error on the course steered was westerly, while the fourth officer said it
was easterly, and this latter view was endorsed by at least one of the other
officers.

Mr Marsham, in announcing the judgment of the Court said that the compasses
carried by the Coptic were sufficient for the safe navigation of the ship;
they had been adjusted by Messrs Lilly and Son, London, 1886, and
considering that they were tested by observation at fitting opportunities,
there was no reason to suppose that they were out of order. The right
courses were steered until about twenty minutes before the accident; the
master caused the course to be altered too soon for the purpose of passing
between Pai and Mai Islands, land was reported on the starboard bow by the
look-out before the master and the chief officer took notice of the fact.
The Court was of opinion that the master and the chief officer did not hear
or pay attention to two beats on the gong seven minutes before land ahead
was again reported. The chief officer, however, had caused the engines to be
stopped and reversed as soon as the second report of land was made by the
look-out. The look-out kept was efficient; but the Court considered that the
rate of speed at which the vessel was going was too great, considering the
state of the weather at the time. The stranding was caused, in the opinion
of the Court, by the master pulling up to E.S.E. too soon, and this might
have been caused through a miscalculation of the speed at which the vessel
had been going before the course was altered. The vessel was not, in their
opinion, navigated with proper and seamanlike care. The Court was asked to
say whether the master or either of the officers was to blame for the
occurrence, and the conclusion they arrived at was that the master was alone
in default. The Court therefore suspended his certificate for six months,
but, in the meantime, a mate's certificate would be granted to him if
applied for.

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