News from 1899: Germanic Sinks in Her Dock at New York

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Mark Baber

The New York Times, 12 February 1899

Overdue Steamships Struggle In Heavily Sheathed in Ice
Craft Dragged About the Harbor by Tide-Impelled Ice Floes---Ship Unable
to Leave Port
Three large vessels, besides some minor craft, went ashore yesterday in
this vicinity, several came in from sea heavily encrusted with ice, and
others were dragged hither and thither about the harbor with the ice
floes, which moved with the ebb and flood of the tide. Sailing craft
which essayed the harbor found themselves in predicaments.

[Eight paragraphs, not relevant for present purposes, have been

The overdue White Star Line steamship Germanic came in yesterday also,
and she, too, was coated with ice. Hull, rail, boats, bridge, and
rigging, and far up the masts, all was ice. She looked like a visitor
from the arctic regions.

It was estimated that there were at least 500 tons of ice on her, and,
as she listed a good deal to starboard, the list was attributed to the
ice. The list, however, was really due to trim. As one went aboard the
outer gangways were seen to be surrounded with ice, and they looked like
the entrance to ice grottoes, while enormous icicles hung from the decks
above. The decks were filled with slush and seamen were busily at work
clearing away with pick and shovel.

The time of passage for the Germanic was 9 days 33 minutes. The vessel
suffered no damage, but the passengers had an exceedingly uncomfortable
voyage of it. Owing to the ice and the list to starboard, navigating the
vessel from the bridge was very hazardous, and the officers suffered
much from the cold.

[Another 8 irrelevant paragraphs have been omitted.]


Mark Baber

The New York Times, 14 February 1899

White Star Liner at Bottom of North River---Careened Under Her Armor of
The White Star Line steamship Germanic, lying at pier 45, North River,
shipped a quantity of water at 9:30 o'clock last night and settled to
the ground with what sailors call an eight degree list.

The Germanic came into port last Saturday heavy with ice, and when her
cargo was removed the ship was left topheavy. A large gang of men worked
all day yesterday coaling the ship. The men were at this task when the
accident occurred. The men say that most of the coal was on the port or
north side, making the ship list to that side.

The heavy wind and the roughness of the river, together with the
untrimmed cargo of coal and the weight of ice high above the centre of
gravity, made the ship very unstable and she rocked greatly.

A small hurricane struck the river at 9:30 o'clock causing the vessel to
roll away over to port, submerging the open coal holes, and permitting
her to ship a great quantity of water into her bunkers.

The tide was low and the vessel grounded. It was said that she is not
damaged, and will be all right as soon as the water is pumped out. This
will be accomplished before noon to-day.

An interesting article, MAB. It was a good thing this happened in port instead of out to sea. Ice can add a signifigent amount of topweight to a vessel. One has to wonder how many "Mysterious disappearances" happened over the centuries because of ice on the upper works.

Mark Baber

MAB Note: The following is excerpted from a longer article entitled
"BELATED LINERS LIMP IN," discussing generally the woes of various
liners in what was evidently a severe winter storm on the North

The New York Times, 15 February 1899


The arriving steamers found this port in most sorry plight; craft
everywhere clutched in the embrace of ice floes, and some of them making
unwilling trips with the drifting fields of ice. And as an outcome of
the ice, also, one big vessel, the Germanic, lay in her berth at the
White Star Line pier resting easy on an even keel on the mud. Her hold
was flooded and divers were at work closing the bunker ports, through
which the water that sank her on Monday night had flowed into her.


Mark Baber

One has to wonder how many "Mysterious disappearances" happened over the centuries because of ice on the upper works.

Indeed, MS. I've never really tracked such things, but it seems to me that most of the news articles I've come across over the years involving ships going missing or crews being rescued from ships about to go under involve the North Atlantic in winter. Ice no doubt played a role in more than a few such incidents, I would think.

Now to display my technical ignorance: Would ice have been a greater danger in terms of stability to large ships with high superstructures, such as Teutonic, than to smaller, lower ones, such as Oceanic I? My layman's understanding of such things tells me the answer should be "Yes," but I am willing to be corrected on this.
>>Would ice have been a greater danger in terms of stability to large ships with high superstructures, such as Teutonic, than to smaller, lower ones, such as Oceanic I? My layman's understanding of such things tells me the answer should be "Yes," but I am willing to be corrected on this.<<

I think it would depend on the ship's stability to begin with, and how it was effected by adding weight in either cargo or weapons. With merchent vessels, a lot of the weight tends to be concentrated low down in the hull itself because of the cargo, but things change if the ship is riding empty, with the consequent rise in the ship's centre of gravity. Large superstructueres in my opinion, would change things very much for the worse since there would be a lot more surface area for ice to cling to, all of which would put all that extra weight exactly where you don't want it if you enjoy breathing. (But if you like being dead, bring it on!)

In recent times, merchent vessels appear to me at least to have been at far less risk then military vessels in wartime. Notably in the Second World War when weapons fits were added to...often response to wartime realities. Any launchers and guns would be added topside and there aren't a lot of places down below where you can store additional weapons like depth charges. It turned into a game of tradeoffs because at some point, the only way anything could be added was to remove systems like torpedo tubes.

Destroyers for example, particularly those in conoy escort, had their anti-submarine armament added to, either in launchers (Such as depth charge racks or K-guns) and an increased loadout in ammunition. The result was that additional topweight was added and for some classes of ships, this became a serious problem. Especially if they were involved in the brutal Murmansk run. If the ships started accumulating ice, the crew had two choices: Chip it off manually, or accrue so much topweight that they would roll over. With little margin for growth in terms of weight, and often exceedingly overweight, they would have to act fast or end up swimming in freezing water.

As a little tangent, the non-existant margin for growth is the reason why a lot of fairly new ships were decommissioned post war and never again brought back into service. Already seriously overweight and with no margin for growth, they were of little real use.

Mark Baber

The New York Times, 16 February 1899

An Open Porthole Discovered Which Allows the Water to Pour In
The tides rose and fell throughout the interior of the Germanic
yesterday, but the boat is still deeper in the mud at the stern. At high
tide the water rose above the main deck, and reached the level of the
promenade deck. The wreckers worked all night at the pumps, but
yesterday morning it was discovered that the porthole amidships, on the
starboard side, was open, and consequently the water kept pouring in as
fast as it was pumped out. How this porthole came to be open no one
seems to know. Mr. Lee, the agent, said he had understood that the
portholes in both sides of the ship had been closed, and that the bolts
of the starboard porthole had some how become loosened.

All the persons that had engaged passage on the Germanic for the outward
passage have had their money returned to them, and the Cymric will be
run in the place of the sunken steamer.

The investigation into the accident to the Germanic, it is said, will be
made at the offices of the White Star Company in Liverpool when Capt.
McKinstry and his crew reach the other side.


Mark Baber

The New York Times, 17 February 1899

Porthole Has Been Closed, Though, and Pumping Will Soon Begin
The condition of the White Star Line steamship Germanic, which sank at
her pier on Monday night, has become steadily worse since that time. It
was said yesterday that the vessel had settled at least thirteen feet
since she sank. The water yesterday at high tide was flush with her hawse
holes and she was awash aft.

Manager Lee said that the divers had succeeded in closing the open
porthole on the starboard side. The wreckers got to work yesterday
building coffer dams around the hatchways. This was an undertaking that
would not have been necessary had not the water reached her decks, and
this probably would not have occurred had she not continued to take in
water through the open porthole on the starboard side, which was not
known to be open till Wednesday, thus preventing the pumping of her out
after the bunker ports on the port side had been closed. It was expected
that the coffer dams would be in place during the night and the work of
pumping out begun today. Eight pumps have been set up, capable of
pumping, between them, 120 tons of water a minute.

The interior fittings of the steamer have, of course, been ruined, and
the work of refitting will be costly and take a long time. The
passengers booked to sail on the Germanic last Wednesday will be
transferred to the Cymric, which arrived yesterday and will sail next

The company's steamer Teutonic, which was due Wednesday, had not been
reported up to a late hour last night, but, allowing for delay by storm,
it is expected that she will arrive this morning.


Mark Baber

The New York Times, 18 February 1899

The Liner Sank Two Feet Yesterday---Pumping May Begin To-Day
The White Star Line steamship Germanic settled two feet deeper yesterday
into the mud at the bottom of her dock. The water was up to within two
feet of the bridge deck. The saloon deck is entirely submerged. She has
a slight list to starboard. All of the side ports had been closed, and
the wrecking company's men were still at work building a coffer dam over
the after-hatchway, which had been open. Two divers were also working
forward on a very tedious job. On each side forward there are eighteeen
[sic] ventilators connecting with staterooms below by means of syphon
pipes. The tops of the ventilators are beneath the water. It was not
deemed feasible to stop up these ventilators at the tops, and the divers
are therefore plugging up the pipes within the staterooms. It was
believed that this work would be completed by to-day, and if it is the
pumps will be set to work To lessen weight all of the boats were removed
yesterday. A rotary pump was put in position, which will pump from the
engine room. It has a twelve-inch outlet pipe.

Manager Lee said that the report that the Germanic would probably not be
restored for passenger-carrying business, but would probably be fitted
simply as a cargo ship, was ridiculous. He believed that she could be
made ready to take her place on the line in ten days after she is
floated. Mr. Lee said that he could make no estimate yet of the
damage. Some of the Germanic's inbound cargo was in her when she sank
and some outbound cargo had been stowed. Of coal and cargo she has
aboard about 1,000 tons.


Mark Baber

The New York Times, 19 February 1899

She Is Still Stuck in the Mud and Cannot Be Moved
No progress was made yesterday toward raising the White Star Line
steamship Germanic. She now lies in her dock almost completely
submerged. The only portion of her hull visible at high tide yesterday
was the forward turtle back. She had, in fact, settled several inches
since the preceding day.

The eight powerful pumps were set to work yesterday morning, but,
although all openings into the hull had been closed by the divers---that
is, so far as they we known to be open---the vessel did not rise an

It is now said that she has settled eighteen feet since the wreckers
began work on her, and, as all the settling is in the mud, the raising
of her presents a constantly more difficult problem because of the
suction that must be overcome. What the prospects are the officials do
not attempt to say. It is admitted, however, that some anxiety is now
felt about her.


Mark Baber

The New York Times, 20 February 1899

Capt. Kivlin Will Start His Pumps and Expects Quick Results
The White Star Line steamship Germanic remained sunk at her dock
yesterday and appeared somewhat deeper in the mud than she had been. At
high tide in the afternoon she lay with her promenade deck a foot under
water on the starboard side and awash on the port side. Of the hull
proper the only portion above water was the forward turtle-back.
The bridge was several feet above water, as was the top of the promenade
deck deckhouse. Thousands of persons watched the work of the wreckers,
and cameras were constantly in evidence. The sunken steamer was for the
day one of the sights of the city. It was difficult at times to get near
the bulkhead because of the Sunday crowd gathered there, and Christopher
Street was alive with persons going to and from the water front

The wreckers believe that they have now closed every vent, and they are
at work finishing the coffer dam around the after hatch. Bulkheads have
been constructed across the wells at the three hatches forward, and all
the pipes and pumping machinery have been installed. Capt. Kivlin, who
is in charge of the work for the wrecking company, said yesterday that
he expected to be in readiness to start all the pumps going Tuesday
morning, When asked if there was any question of eventually raising
vessel, the Captain said that there was no question at all as to that,
but he admitted that he could not say just when the work was likely to
be completed. He hoped and expected that she would come up with
Tuesday's attempt and in short order.


Mark Baber

MAB Note: As this article anticipated, litigation did, in fact, ensue
over the damaged cargo, and eventually reached the Supreme Court of the
United States, which affirmed lower court findings that the sinking
resulted from hurried and imprudent loading, and not "from faults or
errors in navigation or in the management" of a ship, which would have
immunized White Star under a federal law known as the Harter Act. The
, 196 U.S. 589, 25 S.Ct. 317, 49 L.Ed. 610 (1905).

The New York Times, 21 February 1899

The Germanic Still in the Mud
There was nothing new in the situation of the sunken White Star Line
steamer Germanic yesterday. Additional pumps have been installed, and
when pumping commences to-day there will be fourteen pumps engaged. A
dock builder said yesterday that the bottom of the North River where the
Germanic lies consists of a strata of mud fifteen feet thick, and
beneath this there is a silt of uncertain depth. If the steamer sinks
below the mud she will go out of sight. It was said yesterday that a
board of British experts will investigate the sinking of the Germanic,
and also that litigation will grow out of the Germanic case in
connection with insurance adjustment, on the assumption that the sinking
of the vessel was due to carelessness.


Mark Baber

The New York Times, 22 February 1899

The Bow Has Been Brought Up 12 Feet---Pumps Are Now in Working Order
That the White Star Line steamship Germanic is to be saved despite fears
to the contrary was proved yesterday, when after two hours of pumping
the big hull forward began to show buoyancy. The raising of the Germanic
is the biggest job of the kind that the wreckers of this port have ever

The Merritt & Chapman Derrick and Wrecking Company and the Baxter
Wrecking Company have been engaged for days in closing up all vents
below, and yesterday found them in readiness to begin the pumping under
favorable conditions of tide and weather. The two attempts made last
week proved that pumps capable of raising at least 60,000 gallons of
water a minute were necessary to free the steamer between low and high

By yesterday eighteen pumps had been installed. Two of them were
situated on the forward turtle back and a third on the deckhouse near
the mizzenmast. The others were on various wrecking craft The Hustler
had four pumps, the Ellen three, the Dunderberg two, and the Fuller,
Sheppard, Louise, and Cornell one pump each. Eight divers
yesterday morning went below the main deck, which was submerged seven
feet, and after careful examination inside and out reported that so far
as they could determine every opening had been closed.

At 10:35 A. M. the pumps were started. There were three suctions in each
of the cofferdams over holds Nos. 3 and 4, respectively, which are aft,
and a like number in holds Nos. 1 and 2. The remaining suction pipes
were placed in the amidships section, where are the main saloon, engine
and fire rooms, and the coal bunkers. The bow began to rise, and after
two hours, when nearly 5,000,000 gallons of water had been pumped out of
her, she had lifted forward about twelve feet, placing her bow at its
ordinary drought. [sic] She was still, however, deeply submerged aft,
and was about awash admidships. A great crowd stood at the bulkhead and
cheered lustily as.the bow rose and displayed the steamers name.

There still appeared to be something wrong aft, however, and after seven
hours' pumping the stern remained below the surface. With the rising
tide the water overflowed the cofferdam around the afterhatch, and it
became necessary to increase its height. In hold No. 4 the water was
lessened somewhat, and three pumps were kept going there to take up
any in-flow. Additional pumps were being rigged near the stern last
night, and it was expected that the work of the divers would be rewarded
to-day with the successful floating of the vessel.


Mark Baber

The New York Times, 23 February 1899

The Germanic's Position Unchanged
But little progress was apparent yesterday in the work of raising the
White Star liner Germanic, which lies sunk at her pier in the North
River. The twenty-foot mark on the bow of the steamship was on a line
with the surface of the river, but her after turtle back was fully ten
feet below water. The pumping out of the forward compartments of the
vessel has apparently forced the stern deeper in the muddy bottom. The
officers in charge of the work were unable yesterday to state how long
it would require to float the Germanic, and practically intimated that
they had little hopes of raising her by the methods thus far devised.

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