News from 1907: Suevic's Grounding


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Mark Baber

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The Times, 25 April 1907

THE WRECK OF THE SUEVIC
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INQUIRY CONCLUDED

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The Board of Trade inquiry into the wreck of the Suevic on the coast of
Cornwall on March 17 was continued in Liverpool on Monday and Tuesday and
concluded yesterday before Mr. Stewart, the stipendiary magistrate, and
assessors.

Captain Jones, the master of the Suevic, continued his evidence on Monday
and stated that the course he set at noon on the day of the wreck was right
as far as direction went, and there was no question as to the accuracy of
his compasses. He expected to get into the radius of the Lizard light at
9 27 p.m., and at 10 p.m., according to the log of the vessel, he was five
miles within the radius, and he then calculated that he was 16 miles from
the Lizard. Although he had not seen the light, he did not think the vessel
was steaming too fast. He saw the loom of the light at 10 15 p.m. low down,
and it appeared to agree with his calculations. Under the weather conditions
which prevailed he expected to see the light ten miles off. When he did see
the light he steered towards it to get his correct bearing for Eddystone.
The light suddenly appeared high up, and the witness then saw that the
vessel was closer to the Lizard than he anticipated. Had he not seen the
light his lead was ready for use, but seeing the loom at 10 15 he did not
use it, although he would have done a minute later. The steamer struck at
10 27. They heard the foghorn afterwards.

The fourth officer and the engineers also gave evidence.

On Tuesday the testimony of the seamen on watch on the night of the wreck
was given. It was to the effect that during the night there was a high fog,
thick up above and thinner down below. None of them saw the Lizard light,
although one of them saw the loom of a light on the water before the vessel
struck. Conflicting statements were made as to fog signals. One witness
stated that he never heard any such signals until three or four minutes
after the vessel stranded; another seaman stated that he heard and
reported a foghorn two minutes before the mishap; while a third man said
he heard the signal three or four times before the wreck, but never
reported it because he had had no instructions to report such signals, and
every one on watch was supposed to hear a fog signal.

Captain Murray, marine superintendent of the White Star Line, stated that
on Easter Sunday night, when he was engaged on the salvage of the
Suevic, the Lizard light was obscured by fog, whereas the lights in a farm
house at about the same distance and level could be seen. This was
corroborated by John McLellan, Liverpool underwriters' surveyor, who was
present at the salvage operations. He attributed it to the fact that
electric light did not show through the fog like an oil lamp, which he
considered was more penetrating.

Mr. Stewart said he thought the Court would be justified in calling the
attention of the Board of Trade to the fact that some doubt had been
expressed by competent witnesses as to whether the penetrating power of
the electric light at the Lizard was as useful to navigation in a fog as
oil lamps, and that it might become an additional danger unless navigators
were thoroughly aware of it.

Mr. Sanderson, manager of the White Star Line, said that the master of the
Suevic had had the reputation in the company for many years of being a
thoroughly good shipmaster and an exceptionally careful navigator, and
counsel for Captain Jones urged that if there was a mistake it was a pure
error of judgment, and not a wrongful act or default on the captain's part.

Yesterday, in answer to the questions put in by the Board of Trade, Mr.
Stewart stated that the findings of the Court were:-

(1) Proper measures were taken to ascertain and verify the position of the
vessel at noon on March 17 last. The exact position was ascertained by
observations of the sun, which gave lat. 47° 57' 24" N., long. 6° 52' 15" W.
A safe and proper course was set and steered from this position to make the
Lizard light, but no allowance was made for tide or currents. (2)(a) Having
regard to the state of the weather, the vessel was navigated at too great a
rate of speed after 10 p.m. of March 17 ; (b) the lead was not used, and it
should have been used, at 10 p.m., when the master knew that he was well
within the range of the Lizard light but could not see it; (c) the vessel
was kept too long running on a course direct for the land at full speed
after 10 p.m., as the Lizard light had not then been seen nor the lead used.
(3) The master vas not justified in relying entirely upon the patent log to
show the actual distance run over the ground without making any allowance
for the influence of the tide. (4) The fog signal at the Lizard lighthouse
was sounding between 9 50 p.m. and midnight of March 17 last, two blasts
every two minutes, and it was heard by the lockout men (Anderson and Murphy)
in the crow's nest on board the vessel, after the light had been seen and
before she struck, and by the master and second mate at the time the order
was given to port. (5) The Lizard light was first seen at 10 15 pm. No
measures were then taken for the safety of the ship, as it was assumed that
she was ten or 12 miles distant from the light, and so the course and full
speed were continued towards it for 12 minutes longer, when she struck. (6)
A good and proper lockout appears to have been kept, but not sufficient
consideration allowed for the state of the weather when the light was first
seen. (7) The stranding of the vessel was caused by continuing a direct
course towards the land at full speed in thick hazy weather, when the Lizard
could not be seen its full range, and without making any allowance for tide
or current, and, when the light was seen, continuing the course and speed
towards it without taking proper precautions to verify the position of the
vessel by the lead and the distance run. (8) The vessel was not navigated
with proper and seamanlike care after 10 p.m. on March 17 last. The
weather was dark and hazy, with drizzling showers of rain. The Lizard light
had not been seen, and it was necessary to use great caution in approaching
the land on the course the vessel was steering. (9) The stranding of and
the material damage to the steamship Suevic were caused by the default of
the master, with whose certificate the Court is consequently called upon
to deal.

The Court, in giving full consideration to the previous record of the
master, his conduct after the casualty, and the way in which he gave his
evidence, suspends his certificate for a period of only three months.

Mr. Stewart.-The judgment of the Court, therefore, is "that the stranding
of and material damage to the said vessel were due to the default of the
master, Mr. Thomas Johnson Jones, whose certificate, No. 02628, the Court
suspends for a period of three months from the date hereof."

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