News from 1908: Tropic II collides with Wyoming


Mark Baber

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The Times, 17 June 1909

PROBATE, DIVORCE, AND ADMIRALTY DIVISION
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(Before Mr. JUSTICE BARGRAVE DEANE, sting with two of the Elder Brethren of
the Trinity House)
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THE TROPIC
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Collision with a White Star Liner
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This action was brought by the Argonaut Steam Navigation Company (Limited),
owners of the steamship Wyoming, against the Oceanic Steam Navigation
Company (Limited), owners of the steamship Tropic, to recover the amount of
the damage alleged to have been sustained by reason of a collision between
the two vessels in the Irish Channel on the night of December 12 last.

According to the statement of claim, the Wyoming, a steel screw steamship of
598 gross tons register, manned by a crew of 13 hands, was in the vicinity
of the Skerries bound from Liverpool to Plymouth with a cargo of wheat. The
weather was overcast with rain, the wind about S.W., a strong breeze, and
the tide flood. The Wyoming, steering S.W. magnetic, was making about 7
knots through the water. Her regulation masthead, side, and stern lights
were duly exhibited and burning brightly. In these circumstances, the
Tropic, whose two masthead lights had been first sighted on the port quarter
when the Wyoming was on a W.S.W. course before rounding the Skerries, and
whose green light had subsequently been visible, gradually overtook the
Wyoming, which vessel kept her course and speed, but instead of keeping
clear the Tropic came on, and with her starboard side in the way of the
bridge struck the port bow of the Wyoming a glancing blow, and then again
struck her further aft, causing her damage, and proceeded on without giving
her name in answer to hailing from the Wyoming, or offering any assistance.
Just before the actual contact, and when the collision was imminent, the
helm of the Wyoming was put hard-a-port in the hope of easing the blow.

The defendants admitted that they passed very close to the Wyoming, but they
did not admit that the Tropic came into collision with or damaged her. Their
case was that the Tropic, a twin-screw steamship of 8,230 gross tons
register, belonging to the White Star Line, whilst outward bound from
Liverpool to Australia manned with a crew of 62 hands, was being steadied on
to a course of S.58W. magnetic off the Skerries, and was making about 6 1/2
knots over the ground. In these circumstances, a white light on a vessel,
which proved to be the Wyoming, was reported from the crow's nest and seen
by those on the bridge from one to 1 1/2 mile distant and bearing about two
points on the starboard bow. The light was carefully watched, and the Tropic
kept her course and speed and overtook the Wyoming. When the Wyoming was
about abeam on the starboard side end a safe distance off, and was showing a
masthead but not a red light, she suddenly and rapidly altered her course to
port as if intending to put into Holyhead, which was about abeam on the port
side of the Tropic. An order was given to the helm of the Tropic, but before
it had any effect the Wyoming altered her course to starboard and the order
was countermanded by an order to steady. No one on board the Tropic saw or
felt any collision or heard any hailing from the Wyoming. The defendants
alleged that if in fact there was any collision it was caused by the
negligence of those on the Wyoming in falling to keep her course, and in not
carrying her lights, particularly the red light, as required by the
regulations.

Mr. Laing, K.C., and Mr. D. Stephens appeared for the plaintiffs; and Mr.
Aspinall, K.C., and Mr. C. R. Dunlop for the defendants.

JUDGMENT

MR. JUSTICE BARGRAVE DEANE, in giving judgment yesterday, said that the case
was of some peculiarity from the fact that the defendants by their pleadings
threw doubt, to put it no higher than that, on whether there was a collision
at all so far as the Tropic was concerned. The alleged collision took place
off Holyhead, and on approaching the Skerries the Tropic was keeping more to
the south than the smaller vessel, the Wyoming, which rounded the Skerries
first. The courses would then converge, and it was clear that the Tropic was
the overtaking vessel. He thought that the whole question was one of
look-out and not of lights, for naturally the Tropic could not see the red
light of the Wyoming on the courses. As regards this light, it had been
proved in evidence that it had been found defective, but it had been taken
out, trimmed, and was in position again at all material times. It was not
disputed that the Tropic saw the Wyoming's stern light for a considerable
time, bearing ahead, a little on the starboard bow, but no real notice was
taken.

The man in the crow's nest said that he reported the Wyoming's light a
second time, which looked as if the fourth officer, who had been deputed by
the chief officer to keep an eye on the vessel on the starboard bow (the
chief officer's attention being attracted to a light on the port bow), had
not carried out his duty. It was assumed that the red light ought to have
been seen, but he (the learned Judge) did not think that was so. If it had
not been for the vessel on the port bow attracting the chief officer's
attention, possibly more notice would have been taken. Nobody saw the vessel
except the steward when she was quite near. Now it was manifest that there
was a collision---the place and time agreed---and the particular ships,
although nobody on the big ship felt the shock. A remarkable fact, which
proved that a collision had taken place, was that the Wyoming was found
swinging round on her heel nearly at right angles to the Tropic, a fact
remarked on by the captain and the steward. The Wyoming had been caught on
her port bow and sent spinning. He was of opinion that the fault of this
collision was a defective look-out, especially on the part of the fourth
officer in not keeping an eye on this vessel. No blame attached to the Tropic
in not reporting the collision, for in the opinion of the Court those on
board neither saw nor felt it, but she was to blame for a defective
look-out. There would be judgment for the plaintiffs with costs.

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