In my opinion Noel has distorted the evidence to say that, "the only equitable conclusion would be that at the material time neither vessel was in sight of the other." The evidence supports that by the definition of the Rules of the Road both vessels were "in sight," but one did not choose to perceive the other. The true situation taken from sworn testimony is exactly the opposite situation to Noel's conclusion.
There is sworn testimony from Californian that another ship performing the evolutions of a sinking Titanic was visible that night.
The evidence from Titanic is that another ship was finally observed only when the sinking liner's bow turned toward that other vessel. This fits nicely into the normal operation of a ship as well as the "seeing conditions" (influenced by a deck lights) from a passenger liner where the bow is kept dark just for lookout ahead.
From the testimonies, we have a situation where ship A saw another vessel performing the actions of ship B. However, ship B did not see anything until sometime later when ship B was oriented so as to provide best view of ship A from the bridge of ship B.
"Causa proxima non remota spectatur."
The simplest explanation of the testimonies taken at face value is that the two ships were "in sight," but that ship B initially chose not to perceive ship A. Not seeing ship A was a seamanship decision by the crew of ship B for which they might have been held accountable under the Rules. However, failure to perceive another vessel does not mean the vesses were "not in sight" under the Rules of the Road.
There are many human errors and omissions in the memories entered into official testimony. This is compounded by deliberate distortions introduced both by the witness and the subjective questioning of the interrogators. The purpose of a legal proceding is seldom to discover the absolute truth, but rather to prove one point of view is superior to another. Facts are seldom important in courts or governmental hearings, the matter at hand is opinion--convincing either a jury in a legal proceding or the public at large in a governmental inquiry of a predetermined and politically expedient point of view.
In reading the testimonies it is critical to understand that many of the witnesses had much to fear. Lord knew he was being made a scapegoat. Californian's officers knew they could be held accountable for failing to properly notify their captain of a ship in distress. Fleet and Lee had to explain why the ship failed to dodge a lone iceberg which they apparently reported too late. White Star had to minimize any appearance of negligence on the part of Titanic and Captain Smith. Ismay had to dodge the issue of "privity and knowledge" of the management of the voyage. Senator Smith was a populist whose political aspirations could best be served by tweeking the nose of J.P. Morgan. Lord Mersey carefully turned his investigation away from every serious issue except the lack of lifeboats.
Most of the questions of fact we have surrounding the whole Titanic affair would have been answered if historians, not Senators and lawyers, had been asking the questions. And, of course, if the witnesses had been free to talk without fear of financial or political ruin. Unfortunately, we don't have such a "pure" record of events. What we have is highly distorted by legal, political, and economic pressures. And, the testimonies must be read with this in mind.
But, to discard the testimonies out of hand because they are not always mutually supportive is to destroy any possibility of gaining insight into what did take place. Californian apparently saw Titanic. The reverse is questionable. Titanic may or may not have seen Californian. That much is supported in the testimonies. To gain a better picture of what happened it is necessary to examine the "other ship" descriptions from both Titanic and Californian against events on the two ships and even on surrounding ships. Corroborations will appear for some of the testimony, while other testimony will be revealed as faulty.
This winnowing process will not reveal "The Truth." Rather, it produces nothing more than an ordering of probablities. Some events have a high probability of having taken place. Others will have such low probablility as to be ruled out as a working hypothesis. However even the testimony in this latter case cannot be discarded. It still must be explained within the context of the larger, more probable picture.
Unlike a court, we are not here to judge history but to reveal it.
-- David G. Brown