ANOTHER very terrible wreck of an iron steamship has been reported and a loss of human lives has been the consequence, which must cause a shudder to the intending passengers to Europe this season. The unfortunate ship was the "Vicksburg" of the Dominion Line, bound from Liverpool to Quebec, and the loss was occasioned by a collision with an iceberg near Newfoundland.
Ice is a constant danger, which there is no means of avoiding during three months of the year, and ships bound to Canadian ports run perilous risks at this season. Seven of the crew of the "Vicksburg" were picked up in a nearly exhausted condition by a steamer bound to New York, and since two other boats have been picked up, containing more of the crew and only three of the passengers. The captain remained at his post and sank with his ship and his officers are reported to have behaved well.
The men who were saved and brought to this port do not give a very clear account of their escape; but it seems that when it was discovered that the steamer must sink they rushed for a boat and got off, leaving their companions to their fate. They have been severely censured for their conduct, and it has been said that they should have remained and aided In saving the passengers first. But why? Drowning men catch at straws and the instinct of self-preservation is as strong in a common sailor or a fireman as in anybody else. It is the duty of the captain and the officers of a ship to look after the safety of the persons and property entrusted to their keeping; but the common sailor on board a ship is free from all responsibilities but the performance of his specific duties. He is net required to be heroic, nor to sacrifice his own life for the preservation of another person's life. A common danger puts all on hoard on a common level, and when the ship it going down each man must look out for himself.
It is the duty of the owner of a steamship to take all possible means for the protection of the lives of passengers; and it should be a stipulation in shipping crews that they must in time of danger look to the safety of passengers before securing their own lives. There would then be a solemn obligation upon the crews of ships which they do not now feel, and if they proved faithless they could be punished for a violation of contract, and they would be held in infamy for their cowardice in deserting those whom they had agreed to protect. In the case of the officers of ships such an agreement is implied, and a master or a mate who deserted his post would never again be able to gain employment.
The crews of steamships are hardy men, capable of enduring fatigue, they enjoy the advantage of knowing what the nature of the danger is that they encounter, they know how to lower the boats and bow to manage them, and they can work in the dark as well as in the light; but the passengers on a steamer are generally feeble folk, who are bewildered and helpless in a time of peril and usually debilitated by sea-sickness. They could not manage a boat if put into one, and are wholly at the mercy of the sailors, whose duty should be to protect them. In all the great disasters at sea the lives of helpless women and children have been ruthlessly sacrificed by the wild disorder of the strong men, who thought only of their own safety and who had no motives for acting differently.
Now what should be done by steamship managers, and the managers of all other passenger ships, is to make a distinct agreement with both officers and crew that whenever it becomes necessary to take to the boats that no one shall leave the ship until every passenger shall have been taken care of, When the "Schiller" struck on the rocks there was a rush to the boats by the crew of the ship, and the captain was unable to restrain them or force them to act like rational men. He fired his revolver among them, but without any effect. They had never been taught to act differently, they had no motives for heroic conduct, and they simply obeyed the common instinct of self-preservation, without a thought of their duty as men to the helpless beings in their charge. The captain and his subordinate officers feel their responsibility. They are educated to know that they must sacrifice their own lives, if necessary, in the endeavor to save, the lives of their passengers, and it is very seldom that one is derelict to his duty.
If the entire crews of our steamships are not as well-behaved as their commanders, it is not because they are of a different order of humanity, but because they have not been drilled in their duties properly nor made to understand their responsibilities. It is the habit of passengers on securing their berths or staterooms to look specially to the comforts and decorations of the cabins; but it would be more conducive to their safety if they would by some means discover what kind of moral treatment the crew of the ship had been subjected to and what their chances of escape would be in a time of danger.