British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry

Day 16

Testimony of Joseph B. Ismay, cont.

Examined by Mr. ROCHE.

18718. There are two or three topics I want to ask you about. You remember the "Baltic" telegram communicating the fact of the ice?
- Yes.

18719. And you remember you told us Captain Smith asked you to give it back to him and that you understood it was for the purpose of being put up in the Chart Room?
- That is right.

18720. I think a doubt arose in my Lord's mind, and in some of our minds why that was to be done, if nothing was to be done, if the speed was not to be slackened. I do not know whether this has occurred to you as an explanation that it was to inform the Officers what they were to keep a look-out for - namely, ice?
- Certainly.

18721. That is a possible explanation. We know, I think, from Mr. Lightoller, that those were the instructions he left when he went off watch - to keep a sharp look-out for ice. That leads me to another matter. I understood you to say that you thought at the time there was no occasion to slacken speed if ice could be seen at a sufficient distance, but I want you to distinguish, if you will, what you thought then and what might be thought now as the result of experience?
- So far as the speed of the ship is concerned, I would not think of interfering with the Captain. It is a matter for him.

18722. Of course, you would not interfere on the spot; but, of course, it is open for your company to give general instructions to your Commanders as to what they are to do under particular circumstances, including the vicinity of ice?
- Yes.

18723. That is the topic I want you to bring your mind to. Of course, it all depends, if you are going full speed, on the look-out?
- Yes.

18724. That is obvious; it all rests on the look-out. A great distinction arises between daylight and night with regard to look-out, does it not?
- I should think it would be easier to see things in the daylight than at night.

18725. Naturally, and particularly with regard to unlit objects, such as ice, your range of visibility at night must be comparatively small?
- I should say that is so.

18726. And it is obvious from Mr. Lightoller's evidence that if the sea be smooth one of the main elements of safety, the power of seeing waves or surge breaking upon ice, is lacking. Now I want you to tell me whether your Company has considered the advisability of giving instructions now, in the light of events which have happened, in regard to the navigation of your ships when ice is in the vicinity.

The Commissioner:
What has that to do with it?

18727. (Mr. Roche.) I have made the suggestion. It is obvious it is more for your Lordship than for the witness, but I wish to put the point. Have you considered that, or perhaps you have not had time?
- I have not.

18728. It is a matter which, perhaps, you will take into consideration. Now, one other matter. You know, I suppose, from your knowledge of the general conduct of the business of the Company, that there are boat station lists on every ship?
- Yes.

18729. And I daresay you know that the general scheme is that in a boat such as the "Titanic," which has 16 boats, two engineers are allotted to each boat?
- I could not tell you how the boats' crews are picked out.

18730. We have been told so?
- I could not tell you.

18731. You know, of course, that in this case of some 30 odd engineers not one was saved?
- Yes.

18732. That, of course, renders it obvious that no engineers went in the boats, and that we know. Now, assuming that there is an increase of boat capacity so that all may be saved, passengers and engineers alike, it is clearly proper that the engineers should have a fair chance of getting to their boats, the boats to which they are allocated?
- Yes.

18733. Have any general instructions been given at all by your Company that warning shall be given to those in the engine room enabling them to come up and get their places in the boats?
- Not that I know of.

18734. That also would be a matter which it would be desirable, in the light of events which have happened, to consider?
- Certainly.

Examined by Mr. HARBINSON.

18735. Is it a fact that there is a condition in the passenger contracts of the White Star Line that the Company shall not be liable for the careless or unskillful or negligent navigation of their servants or Officers?
- That I could not answer.

18736. You do not know that?
- No.

18737. If there was such a condition, would you consider that a reasonable condition?

The Attorney-General:

The Commissioner:
There must be some limit to this sort of examination. You will be enquiring into bills of lading next.

18738. (Mr. Harbinson.) My object in putting the question is that, if there is such a condition, and probably it may be proved before the Enquiry is finished that there is, that might have a bearing upon the sense of the responsibility of the Commanders of the vessels. (To the witness.) You ship, I think, a different crew for each voyage; do you sign on a different crew for each voyage that one of your ships make across the Atlantic?
- I suppose it hardly ever happens that the entire crew goes back in the same ship.

18739. They are signed on, as I understand - you will correct me if I am wrong - a few days before the vessel starts?
- As a Rule.

18740. Do not you think it would be a better system if you could have continuous crews who understand the vessel, and, of course, who understand their boat stations, and so on?
- Undoubtedly.

18741. Have you as yet given any consideration to the possibility of modifying the existing system and introducing the system I have suggested?
- I think that is a matter which entirely rests with the men themselves.

18742. Do you think if that modification were made, and as far as possible continuous service crews employed?
- What modification? I do not understand.

18743. That is the modification in favour of continuing the crews from voyage to voyage - longer service?
- But there is nothing to prevent crews, when they are paid off, signing on again. They are paid off and signed on at the same time.

The Commissioner:
Are you suggesting that all the crews should be compelled to remain on?

Mr. Harbinson:
Yes, My Lord, in this way: My suggestion is that if crews were retained on boats -

The Commissioner:
Supposing a man says he will not stay on, what are you going to do with him? He is landed at New York, and he says, "I am going to leave this ship." Do you suggest there should be some law or regulation to force him to come back to the ship?

Mr. Harbinson:
No, My Lord; my suggestion is not that, but my suggestion is that if the men were not paid off they probably would remain on; and a further reason I say is this that they would not be paid off probably if there was work for them to do. Such things as shore gangs I understand are employed, and my suggestion is instead of being paid off these men should be kept while the boat lies in the harbour as a shore gang.

The Commissioner:
But supposing they do not choose to remain, what is to happen then?

Mr. Harbinson:
As I understand, the option is not given them.

The Commissioner:
That may be, but I do not know what it is you want. If the men will not remain, is there to be some law to make them remain?

Mr. Harbinson:
No, I could not go so far, and under the existing law I understand it cannot be done.

The Commissioner:
No, I assure you it cannot be done. But are you suggesting such a law should be passed?

Mr. Harbinson:
No, but an inducement should be held out by the Company for them to remain, and so far as possible to continue in the service on the same boat. That would make for greater safety in the case of emergency, because the crews would understand the ship and also their stations in the boats, and be able to act with more dispatch.

The Commissioner:
Your suggestion is that the Company should take reasonable and practicable steps to secure the same crew for a considerable time to keep the same men employed on the vessel?

Mr. Harbinson:
As far as possible, My Lord; that is so.

The Commissioner:
That, of course, would be a good thing.

The Witness:
Yes, and a certain number of men are retained; a certain number are kept on board every ship during the time she is in port to do the ship's work, and they go on what is called port pay.

18744. That is something less?
- No, they get more, because we do not feed them on board the ship. But I do not think it would be feasible for a steamship company to keep the whole crew in port for three weeks and keep all those men on pay, because naturally the men want to go back to sea again; they would not wait to go back in the ship for three weeks.

Mr. Harbinson:
On the question of feasibility, I read a letter written by a very distinguished Admiral quite recently, and he said it was quite feasible that these shore gangs could be recruited from the men who were actually employed on the ships when those men would come ashore. Is that possible?
- And not have any regular shore gang?

18745. And not have any regular shore gang, but recruit them from the men who travel backwards and forwards, when these men, for a time, want to remain on shore?
- I am afraid it would be very difficult.

18746. Have you considered the suggestion?
- No, I have not.

18747. If I gave you the date of the letter in the "Times" from this Admiral of the fleet would you give it your consideration?
- Certainly.

18748. I gather from you, in answer to the Attorney-General, that you yourself gave the
instructions for the building of the "Titanic" and the "Olympic"?
- Yes.

18749. I think to Harland and Wolff?
- Yes.

18750. These ships constituted a departure as regards magnitude?
- They did.

18751. Did your company carefully consider this new departure?
- Certainly.

18752. And, of course, in considering them you considered the question of the flotability of these ships in cases of accident or emergency?
- We did.

18753. And also, of course, the accommodation that they would provide for an additional number of passengers?
- Yes.

18754. Did you give any special consideration to the question of providing additional lifeboat accommodation to cope with the additional number of passengers that you proposed to carry?
- I do not think any special attention was given to that.

18755. Would not that have been a consideration that should have specially engaged you?
- I think the position was taken up that the ship was looked upon as practically unsinkable; she was looked upon as being a lifeboat in herself.

18756. That is owing to the transverse bulkheads?
- No; to the bulkheads and the power of flotation she had in case of accident.

18757. I understand that you considered that either of these steamers would float with two adjacent watertight compartments full?
- Two of the largest compartments full.

18758. If that were so, and you considered those boats practically as lifeboats themselves and unsinkable, on that theory it was not necessary to carry any lifeboats at all?
- Yes, because we might have to use them to pick up a crew from another ship.

18759. It was practically for that purpose you carried lifeboats?
- Or landing, in the case of the ship going ashore.

18760. You did not consider having them for the purpose of saving the crew and passengers carried?
- No, I do not think so.

18761. (The Commissioner.) Supposing there was a fire on board, Might not you want lifeboats then?
- Yes, if the passengers had to leave the ship on account of fire you would need lifeboats.

18762. I think your suggestion that lifeboats were only required for the purpose of saving the crews of other vessels is -?
- Or, I said, of landing passengers in the case of the ship going ashore.

The Commissioner:
I do not think that is right.

18763. (Mr. Harbinson - To the witness.) Do you know if the builders; Messrs. Harland and Wolff - had you discussed the question with them?
- No.

18764. Do you know whether or not, they accepted the view which you have now expressed?
- No.

18765. Did you at that time consider the question when you were considering the construction of these boats, of launching lifeboats from a height, roughly speaking, of about 70 feet above the water?
- No.

18766. You did not consider that question in conjunction with the builders?
- No.

18767. Or the difficulties that might attend it?
- No.

18768. You know now, of course, that it has come out in the course of this Enquiry that, except under the conditions which prevailed at the time of the "Titanic" accident, it would have been a very difficult operation to launch those boats?
- In the case of a sea way?

18769. Yes?
- It would have been difficult if we had only to lower them thirty feet.

18770. Yes, in heavy weather. Have you given any consideration to this question of launching the boats generally from a height further down?
- We have not yet; we have hundreds of suggestions as to how we can lower boats.

18771. Instead of lowering them from davits seventy feet high?
- Yes, we have had hundreds of suggestions how it could be done.

18772. Whether it would be feasible to launch them in a heavy sea from another part of the boat?
- Yes; that we have not gone into. We have these plans.

18773. The collapsible boat that you left the ship in was launched from the davits on the starboard side that No. 1 boat was launched from.
- Was it No. 1?

18774. Yes, I think it was?
- I think it was No. 2.

The Attorney-General:
No. 1, on the starboard side.

18775. (Mr. Harbinson - To the witness.) Did you see No. 1 boat launched?
- I did not.

18776. Were you on the boat deck?
- Yes, practically the whole time. I did not see No. 1 go.

18777. At the time prior to your boat being launched, did you know whether or not messages had been sent round the ship to rouse all the passengers?
- I did not know it.

18778. And you did not know whether all the passengers had got off at the time you left the ship?
- No.

18779. You had a crew of five, I think, in the boat you left by?
- I thought there were four.

18780. Do you know, as a matter of fact, that the No. 1 boat had a crew of seven?
- I know nothing about No. 1 boat; I never saw it at any time.

The Attorney-General:
There were five in the collapsible.

18781. (Mr. Harbinson.) Thank you, Mr. Attorney. (To the witness.) And seven in No. 1?
- I do not know how many.

18782. You may take it from me that it has been given in evidence that there were?
- Yes, but I know nothing about it.

18783. It does not strike you as a curious coincidence that those two boats should have respectively crews of five and seven when some of the other boats had not so many?
- No.

18784. You told my Lord about this telegram that Captain Smith showed to you on the afternoon of Sunday, the 14th?
- Yes.

18785. As a matter of fact you had discussed this question of speed with Mr. Bell in Queenstown. Now, would I be stating what was accurate if I said you were more or less partly responsible for the speed the "Titanic" was making going across the Atlantic?
- I was not responsible for the speed of the ship in any degree.

The Commissioner:
That is not a question to put to him.

18786. (Mr. Harbinson.) I will put it to him in this way, if I may. (To the witness.) Did you say in America on the first day of the proceedings: "It was our intention, if we had fine weather on Monday afternoon or Tuesday, to drive the ship at full speed"? You say there, "It was our intention." You mean, I presume, it was the intention of yourself and the Captain?
- It was the intention to run the ship for about four hours at full speed.

18787. You say, "It was our intention." It was the intention?
- Yes.

18788. I suggest to you, you were one of those who were responsible for controlling the speed and generally directing it?
- No, I was not.

The Commissioner:
Oh, no; he was not responsible, and he had no business to interfere in such matters.

Mr. Harbinson:
Perhaps I would be more accurate if I put it in this way.

The Commissioner:
What I think you want to suggest is that he took upon himself to ask that it should be done. Apparently he did.

18789. (Mr. Harbinson.) It was his influence that was responsible for it, perhaps not actively for carrying it out, but he instigated it. (To the witness.) You used the word "our" there, you notice?
- It was the intention.

18790. And you say this further on page 3 in answer to a question. The question was put: "You spoke of the revolutions on the early part of the voyage? - (A.) Yes, Sir. (Q.) Those were increased as the distance was increased? - (A.) The "Titanic," being a new ship, we were gradually working her up." You see you use the same personal pronoun "we," incorporating yourself?
- I could not say I was gradually working her up.

18791. You could have said "the Captain"?
- I daresay I could.

18792. You said "we"?
- Perhaps I should have said: "She was being gradually worked up."

The Commissioner:
I have often been on these steamers, or similar steamers, and I have said to another passenger, "We are doing so many miles a day"; but I never imagined that I was interfering in the navigation or was responsible for it.

18793. (Mr. Harbinson.) No, My Lord, I should think your Lordship is much too good a maritime lawyer to ever dream of doing so. (To the witness.) There is one suggestion I should very much like to make to you, Mr. Ismay, and it is this: It did strike you as rather an exceptional thing the Captain showing you this Marconigram with regard to the ice, the message that he had received from the "Baltic"?
- No, it was not an exceptional thing.

18794. I suggest to you that the Captain in doing so, in showing this Marconigram to you, the managing Director, was inviting an expression of opinion from you on the question of the speed that the vessel should take?

The Commissioner:
Really, you must not ask such a question. Ask questions about facts, and then when you come, if you ever do come (I do not know we shall ever reach it.) to the time when you make a speech, then you can make these suggestions to me, but at present confine yourself to asking the witness about facts. Have you any other question?

Mr. Harbinson:
No, My Lord, I think not.

Examined by Mr. CLEMENT EDWARDS.

18795. Were there any financial relations at all except those for building the ship, between the International Mercantile marine and Harland and Wolff, the builders?
- Absolutely none.

The Commissioner:
I do not know whether you have exhausted that question?

Mr. Edwards:
My Lord, I have not.

The Commissioner:
Very well, I will wait.

18796. (Mr. Edwards - To the witness.) Had the International Company, or have the International Company, any shares in Harland and Wolff?
- None.

18797. Have Harland and Wolff any shares in the International?
- That is a matter which I know nothing whatever about.

The Commissioner:
That is not what you want to ask.

18798. (Mr. Clement Edwards.) I am only laying the foundation, My Lord, for a certain other question. (To the witness.) None of your boats are classed with either of the registration societies, are they?
- They are not.

18799. Had they been classed with Lloyd's or the other registration societies, there would have been an independent survey by the surveyors of those societies?
- I believe that is so.

18800. Before the "Titanic" sailed, was there any independent survey of her at all?
- That I do not think I can quite answer, but I think she would have been surveyed by the Board of Trade.

18801. Except by the Board of Trade, do you know of any other survey?
- No, not that I know of.

The Commissioner:
Are any of the other big liners such as the Cunarders surveyed by any body except the Board of Trade?

Mr. Edwards:
My instructions, My Lord, are that they are so surveyed.

The Commissioner:
By whom?

Mr. Edwards:
And that they are surveyed by the particular registration society by whom they are classified.

The Commissioner:
Are the Cunarders classified?

Mr. Edwards:
My instructions are that they are.

The Commissioner:
Then are the steamers of the White Star Line the only steamers that are not classified?

Mr. Edwards:
Of great lines I believe that is so, My Lord.

The Commissioner:
Is that so, Sir Robert?

Sir Robert Finlay:
I cannot at the moment tell your Lordship.

The Commissioner:
(To the witness.) Is it so?
- I could not answer that.

The Commissioner:
I understood - I may be wrong - that none of the steamers of the very big lines were registered at Lloyd's.

Mr. Edwards:
My instructions are that, with the exception of the boats now controlled by this International Company, all the great lines are classified with either one or other of the three great registration societies.

The Commissioner:
I am told it is not so, but I do not know.

Sir Robert Finlay:
I understand that Lloyd's have no Rules applicable to vessels of this size, such as the "Titanic."

The Commissioner:
I am told that is so.

Continued >