British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry
Testimony of Sir Walter J. Howell
Examined by the ATTORNEY-GENERAL.
22089. (The Attorney-General.) This is the oblong which appears in the "Sphere" of June 8th. (Handing same to the Commissioner.) It strikes me as useful. (To the witness.) Sir Walter Howell, are you one of the assistant Secretaries to the Board of Trade?
22090. And Chief of the Marine Department?
- I am.
22091. You entered the Board of Trade nearly 40 years ago?
22092. And you became head of the Marine Department in 1899?
- That is so.
22093. Is the Marine Department of the Board of Trade charged with the administration of the merchant Shipping Acts?
22094. And also some of the acts affecting shipping with which we are not concerned at this Enquiry?
22095. It is entrusted also with the general superintendence of all matters relating to merchant shipping and seamen?
- Yes, as defined in the merchant Shipping Act, 1894.
22096. With regard to foreign law applicable to ships, do you strive as far as possible to obtain international agreement?
22097. And especially as affecting the safety regulations?
22098. Much has been done to secure that object?
- I think a considerable deal has been done.
22099. The regulations as to the survey of passenger steamers enforced in France, Germany, Denmark, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway and belgium have been recognised as of equal effect with your own since 1907?
- That is so.
22100. What is the position with regard to the United States?
- They were recognised by mutual agreement in 1905.
22101. That is as to survey of passenger steamers?
- That is as to survey of passenger steamers.
22102. There are negotiations proceeding on the subject of passenger steamers with other countries, and I need not go into detail with regard to that?
22103. Now will you tell me, with reference to foreign requirements as to life-saving appliances, have they also been considered by the Board of Trade with a view to recognition since 1907?
- Yes, since the passing of the act of 1906.
I think there are only two sections in the act of 1906 with which your Lordship need be troubled - Sections 4 and 9, I think, are the ones. Section 4 of the merchant Shipping Act of 1906 gave power to apply our rules as to life-saving appliances to foreign ships in certain cases. I will read the section, and your Lordship will see at once how it stands: "Sections four hundred and twenty-seven to four hundred and thirty-one of the principal Act relating to life-saving appliances shall, after the appointed day apply to all foreign ships while they are within any port of the United Kingdom as they apply to British ships; Provided that His Majesty may by Order in Council direct that those provisions shall not apply to any ship of a foreign country in which the provisions in force relating to life-saving appliances appear to His Majesty to be as effective as the provisions of Part V. of the principal Act, on proof that those provisions are complied with in the case of that ship."
That is Section 4.
22104-5. (The Attorney-General.) Yes, of the merchant Shipping Act of 1906. That is the only section which relates to the life-saving regulations with which we are now dealing. (To the witness.) In the same way, have the life-saving appliance Rules of France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands been recognised by Orders in Council under section 4 of the act of 1906?
- Yes, after considerable negotiation they have.
22106. And negotiations are proceeding with other countries for the same purpose?
- Quite so.
22107. The life-saving appliance Rules of the United States have I think not been recognised by an Order in Council under this Act?
22108. Does the mutual recognition of the British and American passenger certificates include the recognition of the life-saving appliance Rules with which the passenger steamers of the two countries have to comply?
- It does; the mutual recognition between this country and the United States preceded the passing of the act of 1906, and it was therefore unnecessary to do anything further.
22109. You have the effect without the act of 1906?
- That is so.
22110. Have you for the purpose of carrying out the duties of your department a large staff assigned to that branch of the department?
- I think I may say a very large staff.
22111. So far as is relevant to this Enquiry there is first of all the Head Quarter staff?
22112. That consists of administrative and technical Officers with the necessary clerical assistance?
22113. The Head Quarter staff includes a number of principal consultative Officers?
- It does.
22114. First there is the professional member of the Marine Department?
- Yes, he is in a sense surveyor-General and Chief of the staff.
22115. And he is a sailor?
- He is a sailor.
22116. Then there is the Engineer surveyor-in-Chief?
22117. Who is that?
- Mr. Boyle.
22118. Will you give us the names as we proceed?
22119. Who is the professional member of the Marine Department?
- Captain Young.
22120. And the Engineer surveyor-in-Chief is Mr. Boyle?
22121. And the principal Ship Surveyor or Naval Architect?
- Mr. Archer.
22122. Then the principal Surveyor for Tonnage?
- Mr. Colvill.
22123. And the principal Examiner of Masters and Mates?
- Captain Harvey.
22124. Then there is a Chief Examiner of Engineers and Chief Inspector of Ships' Provisions?
- The Chief Examiner of Engineers is Mr. Seaton -
22125. They do not affect this case, so you need not trouble. Is the executive work of the Department carried on by a large number of Officers stationed at the principal ports of the United Kingdom?
- It is.
22126. And that staff consists, first of all, of a Survey Staff?
- Quite so.
22127. And then the mercantile marine Office staff, inspectors of Ships' Provisions, and Examiners of Masters and Mates?
- Quite so.
22128. Now the survey Staff we are principally concerned with in this case. In addition to the principal consultative Officers whom you have already mentioned, into how many districts are the ports of the United Kingdom grouped?
- The country, including Ireland, is grouped under nine ports.
22129. And in those nine ports are there engineer, nautical, ship, and sanitary Surveyors?
22130. And in the duties of the survey Staff is there first of all the survey of ships for passenger certificates?
- Yes, including the hull, equipments, and machinery.
22131. Hull, equipments, and machinery?
22132. I will ask you a little more about that presently. Then is there the survey and clearance of emigrant ships?
22133. That is in pursuance of the provisions of the statute?
22134. There are a number of other matters with which I need not trouble the Court which also involve duties to be performed by the survey Staff?
- Yes, numerous very important duties.
22135. But not relevant to the particular matters we are enquiring into now?
- Probably not.
22136. Now will you direct your attention to the case of the "Titanic"?
22137. Has your attention been called to the questions which are submitted to the Court?
- Yes, it has.
22138. The second question is, "Before leaving Queenstown on or about 11th April last did the "Titanic" comply with the requirements of the merchant Shipping Acts, 1894-1906, and the Rules and Regulations made thereunder with regard to the safety and otherwise of 'passenger steamers' and 'emigrant ships.'"?
- Yes, she complied with both sets of requirements.
22139. That particular Question concerns your department?
- Yes, that concerns my department.
22140. The particular Questions, I think, My Lord, which are affected by the Board of Trade evidence are 2, 4, 5, and 26, which is the recommendation. Your Lordship will remember it invites the Court to report upon Administration. Those I think are the Questions that are affected by this evidence. (To the witness.) Now the "Titanic" had to comply with the law which is applicable both to passenger steamers and emigrant ships?
- Quite so.
22141. Are those the most stringent provisions under the merchant Shipping Act?
- Those relating to emigrant ships are certainly the most stringent.
22142. Now, just before I go to that, there is one matter I want to call attention to. I want you to direct your attention to some figures which have been compiled with reference to the number of passengers who lost their lives over a period of years on voyages from the United Kingdom to America. The point of it is that the Court may have before it what did happen during the 20 years that preceded this accident, and it has a material bearing of course upon the recommendations that ought to have been made and that were made. Will you take first of all the 10 years from 1892 to 1901? The total number of passengers carried inward and outward between the United Kingdom and the United States and British North America on all ships - that is, both British and foreign ships, was over 3 1/4 millions?
- That is so.
22143. And of those 3 1/4 million passengers was the great proportion carried in ships belonging to the United Kingdom?
- By far the greater proportion.
22144. Will you give me the number of passengers who during that period of ten years lost their lives by casualties to vessels belonging to the United Kingdom?
- In the years 1892 to 1901 the number of passengers lost by casualties to vessels at sea was -
22145. Belonging to the United Kingdom?
- Belonging to the United Kingdom, was of passengers - west-bound 66, east-bound 7.
22146. Seventy-three in all?
- Seventy-three in all.
22147. Have you also considered the figures for the ten years 1902 to 1911?
22148. Was the number of passengers carried under the same conditions by both British and foreign ships over six millions?
- Over six millions.
22149. And of those six millions was the greater proportion carried by vessels belonging to the United Kingdom?
- Certainly; far the greater proportion.
22150. Now, will you give me the number of passengers who lost their lives by casualties at sea in vessels belonging to the United Kingdom?
- West-bound 8, east-bound 1.
22151. Nine in all during that ten years?
- Nine in all.
22152. I suppose it is not possible for you to give the figures with regard to the total which you have given, because that includes both the British and foreign ships?
- Yes. I want to be very careful to point that out.
22153. You only have the figures available for vessels belonging to the United Kingdom?
- Quite so.
I have a Table, My Lord, which I have summarised, giving you what I think are the material figures, but I have a Table here for every year, showing them exactly. It did not seem to me that that was necessary. The total is what is required.
I suppose it is not possible to say how many of those 6,000,000 and 3,250,000 were carried in British ships?
I am afraid not.
22154. (The Attorney-General - To the witness.) You told me that by far the larger proportion of passengers included in the total of six millions was carried in vessels belonging to the United Kingdom?
22155. Can you give us any indication of what that larger proportion consisted of?
- I cannot.
The total loss comes to about four persons in a year.
That is counting the twenty years.
During the last ten years -
It is much less.
It is not quite one.
Yes. Taking the whole 20 years it is about four a year.
Yes. I think your Lordship will find from the figures, if you go back further, that the loss of life has always been a decreasing quantity in proportion to the increasing number of passengers carried.
These figures show that, but, of course, they only deal with two periods of 10 years.
22156. (The Attorney-General.) Yes. I might exhaust the figures as we are upon them. I do not want to go back to them. I am only going to give the summary. Will you just tell me whether this is right: For the 10 years ending the 30th June, 1881, there were 822 lives, crew and passengers, lost? I am going back, as your Lordship sees, to an earlier period, and I am including crew. The figures I gave just now were only dealing with passengers. For the next 10 years ending the 30th June, 1891, were there 247 lives, crew and passengers, lost?
- From the 1st July, 1881, to the 30th June, 1891, three vessels and 247 lives.
22157. That includes crew and passengers?
- That includes crew and passengers. I thought it was not quite right to confine my observations with regard to statistics simply to passengers, and I compiled these figures to give them both with regard to crew and passengers.
22158. Quite right. And then to the 30th June, 1901, that is carrying the period forward for another 10 years - 183 lives, crew and passengers, were lost?
22159. That would compare with the figure of 73 which you gave us first, would it not? The 183 would include the 73?
- It would include the 73, yes.
22160. It is the same period?
- It is the same period.
22161. So that you have got seventy-three passengers and that would mean 110 crew?
- Quite so.
22162. Then for the next period to the 30th June, 1911, there were fifty-seven?
- Fifty-seven lives lost.
22163. Of which as we know there were nine passengers?
- Yes. There is one remark I ought to make here. This only includes casualties through which over fifty lives were lost.
22164. I was going to ask you that. Does that apply to both sets of figures which you have given us? You have given us first of all the passengers, and then you have given us the crew and passengers?
- In the first there is no reservation, I think, with regard to the fifty lives lost.
22165. That stands altogether apart from the calculation you have made?
22166. That is both the seventy-three and the nine?
22167. But in this later table of the forty years which you have given, that only deals with casualties in which over fifty lives were lost. Is that right?
- That is quite right.
22168. I think we understand how that stands, and I do not think we need burden the Court with further figures upon that. Then "Passenger steamers" is defined in the statute under the merchant Shipping Act, 1894, and to some extent also by the act of 1906, but substantially it includes every steamship, British or foreign, carrying passengers from, to, or between places in the United Kingdom?
- Quite so.
22169. That is the substance of it - I am not using the exact words. Then Section 271 of the merchant Shipping Act which your Lordship will find in that little abstract at page 7, provides for an annual survey of every passenger steamer which carries more than 12 passengers?
- Yes, the survey must be at least once a year.
Have you a spare copy of that?
22170. (The Attorney-General.) Yes, certainly - (Handing the same to his Lordship.) There must be a survey at least once a year your Lordship sees if a passenger steamer carries more than 12 passengers. And further that vessel must not ply or proceed to sea without a certificate from the Board of Trade.
That is so.
22171. Then Section 72 of the act of 1894 amended to some extent by the act of 1906 deals with the mode of survey?
22172. And requires certain particulars to be stated in the Declaration of the surveyor. That continues in the abstract, My Lord, and your Lordship will find the main point set out on page 8. Obviously the object of these provisions in the statute was to ensure that the survey should be adequate?
22173. That is what Parliament intended?
22174. The Board of Trade appoint Surveyors for this purpose?
22175. And a person who is appointed as a Surveyor may be both a ship Surveyor as well as an Engineer surveyor, May he not, if he has the qualifications for both?
22176. Generally speaking, as vessels are now built, Made of iron and steel, is the work of surveying passenger steamers carried out by Surveyors who hold appointments both as engineer and ship Surveyor?
- Speaking generally, that is the case.
22177. Does that mean that before entering the board's service they have had experience of engineering at sea?
22178. In engineering as Apprentice and as a seagoing engineer?
22179. Do they have to pass a Surveyor's technical examination before entering the board's service?
Do they then have to undergo training and pass a further examination as to their ability to survey a ship before they undertake the work on their own responsibility for the Board of Trade?
- That is exactly so.
22180. The survey of the passenger steamers would cover the hull, equipment and machinery of the steamer, I think, you told us in the early part of your evidence?
22181. And that is conducted in accordance with the regulations which are made by the Board of Trade?
22182. There are instructions which are issued with reference to that, are there not? I will not trouble you for the moment to go into it. I think a later Witness will tell us more in detail. You yourself did not survey the "Titanic" at all?
22183. That would not be your business?
- Certainly not.
22184. But you would get reports I suppose from your engineer surveyor in Chief?
- Not in the usual course from the Engineer surveyor in Chief; usually from the local Surveyor or surveyors.
22185. And it is they who can speak as to what actually was done with regard to the "Titanic"?
- That is exactly so.
22186. Now, just let us understand what happens. Does the surveyor make a declaration?
22187. Showing that the vessel has complied with the requirements which he makes for the purpose of the survey?
Your Lordship has already had the particular one relating to the "Titanic" put in evidence.
22188. (The Attorney-General - To the witness.) I do not think I need trouble you to go further in detail with regard to that; I only want to get the practice. On receipt of the surveyor's Declaration is a passenger's certificate issued by the Marine Department under section 274 of the act?
- Yes, that is exactly the procedure.
22189. Do you give that certificate?
- I give that certificate and sign it.
22190. I do not want to go into it in detail - it can be given if necessary, but it does not seem to me that it would help - but substantially did the "Titanic" in complying with the requirements of the British Merchant Shipping Acts and the statutory Regulations and Requirements of the Board of Trade generally, comply with the Requirements of the United States law?
- That is so.
22191. That is the substance of it; they are not identical, but they are certainly substantially similar for these purposes. Now I want to take you to emigrant ships. Besides the passenger certificate to which I have referred the "Titanic" was also required to comply with the requirements as an emigrant ship?
22192. (The Attorney-General.) An "emigrant ship," your Lordship will find defined by Section 268, which is on page 5 of the abstract, and Section 364, which is on page 46 of the abstract. I do not think really your Lordship need trouble very much about page 46. It extends the voyages to which it is to apply, that is all. Substantially what it amounts to is, that it is a British or foreign ship which carries in any voyage from the British Isles to any port out of Europe, and not within the mediterranean Sea more than 50 steerage passengers.
22193. Or, as it is also put, "a greater number of steerage passengers than the proportion of one statute adult for every 20 tons of the registered tonnage of a steamship." Is that right?
- Quite right.
22194. And as my friend, Sir Robert, quite rightly says a "statute adult" is a person of 12 years or upwards. I do not think that is very material to go into. The Board of Trade have issued, relating to emigrant ships, a book called Instructions for the guidance of Emigration Officers appointed to carry into effect the provisions of the merchant Shipping Acts relating to Emigrant Ships?
22195. That your Lordship also has. It is a document, a yellow book called "Instructions relating to Emigrant Ships." There is very little in it with which your Lordship need be troubled. (To the witness.) With regard to emigrant ships, the object is not only to secure their seaworthiness and proper equipment, but also to provide a reasonable minimum of accommodation for emigrant passengers?
- That is so.
22196. And also that adequate and sufficient food is given, and so forth?
22197. There is a provision which is relevant at any rate to some of the questions which have been put, for the meaning of emigrant ships?
22198. That your Lordship will find at page 24 of the abstract of the act. It is Section 305 of the merchant Shipping Act 1894. "Every emigrant ship shall be manned with an efficient crew for her intended voyage to the satisfaction of the Emigration Officer from whom a certificate for clearance for such ship is demanded; after the crew have been passed by the Emigration Officer, the strength of the crew shall not be diminished nor any of the men changed without the consent in writing," and so on. Then Sub-Section (3) gives the right of appeal. "If the Emigration Officer considers the crew inefficient." The only thing that occurs to me as material at present in the book called "Instructions relating to Emigrant Ships" is on page 9 where you will find the instructions relating to the manning.
At page 10 you get the capacity of lifeboats and so on.
Yes, that is quite right.
And the number of deckhands to be carried.
22199. (The Attorney-General.) Yes, and if you look at the number of deckhands to be carried in that table, you will find 48 is the number which would be applicable to this vessel. Now, we need not trouble about the loadline. There are provisions with regard to that, but I do not think any question arises in this case with reference to the loadline on the certificate of the loadline. If it does become necessary Sir Walter can give some information with regard to it. (To the witness.) But I want you now to go to bulkheads and watertight compartments. First of all, will you tell me, does the Board of Trade, speaking generally, interfere with the design of the vessel?
- No, the Board of Trade has always been very reluctant to do that.
22200. Is that left to the shipowner and shipbuilders?
- Yes, I think so.
22201. Has it been thought, as a matter of policy, that hard-and-fast regulations would tend to cramp the free development of shipbuilding in this country?
- I think that exactly explains the position.
22202. Is that also the case in connection with bulkheads and the subdivision of a vessel into watertight compartments?
22203. And has that same policy been pursued?
- Yes, I think generally speaking, it has.
22204. Subject to certain specific matters to which we will call attention. Let us get the history shortly to what the Board of Trade has done with regard to bulkheads. First of all the steam Navigation Act of 1846 required steam vessels to be built with a bulkhead on each side of the engine room thus dividing the ship into three watertight compartments?
- That was so.
22205. There was a similar requirement in the merchant Shipping Act, 1854?
22206. In 1862 was it thought that the old requirements were unsuitable?
- Yes, they were thought to be entirely unsuitable, and the law was repealed in that year.
22207. I want to draw particular attention to this. Since 1862, and apart from Rule 12 of the Life-saving Appliance Rules, have any requirements been made or laid down by Statute as to bulkheads and watertight compartments?
Your Lordship will see Rule 12, to which attention has been called at some time in the case, but of which I remind your Lordship at the present moment - it is page 16 of the book containing the Rules for life-saving appliances. The only points of it, your Lordship will remember, is that if the ships are divided into efficient watertight compartments to the satisfaction of the Board of Trade then they are required to carry a less number of additional boats.
22208. (The Attorney-General.) That is the point.
That is exactly so.
22209. That is to say, that the requirements upon the ship to carry additional boats is lessened by one-half?
- Three -quarters in some cases.
22210. But it is lessened by one-half, is it not?
22211. And some three-fourths?
22212. You understand what I am putting?
22213. Whatever it may be, if X is the requirement of additional boats, if the ship is divided into efficient watertight compartments to the satisfaction of the Board of Trade it is only one-half of X which has to be carried by that ship?
22214. In point of fact, your Lordship will remember no question arises in this case with regard to it, because no such application was made by the "Titanic" to the Board of Trade. And, apart from that provision in Rule 12, there is no provision, I think, anywhere which makes any regulations or requirements as to bulkheads and watertight compartments?
- That is so.
Now I want you to go for a moment to the year 1887.
22215-6. (The Commissioner.) Has this Rule 12 ever been put into operation?
- Oh, yes, in numberless cases - in a great number of cases.
I think we have had it in evidence that some few vessels applied. Your Lordship is quite right in thinking it was a very few.
I was wondering in reading it whether any boat ever applied for the approval by the Board of Trade on the matter of watertight compartments for the purpose of getting a reduction made in the lifeboats.
I will prove the figures later, but I am told that since the passing of this Rule there have been 103 applications, and 69 have been granted.
And when did this Rule pass?
22217. (Mr. Laing.) 1890, I think.
I think it was in 1890.
It was in existence in 1894.
This Rule has been in existence 22 years.
Yes, since 1890.
And how many ships do you say?
One hundred and three applications have been made.
And 69 have been granted?
That is five a year?
Yes, it is quite a few.
22218. (The Commissioner.) It is quite negligible.
In recent years it is becoming fewer and fewer every year. Nearly all those applications were made in the earlier days of the passing of the Rule.
22219. Then is it the fact that the Rule has become practically obsolete?
- I think it is the conditions that have been felt to have become obsolete.
I understand it is about four a year now, so a gentleman tells me who is more familiar with the exact figures.
Is that a matter of any consequence?