British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry

Day 21

Testimony of Benjamin Steele

Examined by Mr. RAYMOND ASQUITH.

21943. Captain Steel, you are a Master mariner, and have held an extra Master's certificate for 19 years?
- Yes.

21944. You are also a Commander in the Royal Naval Reserve?
- Yes.

21945. Are you the marine superintendent at Southampton for the White Star Line?
- Yes.

21946. Were you present on board the "Titanic" on the 10th of April when there was a boat drill or boat muster?
- Yes.

21947. Was Captain Clarke, the Board of Trade Emigration Officer, present also?
- He was.

21948. Will you tell the Court what was done with regard to the boats on that occasion?
- Two boats were exercised; two boats were put into the water and rowed about the dock manned by about eight men each.

21949. What sort of men?
- Sailors.

21950. All sailors?
- Yes.

21951. Did any stewards or firemen take part in the drill?
- Not on that occasion; not that I recollect.

21952. Each of those boats, you say, were manned by eight deckhands?
- Yes; eight sailors and an Officer.

21953. And lowered into the water?
- Yes.

21954. What happened then; did they row about?
- They rowed about the dock. We usually set the sails, but on that occasion it was gusty and windy, and we set no sails on that particular day. They simply rowed about the dock and the boats were taken on board again.

21955. Did you inspect the boats to see whether they were properly equipped?
- I did in a general way, yes.

21956. What did you find. Were they properly equipped?
- As far as I saw, yes.

21957. Did you look at each boat?
- I did, yes.

21958. As far as you could see they were properly equipped?
- Exactly, yes.

21959. Did you notice whether the boats had any indication upon them as to what their carrying capacity was?
- No, I cannot say that I noticed that. No, I did not on that occasion.

21960. You do not know whether they had or not?
- I do not.

21961. Have you ever experienced this difficulty which has been spoken of with regard to getting firemen to take part in the drills?
- Yes, we have recently.

21962. Was any attempt made to get them to take part in the drill on the "Titanic," as far as you know?
- No. May I state, My Lord, that we have had a lot of difficulty with these firemen at Southampton.

21963. (The Commissioner.) They refused to go to sea the other day, did not they?
- Yes, My Lord.

21964. (Mr. Raymond Asquith.) Do you mean you have had trouble since the "Titanic" disaster?
- We have, yes.

21965. Have you made them offers to try and persuade them to take part in these drills?
- We have.

21966. What have you offered them?
- Half a day's pay to come down on Tuesday, the day before sailing, and take part in the boat drills.

21967. And have they refused that offer?
- Not one appeared. That was equal to a refusal.

21968. (The Commissioner.) How much is half a day's pay?
- I should say, My Lord, it is about 2s. 4d. I believe that is the exact amount, for work which, I think, will take about two hours.

21969. (Mr. Raymond Asquith.) I think you produce the compass deviation card, do you not?

(The compass deviation card was handed in.)

21970. Have you had experience of the North Atlantic yourself?
- About nine years, I think.

21971. Have you formed any views with regard to the use of searchlights for detecting ice?
- Yes.

21972. What are your views?
- I do not believe in them myself.

21973. Have you used them in fact?
- No.

21974. (The Commissioner.) You have had no experience?
- Not of searchlights, no my Lord, except during the time I served in the navy. I was in the navy for twelve months, and I saw them used there.

21975. (Mr. Raymond Asquith.) With regard to the use of glasses, or binoculars, have you any opinion upon that subject?
- I never have believed in them.

Examined by Mr. SCANLAN.

21976. Do you agree with the evidence of the two previous Captains we have had, Captain Hayes and Captain Passow, that on a clear night an iceberg can be seen at six or seven miles distance?
- On a clear night I should think so, yes.

21977. If on this night we have it on the evidence of Mr. Lightoller that an iceberg could only be seen about a mile and a half or two miles, would you say that the night must not have been clear?
- I should think a great deal depends upon the size of the berg.

21978. If it was found, as it is stated by Mr. Lightoller, that he had observed from six o'clock to ten o'clock on the night of the 14th of April that it was more difficult than under normal circumstances to see an iceberg, would that suggest to you, from the point of view of seamanship, that a double look-out should have been set that night?
- No.

21979. Do not you think it would be desirable to place an extra look-out man on the bows?
- No.

Examined by Mr. LEWIS.

21980. Was any offer of half-a-day's pay made prior to the "Titanic" disaster?
- The offer of the half-a-day's pay to which I referred was made in the case of the "Oceanic" before she sailed. That was the only time we have made that offer.

21981. When would that have been?
- When the men signed on.

21982. Would that be recently - since the "Titanic" disaster?
- Oh, yes, since.

21983. You have no recollection of any offer having been made to the men prior to that?
- No.

21984. Do you consider it would be desirable to muster the day before?
- Yes.

21985. Even to the extent of giving the men a day's pay?
- I believe so, yes.

21986. (The Commissioner.) That means 4s. 8d.. Would they come on the day before if you gave them 4s. 8d.?
- I do not think they would, My Lord, not from our past experience.

21987. If you offered them a £5 note each they might come?
- I doubt if some of them would, even if you offered them that.

21988. (Mr. Lewis.) How long have you been Marine superintendent at Southampton?
- I have been Marine superintendent nine years altogether - about four or five years at Southampton.

21989. Are you aware that the men suggested about two years ago that they should muster the day before sailing?
- No, I have never heard of it. We can hardly get them to muster on clearance morning, Much less before the day of sailing.

21990. Are you aware whether any officials of an organisation have had interviews with your local managers with reference to this point?
- No, I cannot recollect any.

21991. The general complaint has been, I think, that men leave on the day of sailing and come back again just as the boat is going off. That is the general complaint, is it not?
- Yes, always.

21992. You have no recollection of definite suggestions being made in order to get over that difficulty by the men's leaders, if I may use that term - that it was bad for the men to turn up late; and did they suggest to the company that it would be far better for the men to muster earlier in the day?
- To muster earlier than eight o'clock, our usual time, our customary time?

21993. Instead of mustering so early to muster and remain on board the ship?
- I never heard that.

21994. What time do you muster now on the day of sailing?
- We muster at half-past ten. We muster the firemen at half-past ten. The sailors and stewards are mustered at eight o'clock.

21995. How long has that been in vogue?
- I really cannot call to mind now, I think perhaps about six weeks or two months. I really could not say.

21996. (The Commissioner.) That was because the firemen would not turn up at eight o'clock?
- That was the reason. The reason was in order to get them on board ship at half-past ten and muster them so that they would not have time to go on shore again.

21997. (Mr. Lewis.) Was not a suggestion made by the men's officials for putting it at a later time in order that they should be kept on board, instead of having them earlier, allowing them to go away, and running the risk of their not coming back in time?
- Well, of course, I have not much to do with the firemen. That is the superintending Engineer's business and these arrangements may have been made unknown to me. I personally do not know anything about it.

21998. Is it within your knowledge that the men's officials have endeavoured to arrange that this mustering business should be carried out satisfactorily?
- No, I cannot say that I know anything about that.

21999. You are not aware as to whether they have interviewed the superintending Engineer with regard to the matter?
- They may have done so, but I really know nothing about it.

22000. Is this difficulty confined to your Company in Southampton?
- That I do not know. I do not know much about the other companies there.

22001. Have you ever heard of any difficulty with regard to other companies in Southampton so far as the mustering is concerned?
- I do not know about the other companies. I do not bother much about the other Companies; I have quite enough to do without doing that.

22002. Have you ever heard of any difficulty?
- No.

22003. If there had been any difficulty you probably would have heard it?
- I do not know that I would.

22004. Do you know whether the other companies muster the firemen with the sailors and stewards?
- No, I cannot say I do.

22005. You could obtain the information, I suppose?
- If I liked to enquire I suppose I could, but I never see any of the officials belonging to the other companies that you speak of. I very seldom meet them.

22006. Do not you think it would be far more practical for the firemen to muster and drill with the sailors?
- Well, as I answered before, we are trying to bring that about, but we have not been successful so far.

22007. Have you ever heard of any complaints on the part of the firemen because they did not muster with the sailors?
- No.

22008. No objection on that score at all?
- No.

Examined by Sir ROBERT FINLAY.

22009. Do these other companies have as big ships as yours?
- In Southampton?

22010. Yes?
- No.

22011. I suppose if the ships are not so big they have not so many firemen?
- They have nothing like the crews that we have.

22012. Now with regard to the boats. Before the Board of Trade certificate is given does the Inspector satisfy himself as to the equipment of each boat?
- Certainly.

22013. Have you been much at sea yourself?
- I think I was at sea about 26 or 27 years. I am not quite sure of the time.

22014. Have you commanded vessels?
- Yes.

22015. In the Atlantic and the North Atlantic?
- Yes, but not for very long.

22016. How long were you in the Atlantic?
- About nine years altogether, but not in command.

22017. You were in the North Atlantic trade for about nine years?
- Yes, or more, perhaps ten.

22018. And for how long in command?
- About 12 months altogether, I think.

22019. And for the rest of the time as officer?
- Yes.

22020. With regard to approaching icebergs, what do you say as to the effect of icebergs on the temperature; is a fall in the temperature a sign of approaching an iceberg?
- I should not judge it so - not in my opinion.

22021. You have heard the evidence which has been given today, and previously, as to not slackening speed on account of ice as long as the weather is clear; is that the practice in your experience?
- It is. I have never known any other practice.

(The Witness withdrew.)