British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry
Testimony of Sir Walter J. Howell, recalled
Further examined by the ATTORNEY-GENERAL.
22268. I propose now to pass to the consideration of the Board of Trade's activities with regard to boats and other life-saving appliances. I think it would be more convenient to deal with what has happened on the Report in July, 1911, after bringing the history up-to-date for both boats and life-saving appliances. In March, 1886, the Board of Trade appointed a small Departmental Committee to consider the subject, that is life-saving appliances?
22269. There were certain requirements in the earlier Acts, in the merchant Shipping Act and the Passengers Act of 1855, but they are not of sufficient importance to call his Lordship's attention to them. I do not think they assist, even historically. But in March, 1886, there was this Committee, and they reported that the existing requirements, such as they were, were obsolete and inadequate?
- Quite so.
22270. Some reference was made to this matter - it is not easy to see what, without examining it in detail - by the Royal Commission on Loss of Life at Sea in 1887?
- Yes, quite incidental.
22271. Yes, so that we get no assistance from that. By that time I think the subject had already been discussed at the Colonial Conference of that year?
- That is so.
22272. And then a Select Committee of the House of Commons had been appointed to deal with it, that is the select Committee of which Lord Charles Beresford was the chairman, to which you referred in connection with bulkheads yesterday?
22273. They reported in 1887, and recommended that the Board of Trade should appoint a committee to frame Rules as to life-saving appliances?
- Quite so.
22274. That that committee should consist of shipowners, shipbuilders, persons acquainted with the navigation of vessels and the recognised association of Seamen, Lloyd's Register and kindred societies?
22275. It was of selections from those persons that the committee was to consist?
- Quite so.
22276. Then I see, in 1888, there was a Bill passed, which was the merchant Shipping Life-saving Appliances Act, 1888?
22277. That was passed in consequence of and in accordance with the recommendations of the beresford Committee of 1887?
- Yes, it followed the lines of that Committee almost exactly.
22278. And under that Act power was given to the Board of Trade to make Rules as to boats and other life-saving appliances?
- Quite so.
22279. Under that Act also provision was made for a Committee to be formed to advise the Board of Trade on the Rules which were to be formulated?
22280. The constitution of the Committee was provided in the schedule to that Act; it was reproduced in the merchant Shipping Act, 1894, and forms the 17th Schedule to the merchant Shipping Act, 1894; and under that it says that the constitution of the Committee shall consist of - "(1.) Three shipowners selected by the Council of the Chamber of Shipping of the United Kingdom; (2.) One shipowner selected by the shipowners' Association of Glasgow, one shipowner selected by the Liverpool Steamship Owners' Association and the Liverpool Shipowners' Association conjointly; (3.) Two shipbuilders selected by the Council of the Institution of Naval Architects; (4.) Three persons practically acquainted with the navigation of vessels, selected by the shipmasters' Societies recognised by the Board of Trade for this purpose; (5.) Three persons being, or having been able bodied seamen, selected by Seamen's Societies recognised by the Board of Trade for this purpose; (6.) Two persons selected conjointly by the Committee of Lloyd's, the Committee of Lloyd's Register society, and the Committee of the Institute of London Underwriters." When one bears in mind the provisions in the statute, it is easier to follow the constitution of the Committee which has hitherto existed. That Committee was formed by the then President of the Board of Trade, the present Lord St. Aldwyn?
- That is so.
22281. I think in November, 1888?
22282. And certain draft Rules were prepared - we may take this quite shortly - and these Rules were adopted by the Board of Trade under date of June, 1889?
- Quite so.
22283. Those were the first that were formulated in consequence of this Statute?
- Quite so.
22284. Those were the Rules which were eventually recommended and formed the subject of some discussion in 1890 at various dates, and were adopted, I think, in November, 1890?
- They were adopted in November, 1890; I think so.
22285. Some reference was made to it yesterday?
- Immediately the first Rules had been issued there was a slight revision of them, and I rather think that was what came in November, 1890. That is how it was, I think. The first Rules were early in 1890, and the revision came later.
22286. We need not pause to discuss that. There is some question. I see what you mean, in 1889 and 1890, but the new Rules presented to Parliament with regard to the exemption from the required additional number of boats, as we know, first came into force in 1890?
22287. Now for a moment let us deal with those original Rules, because I want to ask you one or two questions about them. In the first place I notice that the scale for passenger and emigrant ships was based on gross tonnage, and not upon the number of passengers carried, and so far as we have the documents before us, that seems to have been the guiding principle ever since?
22288. Up to the present moment?
22289. The scale is gross tonnage, and not the number of passengers, as of course your Lordship noticed at a very early stage. We are dealing now with the years 1889 and 1890, when these Rules were drafted and eventually adopted. Had there been any scale in existence before?
- There had been a slight scale, I think; I do not remember quite accurately what it was, but the board's Surveyors had some guidance on the subject. But this was the first statutory scale laid down.
22290. Was it on gross tonnage?
- It was based on gross tonnage also, so far as my memory serves me.
It is only for the purpose of history, My Lord, and nothing else, but I notice in the statute of 1854, the earliest Merchant Shipping Statute, there the scale was registered tonnage. I only want to see exactly how it was we got registered tonnage.
I do not know what you are trying to do.
I am trying to trace how it was that the scale was gross tonnage instead of the number of passengers.
It was so.
Yes, and now I am seeing why it was so. The first thing I was tracing out from that was that originally apparently in 1854 the first scale we have at all (and which it is not necessary to go into further.) is registered tonnage on this scale, and not gross. That is the only point.
By registered tonnage you mean net registered tonnage.
I am going to refer to the authority upon it.
I recognise that book; I have not seen it for 20 years.
22291. (The Attorney-General.) The statutes are all dealt with in that book. It is only for historical purposes, otherwise it is of no avail. (To the witness.) Does that refresh your recollection?
- Yes. I remember that the earlier one was on net registered tonnage, and that the first one on gross tonnage was the outcome of these first statutory Rules.
22292. Can you tell us at all why it was that the change was made?
- It was felt to be a better indication of the size and power of the ship - gross tonnage rather than net tonnage.
22293. Can you also tell us why it was that the scale that was adopted was a tonnage scale and not a number of passengers scale?
- You mean adopted by this Committee?
22294. Yes. I want you to follow the question that I am putting to you, because at first sight, at any rate, it does not seem to be clear why, when you are providing accommodation for the crew and the passengers in a ship, you should provide the boating accommodation according to tonnage instead of the number of persons to be carried in the ship?
- Quite so.
22295. That is what I want you to tell us?
- When the Board of Trade later came to the Committee it said they were to have regard to several considerations: First of all, the number of persons carried; secondly, how many boats they could carry consistently with not destroying the stability or seaworthy qualities of the ship, or unduly hampering her decks. Then the Committee proceeded to consider it on those terms, and the point was mentioned whether they should take the basis on this view. I think it was mentioned, but only to be rejected at once, I think. At any rate, they adopted the basis of gross tonnage because they thought they were instructed to divide the ships into divisions and classes, and that that was a clear indication that they were to take size as the basis of their consideration. If it had been intended that they were to take the number of persons on board as their basis they would not have been told to divide the ships into classes. There would have been no necessity to do anything of the sort.
22296. Told by whom?
- In the Reference to them by the Board of Trade. The Reference to the Board of Trade was that the ships should be divided into classes and the Board of Trade passed that on to the Committee that ships should be divided into classes.
22297. (The Commissioner.) What classes?
- That was precisely the question they had to settle. They came to the conclusion that it meant classes having regard to their size as indicated by gross tonnage.
22298. I do not understand that. Can you tell me what the classes were that they did divide it into?
- Yes, certainly.
22299. What were they?
- First of all, emigrant passenger ships.
22300. Those classes I understand?
- And then on to other classes.
22301. Were there other classes?
- Yes, the foreign-going passenger ships, and then the foreign-going cargo steamships and steamers; I am speaking from memory. Then, sailing ships engaged in carrying passengers, and so on. It was graded into classes, and those classes were based upon gross tonnage, as being the best indication of the size of the ships.
22302. But you have not answered the question that was put to you by the Attorney-General: Why was it that tonnage measurements were taken as the standard to go by, rather than the number of persons carried on the ship?
- That I think I can indicate quite clearly again; I had endeavoured to already.
22303. But you have not succeeded in informing my mind about it?
- If it had been intended -
22304. I do not care about what was intended, but I want to know why it was - what the reason was for taking tonnage as the standard instead of the number of people whose lives were to be saved by the life-saving appliances?
- The Committee proceeded at once to consider whether they could do it on that basis.
22305. Oh, well, if they could not do it on that basis, that is an excellent reason?
- Then they proceeded to divide it into these divisions by tonnage, as they found the other impracticable.
22306. Either you do not understand my question or I am not sufficiently intelligent to understand your answer; I do not know which it is. I want to know why, when they were applying themselves to the question as to how to provide for the safety of a number of lives, they excluded the number of lives from consideration and took into consideration only the tonnage of the ship?
- I should be sorry to say that was the only thing they took into consideration, but it was the main consideration.
22307. Did they take into consideration the number of lives on the ship?
- Yes, undoubtedly.
22308. I did not understand that they did?
- Oh, yes; but that was not the main basis they took. The main basis they took was the tonnage of the ship, because that indicated her size. A consideration running through it all was the number of lives on board, so that they took both.
22309. (The Attorney-General.) Still one vessel may carry a very much larger number of persons in proportion to her tonnage than another?
- Quite so.
22310. Nevertheless, according to your views, they were to carry the same number of boats. That is the difficulty that we want you to explain?
- I was secretary of this original committee. I was not a member of it.
22311. Are you speaking now of the Committee that reported in 1887?
- No, of the Life-Saving Appliances Committee.
22312. Formed under the statute of 1888?
- I was secretary, and I am telling you what I remember, what my impression is after this long period of time, that first of all the Committee said, "We have to consider the number of lives on board; can we form that as a basis?"
22313. (The Commissioner.) You are putting the thing all the other way about. You say the very first thing they did was to consider the number of lives on board?
- "Can we take this as the basis? No, we think it impracticable."
22314. Can you take which as the basis?
- The basis of the Rules to be drawn up.
22315. You say, "Can we take this as the basis?" What is the "this"?
- One consideration was: Can we take the basis of persons on board, or is it better to take the basis of size, as indicated by gross tonnage; and they came to the conclusion that it was better to take the basis of size as indicated by gross tonnage.
22316. But why?
- Because they thought so, I suppose.
22317. But why did they think so?
- I cannot tell you; I cannot tell you what other persons thought.
22318. But cannot you give me any notion?
- I was trying to do so just now.
22319. Well, what is it?
- The reason was they were told to divide the ships into classes. If they were told to do that, why should they say the basis is lives, because that would not require the division of the ships into classes. You would simply say ships of all classes are to carry boats sufficient to save all on board. That would not require division into classes and size and so on. It would be simply enunciating one principle.
22320. (The Attorney-General.) Suppose you had to divide your vessels into classes, it would mean that you would have one class for emigrants, carrying the largest number of passengers; another class would be passenger ships; another class would be cargo ships, foreign-going cargo ships; and then I suppose you would also have the home trade passenger ships?
- Yes, every sort of ship; every class of ship.
22321. You would have excursion steamers, I suppose?
- Of course.
22322. And supposing you said that they would have to carry according to the number of passengers, unless you made an exception with regard to excursion steamers it would mean that they would have to carry on these ships boats for passengers on the same scale as a foreign-going vessel. Is that what you mean?
- Not quite. What I mean is this: Supposing you had made up your mind that the principle was to be the safety of all carried - that boats were to be provided for all carried - then you would take each class, and you would say how many for this, how many for that, but you would have no distinction. You would say every ship going to sea, whether an emigrant ship, or passenger ship, or excursion ship, or whatever she is, is to carry sufficient boats to save all on board. There is no necessity to divide into classes at all. Any class of vessel would have the same.
22323. The only difficulty that strikes me is that that is met by making an exception of certain classes?
- Quite. I think it would have meant that at once. If they had taken that basis that would have arisen at once; but they did not; they took the basis of gross tonnage. They preferred it.
22324. (The Commissioner.) Do not leave it until you understand it, Mr. Attorney.
I can only go on repeating what I have said. I am most anxious to explain this as far as I can. I am perfectly clear in my own mind, but my explanatory power must be weak.
22325. (The Attorney-General.) What is clear in your mind will no doubt get clear in ours in time, but we have to get it?
- It is my fault no doubt, I quite understand.
22326. Why I referred to the division of vessels into classes was because I understood you to say that was the reason why the Committee did not take the number of lives as the basis, because they were required to divide the vessels into classes?
22327. Then what I was puzzled about was that after all you may divide into classes and still require a number of boats according to the number of passengers?
- Yes, but the same principle would run through the whole of the classes.
22328. But you may adjust that principle?
22329. (The Commissioner.) You speak at large, and in language that I do not understand. You say the same principle runs through all the classes. What is the principle that you are talking about?
- I said that -
22330. No, do tell me so that I may understand your answer. What is the principle to which you have just referred when you said the same principle would run through all the classes. What is the principle?
- The principle running through all the classes, as they are at present, is the principle of gross tonnage, of course.
That does not get us any forwarder.
22331. (The Attorney-General.) I have before me the divisions that were made in the classes, and it is obvious that although they proceed upon gross tonnage instead of the number of passengers, they did make a distinction between the various classes of steamers in the requisition for boats?
- Oh, yes.
Then, if that is so, I begin to see some daylight.
They did do it.
22332. (The Commissioner.) Probably. What they did I do not know, was to say, "Now, there are emigrant ships; put them in a class"; and then I expect you will find they provided a larger supply of lifeboats in that class than they did in a cargo-carrying ship, say?
- Yes, that is quite right.
22333. And that the difference was measured by the tonnage?
- That is quite right.
No, no. What I said was not intelligible. It was not right.
The difficulty I have still remains, and I think your Lordship will see it. Dividing into classes does not help you at all except, of course, that you may make a different requisition according to scale.
And you may either say tonnage or number of passengers, and it is possible you may make exceptions.
What they did, I expect, was this. Just listen to me and see if it is right. Here is an emigrant ship, 3,000 tons; here is a cargo boat, 3,000 tons; the number of boats for the emigrant ship will be calculated on the tonnage, but at a greater proportionate rate.
That is right.
22334. (The Commissioner.) A greater proportionate rate than the cargo ship. That is what it must have meant?
Yes, that is it.
22335. (The Attorney-General - To the witness.) Now, that is what you mean, Sir Walter, is it?
- That is exactly what I mean.
Now, if you take the book your Lordship will see how that is carried out.
In which of these books is it?
I mean the Rules made by the Board of Trade under section 427 of the merchant Shipping Act, 1894.
22336. (The Attorney-General.) There your Lordship will find, if you look at page 4 of the book. "For the purposes of these Rules British ships shall be arranged in the following classes: Division A, Class 1, Steamships carrying emigrant passengers subject to all the provisions of the merchant Shipping Act; Class 2, Foreign-going steamers having passenger certificates under the merchant Shipping Act"?
- Quite so.
"Class 3, Steamships having passenger certificates under the merchant Shipping Act authorising them to carry passengers anywhere within the home trade limits, that is to say, between places in the United Kingdom, or between the United Kingdom and ports in Europe, between the River elbe and brest. Class 4, Foreign-going steamships not certified to carry passengers." Those are all Division A. Those are steamers, and they are steamer emigrant ships, passenger ships, home trading passenger ships, and foreign-going steamers not certified to carry passengers. It deals with four. Then Division B is substantially the same thing with regard to sailing ships. Then Division C -
I do not think you need go any further.
That is the basis upon which it is carried out.
Those are the classes the witness referred to.
22337-8. (The Attorney-General.) Yes. Now, if your Lordship will turn to page 6 you will see how it is done; at any rate you will understand the principle upon which it is done, whatever the view may be about it. Page 6: "Division A, Class 1. Rules for steamships carrying emigrant passengers subject to all the provisions of the merchant Shipping Act." This is the one which applies to the "Titanic" which has already been referred to. This is the one which makes the most demands on steamships to carry boats. Then it is continued right through.
May I interrupt one moment. The leading principle running through all that is the tonnage table.
22339. The table at page 17?
- That is it, and the basis of that table you will see is tonnage.
If you follow it right through you will see sir Walter is quite right. It is all based on tonnage.
22340-1. (The Attorney-General.) But, of course, the number decreases -
May I interrupt. In some of the divisions and classes you will see they go away from the principle of tonnage rather, and adopt the principle of lives on board. This is what I have been trying to explain to you. Let us pass to the first cargo boat.
22342. Which is that: Division A, class 4, "Foreign-going steamships not certified to carry passengers," on page 8?
- Let me read that.
22343. (The Commissioner.) If you look at that, a boat of that kind which is not designed for passengers at all is to carry sufficient boats to accommodate all passengers on board?
Apparently, My Lord, according to the reading of it, it has to carry sufficient boats on each side; it is double.
22344. (The Attorney-General.) Where there is ample opportunity for providing boats on each side sufficient to carry the number on the ship, the Board of Trade does provide by its Rules that on each side there shall be a sufficient number of boats?
- Is not that a justification of what I said just now?
22345. (The Commissioner.) Pray do not begin to argue?
- Oh, no, I do not want to.
22346. (The Attorney-General.) That is what you mean now?
- Yes. This is a defection from the tonnage basis to the basis of lives on board.
Is this the principle upon which they go - that where you have an emigrant ship it is impossible to provide sufficient boats for all the people on board if you are to have proper regard for the stability of the ship and the working of the ship?
22347. (The Commissioner.) But where you have a cargo boat on which there are few people you can easily, and therefore must, provide sufficient boat accommodation for everyone on board?
- Double that.
In that particular case it is double.
That is to say, a sufficient number on each side to accommodate everyone on board?
Yes, that is the principle.
Therefore, so far as the lifeboats are concerned a man is safer upon a cargo ship than upon an emigrant ship?
And of necessity, as this Committee thought, because they thought you cannot put on an emigrant ship the number of boats that are required to save everybody?
Without interfering with the navigation of the ship.
Quite. Might I add to that, your Lordship has in mind, no doubt, a very important consideration, that when you are dealing with passenger and emigrant ships that come in the first class you will have the best skill and the best means of guarding against the sinking of the vessel if your watertight compartments are efficient.
You will have the greatest degree of flotability.
Yes, and the greatest number of precautions taken, so far as they can be, apart from boats.
That is what, at any rate, the gentlemen who framed those Rules thought at that time.
Sir Robert Finlay:
And I think it is carried out in the first three classes also by providing that they need not carry the number shown on the table on declaring that the boats they have are sufficient for all on board.
Which is that?
Sir Robert Finlay:
Division A, class 1 under B.
"(F.) Provided nevertheless," do you mean?
Sir Robert Finlay:
No. "Master or owners of ships claiming to carry fewer boats," etc. The same thing occurs in class 3.
22348. (The Attorney-General.) (F.) really embodies it: "Provided nevertheless that no ship of this class shall be required to carry more boats or rafts than will furnish sufficient accommodation for all persons on board." (To the witness.) As I understand it, Sir Walter, that has been the guiding principle ever since that Committee sat and the original Rules were framed, with amendments and improvements. That has been the principle up to the present date?
- Yes, that is so.
Are you going to take him to page 17?
Yes, but I think there is a little to get before we get as far as that. Those are the Rules for 1894. Now, we may get a little further information. The first section of the merchant Shipping Act, Life-Saving Appliances, of 1888, is to this effect. I think it throws some light certainly upon what Parliament thought at the time, and what the Board of Trade must necessarily have considered in framing these Rules: "It shall be the duty of the owner and Master of every British ship to see that his ship is provided, in accordance with Rules under this Act, with such boats, lifejackets and other appliances for saving life at sea as, having regard to the nature of the service on which the ship is employed, and the avoidance of undue encumbrance of the ship's deck, are best adapted for securing the safety of her crew and passengers." Those are the conditions they were to take into account.
I did not hear anything of those words which would point to leave to take into consideration the commercial values. I see it says, "Best calculated to preserve the lives of those on board," but it occurs to me that you must have regard to the ship as a commercial venture, otherwise a ship would never go to sea at all. If you are to think only of the lives of the people on board and nothing else you might have such a complicated system of life-saving apparatus that the ship could never sail.
As they were dealing with merchant shipping I presume they did not think it was necessary to put that in.
But there are a great many things to consider.
Oh, yes, it is not so easy as some people think to determine the question, when you consider it.
Oh, dear no. It appears to one's mind at the first blush of the thing that you ought to have boats to save every life, and if what happened on the "Titanic" is a fair sample of what would take place in similar circumstances on other boats, you ought not only to have sufficient boats to save every life, but you ought to have nearly one-third more than sufficient because these boats on the "Titanic" did not go away anything like full. If that is to be the normal state of things you want a great many more boats than sufficient to carry the number.
And of course that assumes a very calm night in which you can launch all your boats on each side, which is, of course, rather an abnormal state of things.
Of course, it may be said against that that the boats would have carried their full complement if there had been proper discipline, and so on.
Yes, but I was assuming that the boats had gone away with their full complement; then they would have saved 1,178 instead of 703 persons, but there was a very large number of persons for whom there was no accommodation.
You still have a large margin.
And if you want to make the ship quite safe - at least, quite safe you never could, but so safe that there is boat accommodation which can be launched for all the people on board - you would have to provide for full accommodation on both sides of the ship, that is to say, each side of the ship ought to be able, if you could have an ideal state of things, to launch sufficient boats to carry the complement of passengers and crew on board.
Undoubtedly, because we have had evidence which appears to me at present that in certain states of the sea you could not launch any boats on one side of the vessel; you would have to confine yourself to the other side.
Yes, you would have to get to the lee-side. That would work out at over 80 boats a side if you were to work on that basis. But at any rate it would mean that you would have to have sufficient boats on each side to carry all. And your Lordship notices that that is the view that was taken, where you can do it, by this very special provision.
Yes, I noticed it. Mr. Edwards pointed it out just now.
Sir Robert Finlay:
It might, further, involve a good many more men on board than were wanted for the navigation of the ship, to deal with those boats?
Of course, you have to man them all.
By degrees you may reach a state of things which makes it impossible to send these boats to sea, commercially. You may reach such a point.
I have already indicated to your Lordship that the argument which I shall use will be that it is much more important to make your ship as near as unsinkable as you can than to provide boats?
Of course it is.
22349. (The Attorney-General.) Although no doubt there is value to be attributed to providing boats as well. (To the witness.) I was coming to this to get it before my Lord historically. In 1890 new Rules were made by the Board of Trade. That is the question I was on?
- The first Rules were made on the recommendations of this Committee.
22350. In 1890?
- Yes. May I say something? I know the Committee had in mind the commercial considerations referred to by Lord Mersey, and I think they took these words in the section as covering this: "Having regard to the nature of the service on which the ship is employed, and the avoidance of undue encumbrance of the ship's deck." They thought that met it sufficiently.
It is in the merchant Shipping Act, at any rate.
Sir Robert Finlay:
Where is that?
22351. (The Attorney-General.) Those words occur in the first Section of the act of 1888. (To the witness.) What actually happened was, the Rules which were made by the Board of Trade in consequence of the Committee's recommendations would in the ordinary course have come into force on the 31st March, 1890?
- That is so.
22352. The Committee met again in 1890, and as a result of that they formulated some new Rules which were put before the Board of Trade; they were then presented to Parliament and were to come into force on the 1st November, 1890. That is right, is it not?
- Yes, I think that is right.
22353. That brings it to this, that they were to come into force on the 1st November, 1890. And one of those Rules provided that boats, and rafts additional to boats under davits, should provide in the aggregate three-fourths more than the minimum cubic contents of the boats under davits?
22354. That is the Rule we have had referred to and which we have discussed. Now, the New Rules that were made subsequent to that after the Life-Saving Appliances Committee had met again in 1893, were Rules which were presented to Parliament and which were to come into effect on the 1st June, 1894?
22355. Those are the Rules which are contained, with certain alterations, in this book to which we have just been referring?