British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry

Day 23

Testimony of Sir Walter J. Howell, cont.

Mr. Harbinson:
Yes, and there has been no evidence given of the exact number of Irish, and no discrimination made.

The Commissioner:
I am taking your own figure.

Mr. Harbinson:
As far as I know, I have given them to you.

The Commissioner:
I think they are probably right.

The Attorney-General:
Will your Lordship tell me the figure? Am I right in thinking the figure was 60 of Irish emigrants which my friend gave.

The Commissioner:

The Attorney-General:
It is very desirable to keep as close as we can to the percentage. He says it is under 200 that were carried. I wanted to ask this. I suppose he arrives at that from the number of third class passengers who sailed from Queenstown.

Sir Robert Finlay:

The Attorney-General:
Because Irish emigrants are not likely to have shipped at Cherbourg.

Mr. Harbinson:
No, I should not think so.

The Attorney-General:
We have the exact number; it is 113, and if that is right and 60 were saved, it would make it that more than 50 percent of the Irish emigrants were in fact saved.

The Commissioner:
What do you say to that?

Mr. Harbinson:
I merely gave your Lordship a rough estimate of the figures.

The Attorney-General:
I am only taking them and people who were not emigrants.

Mr. Harbinson:
I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the fact that there were 60 saved.

The Attorney-General:
I have the number here of those that shipped as third class passengers at Queenstown, and taking them all as emigrants that would amount to 113, and that must at least cover all those who were Irish emigrants shipped in this vessel.

The Commissioner:
I had accepted Mr. Harbinson's figure. If that is so, then 50 percent of the people whose interests, in a sense, are represented by Mr. Harbinson, were saved.

The Attorney-General:
Yes, a little more.

Mr. Harbinson:
Could the Attorney-General tell us exactly - he has the figures before him - the numbers of men and women saved, because that would shed a light on the number who sailed from Queenstown.

The Attorney-General:
I am much obliged to your Lordship for indicating the value of it. We will analyse the 113 and see how many were women and children, and then we can compare that with those saved.

The Commissioner:
I am speaking of emigrants still, and I think it would be impossible to distinguish among the third class between emigrants and people who were not emigrants.

The Attorney-General:
I am treating them all as emigrants.

The Commissioner:
You must treat them all as emigrants.

The Attorney-General:
That is what I am doing.

The Commissioner:
You can find out for me how many of them were shipped at Cherbourg, and how many of them were shipped at Southampton.

The Attorney-General:

The Commissioner:
I should think those shipped at Southampton were probably not all emigrants; but it does not matter. It may be assumed that they all were.

The Attorney-General:
We will pursue that line and give your Lordship the figures on it and, so far as we can, trace the saved and see how many of the emigrants or third class passengers from each port were saved.

The Commissioner:
That can be done, of course.

22757. (Mr. Harbinson - To the witness.) Have the Board of Trade any Regulations enjoining upon shipowners the necessity of having printed notices put up in, say, the third class accommodation to indicate which way third class passengers should go, which staircase they should use, in cases of emergency?
- No.

The Commissioner:
Exercise your own common sense. Do you think, Mr. Harbinson, that if such notices were stuck up, any body would ever read them. Judging for myself I do not believe anyone would ever read them; I never should. Perhaps I ought to. The question is, What would happen, not what ought to happen. Have you ever been on board a ship?

Mr. Harbinson:
I have never been to America, but, if I may relate my personal experience, every time I go across the Channel one of the first things I do is to read the notices.

The Commissioner:
You are one of the most extraordinary men I have ever come across. The first thing I do, if it is about the middle of the day, when I get on a cross-Channel steamer is to get some lunch, and the notion that I should go about the decks or about the ship reading all the notices that are stuck up never occurred to me.

The Attorney-General:
That is not the class of literature your Lordship chooses.

22758. (Mr. Harbinson.) I regret that luncheon is an occupation I am never able to take part in at sea. (To the witness.) Now, you make regulations in your instructions to emigrant ships as regards the third class accommodation, Sir Walter?
- Yes.

22758a. I see you have it here. Do you, as a matter of fact, or have your department, as a matter of fact, appointed travelling inspectors to see that in the course of the voyage between British ships in different ports the regulation that you make is carried out?
- No.

The Commissioner:
On that point I should like to ask a question. Does the ship carry any Officers whose duties may be described as those of a policeman, to give information and to see that order is kept?

Mr. Harbinson:
Yes, the Captain is responsible, I should say, and the master-at-arms - the Captain certainly. He is responsible for order and discipline.

The Commissioner:
I am told the master-at-arms discharges those duties. Is there only one master-at-arms, or are there more?

The Attorney-General:
There were two on the "Titanic."

22759. (The Commissioner.) Do you know what the duties of a Master-at-arms are, Sir Walter?
- No, My Lord.

The Commissioner:
Would it be the duty of the master-at-arms, Mr. Attorney, if people desired to be shown about the ship, and how to move about in it, to show them?

22760. (The Attorney-General.) I will enquire. I should have thought not.

Captain Bartlett:
The masters-at-arms, My Lord, generally police the deck, and keep a look-out for fire and anything of that sort. They do not escort the passengers round the deck at all. There are stewards for that purpose - chief third class stewards.

22761. (The Commissioner.) What I want to know is this: Supposing a third class passenger were to ask a third class steward (I mean by that a steward in the third class.) to show him the way to the boat deck, would the steward do it?

Captain Bartlett:
The steward would do it after consulting the purser; he would take it to the head of the department.

22762. (The Commissioner.) There is only one purser, I suppose?

Captain Bartlett:
No, we had four on board the "Titanic."

22763. (The Commissioner.) Have you a purser for the third class?

Captain Bartlett:
No, My Lord, not specially appointed for the third class; there is one to the first and one to the second, and there is an assistant to each. Those pursers attend to the whole of the passenger department of the ship.

22764. (The Commissioner.) Supposing a third class passenger applied to one of those stewards and said, "I want to see how I can get up from my quarters to the boat deck," what would that steward do?

Captain Bartlett:
He would report it to the chief third class steward, and he would take it to the purser.

22765. (The Commissioner.) Then would the purser, as a matter of course, provide for showing the man how to get to the boat deck?

Captain Bartlett:
Most certainly, My Lord. They would be taken round especially in a case like this. It has never been asked, to my knowledge.

22766. (The Commissioner.) I know; people never ask these things, but I want to know if they do happen to ask, whether there is any information supplied?

Captain Bartlett:
Most certainly there is.

22767. (Mr. Harbinson - To the witness.) If I may suggest to your Lordship, the point I am at with Sir Walter is, what precautions are taken in the course of a voyage to see that the Regulations of the Board of Trade as regards sanitation and matters of that sort are in force. Are there any travelling inspectors or people who visit ships from time to time to see that those Regulations are in force?
- On shore?

22768. Or between ports?
- Not between ports, not a travelling inspector.

22769. Take a British ship as an illustration that was going, for instance, to South America, and then from South America to some other port before returning to Great Britain. Would there be any inspector or Officer of the Board of Trade whose duty it would be to see that on those boats between different ports the regulations are in force?
- No.

22770. When the Merchant Shipping Act of 1906 was being discussed was not this question of boat accommodation prominently brought before the Committee?
- The Parliamentary committee?

22771. Yes, and pressed on the then President of the Board of Trade. Do you know?
- I do not remember. I should be sorry to say yes or no. There were so many subjects.

22772. (The Commissioner.) Who was President of the Board of Trade at that time?
- Mr. Lloyd George.

22773. (Mr. Harbinson.) Since then has this question of boat accommodation been prominently brought to the notice of the President of the Board of Trade. I mean prior to the date of the "Titanic" accident. Take the year 1910. Was it not pressed upon his attention in 1910?
- I only remember it being done by the Advisory Committee.

22774. Do you remember whether or not, while the "Titanic" and the "Olympic" were on the stocks in Belfast, the question of the boat accommodation that would be provided for them was then pressed on the attention of the President of the Board of Trade?
- I do not recollect that it was. It would certainly form a subject of Enquiry by the local Surveyor.

22775. If a question in Parliament were brought before the attention of the President of the Board of Trade, it would be the duty of your department to give the answer?
- To give the President particulars upon which he would base his answer.

22776. Do you know if the reply given at the time with reference to the "Olympic" was that the vessel had not only the statutory accommodation, but even more. Do you know if that was the reply given by the Board of Trade at the time?
- Yes, I think I may say yes.

22777. So that the question of boating accommodation on the "Titanic" and the "Olympic" before they were launched, was brought to the notice of the President of the Board of Trade?
- Undoubtedly. Will you allow me to add, it had been frequently discussed in the Department before that.

22778. With reference to those ships?
- Yes, and about other vessels.

22779. And yet they were allowed to go to sea with the number of boats that the White Star Line installed, in excess, as we know, of the number required by the Board of Trade?
- Yes.

The Commissioner:
I do not see how they could have prevented it.

Mr. Harbinson:
My suggestion is that the Board of Trade act slowly in the matter, but there was time to have the new regulations prescribed and enforced. Your department does not act in a hurry.

22780. (The Commissioner.) I hope not.

The Witness:
I think if it is necessary it does.

22781. If it takes 12 days to write a letter, how long would it take to frame Regulations for Merchant Shipping?
- I think it depends upon the amount of consideration necessary.

22782. I notice in these Instructions - I may be wrong - you have framed no regulations as yet with reference to wireless telegraphy, have you?
- No, they are under discussion now by the Committee.

22783. Wireless telegraphy has proved a most vital means of communication?
- Yes.

The Commissioner:
We are a long way from the point.

Mr. Harbinson:
The suggestion I make is that wireless telegraphy was one of the points that was considered with reference to the regulation of the number of boats. The three points were, watertight bulkheads, the new tracks, and wireless telegraphy. That was stated as one of the reasons why the Board of Trade did not consider that it was necessary to provide such a large number of boats. You did not make any effort to put wireless telegraphy under proper control?

The Commissioner:
What do you mean by that?

Mr. Harbinson:
For instance, My Lord, framing regulations that would prevent an operator from selling his account of a disaster to the highest bidder. That is the point.

The Commissioner:
I have nothing to do with that, you know. These men are not particularly well paid.

22784. (Mr. Harbinson.) With regard to fire, I think the Attorney-General mentioned the question in the course of his very exhaustive examination: I suggest to you (of course, it will be for my Lord.) that this question of fire, especially since the electric light has become the method of illuminating ships, is a matter which ought to be very carefully considered - the possibility of fire at sea through the fusing of wires. Have you framed any regulations regarding the installation of electricity and electric wires on ships?
- I do not think so, but that will be for the professional Officers to tell you.

22785. In the event of a fire on one of these leviathan steamers, would it not be, as a matter of fact, necessary to have boats to transfer all the passengers and crew to some place of safety, if that were convenient?
- I think so, certainly.

22786. I suggest to you that is another consideration that would weigh in the scale in the case I am pressing upon my Lord and the Court, that is, having boat accommodation for all?
- I have no doubt that has been considered.

Examined by Mr. HOLMES.

22787. Carrying on that point about fire, is there any requirement in the Rules for supplying life-saving appliances, for having extinguishers, or other appliances with regard to fire?
- I do not remember that there are any.

22788. Is the only statutory provision on the point Section 432 of the Merchant Shipping Act, which requires that every British sea-going steamship shall be provided with a hose capable of being connected with the engines of the ship, and adapted for extinguishing fire in any part of the ship. That is the only requirement?
- That is the only one I can recollect.

22789. Is there any provision for periodical survey of the appliances which may be voluntarily provided on board a ship by the owners?
- I think it was one of the points that would receive the attention of the Emigration Officer before he cleared.

22790. Can you point out anything in the report by the Emigration Officer which deals with the fire appliances on the ship?
- I have not a copy of the declaration before me.

22791. Beyond the words "the other equipment"?
- He is required to satisfy himself with regard to everything on board the ship, that she is seaworthy and fit to proceed.

22792. That is only in the case of an emigrant ship?
- Yes.

22793. In the case of an ordinary passenger ship there would be no examination whatever?
- We have one regulation I should like to read with regard to passenger steamers. It is paragraph 78 of the Regulations: "Passenger steamers going to sea should be provided with a hose adapted for the purposes of extinguishing fire in every part of the ship, and capable of being connected with the engines of the ship, or with the donkey engine, if it can be worked from the main boiler. The surveyor must take care that it answers the required purpose. The fire hose should be connected and stretched to judge of its length, and thoroughly examined at every survey, and at least once a year (and at any other time that the surveyor thinks it necessary.) tested with the conductor in its place by pumping water through it by the main or donkey engines at full speed. A proper conductor and metal bend or goose neck form part of its equipment, and should be provided."

22794. That simply deals with the statutory hose that is required?
- Yes.

22794a. Is there any provision made for a fire drill on board ship?
- This is the only supplementary regulation to that. This refers to emigrant ships: "Means for extinguishing fire."

22795. The importance of the point appears to me to be this, that unless provision is to be made for the sufficient boatage on ships to carry all passengers, the most stringent Rules should be applied for putting out fire on board a ship, which appears to be one of the points which will not be assisted very much by the increased watertight bulkheads?
- May I finish my reply? The next is paragraph 20: "Means for extinguishing fire. The Emigration Officer should be satisfied that the means for extinguishing fire are adequate and in good working order. Approved chemical extinguishers should be provided for use in the steerage compartments."

22796. That is, again, on emigrant ships only?
- That is on emigrant ships only, yes; and I wish to add to that a provision in the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, Section 290, Sub-section (1.): "Every emigrant ship shall, in addition to any other requirement under this Act, be provided with the following articles" - they are then detailed; and it says in sub-section "(d.) with a fire-engine in proper working order and of such description and power, and either with or without such other apparatus for extinguishing fire as the Emigration Officer may approve." I think that exhausts the list.

22797. On an ordinary passenger steamer which does not carry emigrants, or an ordinary cargo steamer, there is no requirement but the one about hose?
- That is so.

22798. Is there anywhere any requirement for fire drill on board any ship?
- I think not.

22799. Are you personally the Officer who appoints these surveyors under the Merchant Shipping Act?
- They are appointed with the approval of the President.

22800. Do they have a form of written appointment?
- Yes.

22801. And that is signed by you?
- That is usually signed by me.

22802. I think you said to Mr. Scanlan that in making that appointment, you rely upon the fact that he has passed the Chief Ships' Surveyor?
- On that particular subject, yes.

22803. It then becomes the duty of the surveyors to sign these declarations for passenger certificates?
- Yes, if they have passed all the examinations required of them.

22804. And do you, as a matter of course, issue a passenger certificate on receiving a declaration made by one of these surveyors?
- One or more, yes.

22805. I am not going into details with it, because you have referred us to the Chief Ship Surveyor for that purpose. Do I rightly understand you to say that in the case of a passenger steamer it has to be surveyed once a year at least?
- At least.

22806. If she is also an emigrant ship she has to be cleared every voyage?
- Quite so.

22807. In the case of a ship which is neither a passenger steamer nor an emigrant ship, is there any systematic survey of any kind whatever?
- It depends on the meaning of the word "systematic."

22808. I will leave out the word "systematic." Is there any survey provided?
- Yes, if we have reason to believe or have received a complaint that anything is wrong, we can at once order a survey, and, if necessary, a detention.

22809. But unless you receive some communication from somebody or have a sort of instinct that something is wrong, there is no regular system of survey?
- No.

22810. Do you not think that system of survey ought to be extended to all ships?
- I am not prepared to express an opinion without very full consideration.

22811. Is not it just as desirable that the boats on a cargo steamer should be in good order as on a passenger steamer?
- Oh, they are carefully surveyed every time the vessel is surveyed.

22812. You have told us there is no special provision for a survey?
- But every time she has her certificate extended, every time when she gets her certificate, she is surveyed.

22813. What certificate are you talking of now?
- The passenger certificate.

22814. (The Commissioner.) Can you tell me whether any cargo boat that leaves Hamburg is surveyed?
- No.

Mr. Holmes:
I was going to ask him about the German regulations. I believe they are very much more stringent.

The Commissioner:
Can you give me any information? Take Hamburg. Is every cargo ship surveyed before she leaves the port?

Mr. Holmes:
Not every time she leaves the port, My Lord.

The Commissioner:
She may never come back again, and she may never have been there before, for aught I know. Can you give me any idea of what the German requirements are as to surveying cargo boats?

Mr. Holmes:
No, My Lord, I cannot, but I am sure your Lordship would not suggest that because they do not do the right thing in Germany it ought not to be done here.

The Commissioner:
Not at all; but I have such faith in the good sense of the Germans that if I found they did not do it, I should think they did not do it because there were good reasons for not doing it.

22815. (Mr. Holmes - To the witness.) Can you help us upon that? Do you know what the German Regulations are?
- I am not sure. I do not think they survey every vessel; certainly not. I should think no.

22816. Do they survey every passenger vessel?
- I think so.

22817. And do you know how many Surveyors survey each vessel?
- No.

The Commissioner:
Does it not depend upon the size of the vessel?

Mr. Holmes:
I think not, My Lord. My instructions are there are three separate departments, and each Surveyor of the different parts surveys different parts of the ship.

22818. (The Commissioner.) Who is it sees the ship is not overloaded? Anybody?
- Yes, our surveyors exercise a general supervision. There is a loadline disc on the ship.

22819. Who is it sees the vessel is not laden below the line?
- Any of our surveyors is supposed to report that.

22820. Do the surveyors, in fact, visit each ship in order to see whether she is loaded below the loadline or not?
- Oh, My Lord, certainly not; it would require an army of Surveyors.

The Commissioner:
No, I think we have had Sir Walter Howell nearly long enough, Mr. Holmes.

22821. (Mr. Holmes.) Just two more questions. (To the witness.) Can you tell me upon what principle only four boats out of all those supplied on a ship are required to be equipped under these Rules with compass and lamp, and so on?
- No, I cannot answer that question. One of the technical Officers will answer that.

22822. It is a fact that there are only four?
- Speaking from memory, I think that is correct.

22823. In reply to Mr. Scanlan, you agreed that it would be improper to allow a ship of the size of the "Titanic" to go to sea with only two certificated Officers in addition to the Captain?
- Of course, I should say so, decidedly.

22824. That is the extreme limit which can be required by the Merchant Shipping Act?
- By statute, yes.

22825. Then do you not agree that the merchant Shipping Act, on that point, is out of date, and requires amendment?
- I think that requires very careful consideration. There are many considerations to be taken into account, and I should hesitate to say that it was wise to legislate on the subject, having regard to our present practice in our Mercantile Marine.

22826. You do not suggest we should rely upon our present practice for all the requirements of ships?
- No; but I think directly a Government Department lays down a minimum there is a very strong tendency to make that the maximum.

Mr. Holmes:
At present the minimum is two.

22827. (The Commissioner.) I have had something to do with the new Wages Bill, and I found just the reverse. I found the tendency was to make the maximum the minimum?
- I think, for instance, that it was the habit of some steamship companies to carry seven certificated Officers, and soon after that the Board of Trade laid down a Regulation requiring five. I think it would be a strong temptation to that firm to consider whether they would not reduce their practice.

22828. (Mr. Holmes.) I am not suggesting that anything of that kind should be done. What I suggest is that there ought to be a graduated scale in the same way as there is for boat accommodation?
- I will repeat what I said, that I think it is a matter deserving very attentive consideration.

Mr. Pringle:
May I ask one or two questions, My Lord?

The Commissioner:

Examined by Mr. PRINGLE.

22829. There is a Naval Architect to the Board of Trade?
- Yes.

22830. Who is he?
- Mr. Archer; he is called the Chief Ship Surveyor.

22831. Has he any experience as a Naval Architect?
- Yes. He will tell you when you examine him what his experience was.

22832. There is another point. You classified the surveyors who are in the employment of the Board of Trade. You said that there were 80 Engineer surveyors and 34 Shipwright Surveyors. I find that is not the classification in the Merchant Shipping Act. They are classified as Engineer surveyors, Shipwright Surveyors, or both. Now, how many of these would be described as both Engineer and Shipwright Surveyors?
- I should have to carefully look through the list, but an amendment was made by the act of 1906 with regard to the titles of our Officers.

22833. You use the old phraseology; does the amendment make any difference, in fact? Is it not simply a change in the name?
- Yes, I think it is.

22834. Could you say whether it is the practice in the various ports to have a ship surveyed by a Shipwright Surveyor as distinct from an Engineer surveyor?
- If any question is considered necessary to be investigated by a wooden ship Surveyor, he would be called in at once; otherwise it would be passed by the ship and Engineer surveyor.

22835. Do you still adhere to the idea that there is a distinction between a wooden ship Surveyor and an iron ship Surveyor?
- In some cases of old wooden ships; you require very special qualifications to survey an old wooden ship which has nearly passed out of date, but we still have a few Officers qualified for that.

22836. I wish to be clear. Do you mean that a Shipwright Surveyor is employed for the purpose of the survey of wooden ships?
- Some of them, yes, special Officers.

22837. I asked generally, all of them?
- No, there is a special class of Shipwright Surveyors so-called, and there is another class of Surveyors called Ship and Engineer surveyors, but the chief of the staff will be able to give you evidence of that much better than I can. I can only answer generally.

Mr. Edwards:
May I suggest that your Lordship gets this Witness to clear up a certain point. Your Lordship will remember that in the two certificates that were put in from the report of the survey of an emigrant ship and the declaration survey of a passenger ship, there was a disparity in the certificates as to the accommodation in boats D. In the one certificate it was certified that boats D should hold 80 persons, whereas in the other certificate it was certified that the boats of Section D should hold 64.

22838. (The Commissioner.) Will you put it to him yourself.

The Witness:
It is quite a simple answer.

22839. (Mr. Clement Edwards.) Will you tell us?
- A slight error was made; it was put 64, and it should have been 80.

Mr. Edwards:
The certificates are by the same surveyor, are they?

22840. (The Commissioner.) No, I think not. (To the witness.) Are they?
- I am not quite sure, but the nautical Officer will clear that up.

22841. But have not you the certificates in your hands?
- I am not quite sure they are the right ones.

Mr. Edwards:
I want to see if there is a common standard of arithmetic at least among the surveyors.

The Commissioner:
I thought you had a contempt for arithmetic.

22842. (Mr. Clement Edwards.) That is only on ethical grounds, My Lord.

The Witness:
I think I must still tell you the surveyor must give you the information you need.

Mr. Laing:
I have no questions, My Lord.

The Commissioner:
That is the best examination I have heard. Now, Mr. Attorney, do you want to ask anything?

The Attorney-General:

(The witness withdrew.)