United States Senate Inquiry

Day 17

Sea Lanes and Steamer Tracks

HYDROGRAPHIC OFFICE, NAVY DEPARTMENT.
May 15, 1912.

There is submitted herewith a memorandum on the steamer lanes and the ice question prepared by the Hydrographic Office on April 20,1912, and published by authority of the Secretary of the Navy, which gives a brief history of the adoption of the steamer lanes.

Following is the chronology of recent events bearing upon the subject of the trans-Atlantic tracks:

January 14, 1912, changed from the accepted northerly set of tracks to the accepted southerly set of tracks (the one upon whose westward route the Titanic was lost. This change has been made annually at the middle of January, and the change from the southerly to the northerly lane has been made annually at the middle of August by formal agreement entered into by all the trans-Atlantic companies in 1898.

April 14. 1912, the Titanic struck ice and sunk in latitude 41º 46' North longitude, 50º 14' West, early April 15.

April 15, Hydrographic Office received radio telegram from German steamer Amerika via Titanic and Cape Race, reporting two icebergs April 14, in latitude 41º 27' North longitude, 50º 08' West. This news, which was received early in the morning was at once telegraphed to the branch hydrographic office, New York.

April 16, it had become apparent from numerous reports gathered by the Hydrographic Office that the ice season was an extraordinary one and the office took up the question of shifting the steamer lane with its branch office in New York and with the Navy Department.

April 16, the steamship companies in New York announced that they had shifted their route to cross 47 west., in latitude 41 north, westbound, and to cross 47 west, in latitude 40 10' north, eastbound.

April 18, having received the approval of the Secretary of the Navy, the office directed Lieut. Grady, in charge of the branch Hydrographic Office at New York, to confer quietly with the steamship companies and urge a still farther southward shifting of the steamship lane. Lieut. Grady found the companies entirely open to suggestion; they cabled to their European houses, and, by common agreement, the tracks were laid to the southward, as follows: April 19, westbound, great circle to latitude 30º north, longitude 45º west; then to latitude 39º north, longitude 50º west; then to Nantucket Shoals Lightship; then to Ambrose Lightship.

Mediterranean steamers will follow the same tracks westward of longitude 45º west.

Eastbound, Ambrose Lightship to latitude 40º north, longitude 70º west; then to latitude 38º 20' north, longitude 50º west; then to latitude 38º 20' north, longitude 45º west; then great circle to Bishops Rock.

Mediterranean steamers will follow the same tracks to latitude 38º 20' north, longitude 45º west; then the usual tracks to the strait.

May 9, Hydrographic Office received another radio telegram from German steamer Amerika, via Cape Race, reporting large icebergs in latitude 39º 02' north. Longitude 47º west. The office immediately telegraphed this news to the branch Hydrographic Office at New York, which gave it the widest publicity, and resulted in the steamship companies again taking the matter up and agreeing to make still another change in the lanes, as follows:

May 11, westbound lane follows great circle to latitude 38º north, longitude 45º west; thence along the parallel of 38º to longitude 50º. Eastbound lane to latitude 37º 40' north, longitude 50º west; thence along the parallel of latitude 37º 40' north, to longitude 45º west; thence by great circle to Europe.

The wisdom of this latest change is demonstrated by the receipt in the Hydrographic Office of reports from sea showing that numerous icebergs had reached the thirty-ninth parallel, and some had even passed south of that latitude.

JOHN J. KNAPP