British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry

Day 17

Submitted: White Star Line Instructions to Commanders

Sir Robert Finlay:
A good deal may be omitted, but the first is the letter of instruction given to the Commander on his appointment to the vessel.

"In placing the steamer. temporarily under your command, we desire to direct your attention to the Company's Regulations for the safe and efficient navigation of its vessels, and also to impress upon you in the most forcible manner the paramount and vital importance of exercising the utmost caution in the navigation of the ships, and that the safety of the passengers and crew weighs with us above and before all other considerations. You are to dismiss all idea of competitive passages with other vessels, and to concentrate your attention upon a cautious, prudent and ever watchful system of navigation which shall lose time or suffer any other temporary inconvenience rather than incur the slightest risk which can be avoided. We request you to make an invariable practice of being yourself on deck and in full charge when the weather is thick or obscure, in all narrow waters and whenever the ship is within sixty miles of land; also that you will give a wide berth to all headlands, shoals and other positions involving peril, that, where possible, you will take cross bearings when approaching any coast, and that you will keep the lead going when approaching the land in thick or doubtful weather, as the only really reliable proof of the safety of the ship's position." Then there is a paragraph about "The most rigid discipline on the part of your Officers must be observed, and you will require them to avoid at all times convivial intercourse with passengers or each other; the crew must also be kept under judicious control and the look-out men carefully selected and zealously watched when on duty, and you are to report to us promptly all instances of inattention, incapacity, or irregularity on the part of your Officers or any others under your control. Whilst we have confidence in your sobriety of habit and demeanour, we exhort you to use your best endeavours to imbue your Officers and all those about you with a due sense of the advantage which will accrue, not only to the Company, but to themselves, by being strictly temperate, as this quality will weigh with us in an especial degree when giving promotion. The consumption of coals, water, provisions, and other stores, together with the prevention of waste in any of the departments, should engage your daily and most careful attention, in order that you may be forewarned of any deficiency that may be impending, that waste may be avoided, and a limitation in quantity determined on, in case you should deem such a step necessary, in the interest of prudence." Then I do not know that I need read the next two paragraphs, but will pass to the next over the page: "We have alluded, generally, to the subject of safe and watchful navigation, and we desire earnestly to impress on you how deeply these considerations affect not only the well-being, but the very existence of this Company itself, and the injury which it would sustain in the event of any misfortune attending the management of your vessel, first from the blow which would be inflicted to the reputation of the Line, secondly, from the pecuniary loss that would accrue (the Company being their own insurers.), and thirdly, from the interruption of a regular service upon which the success of the present organisation must necessarily depend. We request your cooperation in achieving those satisfactory results which can only be obtained by unremitting care and prudence at all times, whether in the presence of danger, or when, by its absence, you may be lured into a false sense of security; where there is least apparent peril the greatest danger often exists, a well-founded truism which cannot be too prominently borne in mind." The passage about the Company being their own insurers was strictly accurate when this letter was drafted. Since then they are insured not wholly but partially.

The Commissioner:
They are still their own insurers up to a large amount.

Sir Robert Finlay:
Yes. Then the annexed letters are of importance. "On the 22nd June, 1898, we addressed the following letter to each of the Commanders in the Company's service, to which we desire to call your particular attention." Then I need not read the first paragraph, I think, which refers to what has happened to one of the Company's steamers, and I go on to the next page: "We desire to avail ourselves of this opportunity to call once more to the minds of the Company's Commanders the terms of their letters of appointment, in which they are requested to dismiss all idea of competitive passages and concentrate their attention upon a cautious, prudent, and ever-watchful system of navigation which should lose time or suffer any other temporary inconvenience rather than incur the slightest risk that can be avoided. As far as lies in our power in the selection of Commanders and Officers (on whom we wish you to impress as strongly as possible at an early opportunity these views and urgent representations.), the extra staff put on board, payment of bonuses, in warnings given and repeated by the adoption of specific tracks, although the voyage is thereby lengthened, by the acceptance of all risks of insurance of hull, passage money, and freight, and frequently on cargo, and by a liberal expenditure in all departments we do all we can to render the navigation of the Company's steamers as safe and efficient as possible, and we need scarcely point out that life and property are too often sacrificed because at an important juncture plain and simple precautions in the direction of safety are not observed. The safety of all those on board weighs with us beyond all other considerations, and we would once more impress upon you and the entire navigating staff most earnestly that no risk is to be run which can be avoided by the exercise of caution, and that upon this the question of watchful and safe navigation are dependent for the well being of the Company and their and their own professional career, and that it is only to be achieved by the exercise of care and prudence at all times, and under all circumstances, and by choosing, whenever a doubt exists, the course that tends to safety." Then there is another annexed letter; this is about land, I think, and I do not think I need to read it. Then, My Lord, the instruction which were stuck up in the chart room, which I have already handed up to your Lordship, are these - it is the bill which was stuck up in the chart room: "White Star Line. The managers are desirous of impressing upon Commanders the importance of strictly adhering to the Company's Regulations, and attention is particularly called to the following points: (1.) The vital importance of exercising the utmost caution in navigation, safety outweighing every other consideration. (2.) Over-confidence, a most fruitful source of accident, should be specially guarded against. (3.) It cannot be too strongly borne in mind that any serious accident affects prejudicially not only the welfare of the Company, but also the prospects and livelihood of the Commanders and Officers of the ships; and, as every consideration is shown to those placed in positions of responsibility, the Company relies upon faithful and efficient service being given in return, so that the possibilities of accidents may be reduced to a minimum. The Company assumes the entire risk of insurance on its vessels, their freights, and on a considerable portion of the cargoes carried by them; whilst the large sum which is paid annually to it's officers as a bonus for absolute immunity from accident is additional evidence of anxiety to subordinate all other considerations to the paramount one of safety in navigation. (4.) No thought of making competitive passages must be entertained, and time must be sacrificed or any other temporary inconvenience suffered rather than the slightest risk should be incurred." Then there is a paragraph which relates to the use of the lead: "Commanders should be on deck and in full charge during thick weather, in narrow waters, and when near the land," and then are set out articles, "Regulations for preventing collisions at sea," and then this: "The Regulations as to inspection of watertight doors, and fire and boat drill are to be carefully observed; rigid discipline amongst Officers maintained, and the crew kept under judicious control. Convivial intercourse with passengers is to be avoided." Then, My Lord, in the ship's Rules there are few passages that I desire to call attention to. The first is in the article which is opposite page 11; it is stuck in opposite article 17. "Sea Watches - Regular sea watches must be kept from the time the ship leaves the port of departure until she reaches the port of arrival. The watches are to be equally divided, and the ship is never to be left without an Officer in charge of the bridge. When the Officer of the watch believes the ship to be running into danger it is his duty to act at once on his own responsibility, at the same time he is immediately to pass word for the Commander. The Chief, First and Second Officers are never to give up charge of the bridge during their respective watches unless with the express permission of the Commander." I do not know that I need read the rest of that article. Then on pages 18 and 19 there is this passage, "Responsibility." It is headed "The Commander," at the bottom of page 18. "Responsibility - (a.) Commanders must distinctly understand that the issue of these Regulations does not in any way relieve them from responsibility for the safe and efficient navigation of their respective vessels, and they are also enjoined to remember that they must run no risk which might by any possibility result in accident to their ships. It is to be hoped that they will ever bear in mind that the safety of the lives and property entrusted to their care is the ruling principle that should govern them in the navigation of their vessels, and that no supposed gain in expenditure or saving of time on the voyage is to be purchased at the risk of accident. The Company desires to maintain for its vessels a reputation for safety, and only looks for such speed on the various voyages as is consistent with safe and prudent navigation." Then (b.) relates to entry into ports, and information being got as to vessels that they were likely to meet. Then (c.) is: "Commanders are reminded that the steamers are to a great extent uninsured, and that their own livelihood, as well as the Company's success, depends upon immunity from accident; no precaution which ensures safe navigation is to be considered excessive." Then page 28: "Responsibility" "The Chief Officer is held jointly responsible with the Commander for the safe and proper navigation of the steamer, and it shall be his duty to make a respectful representation to the Commander if he apprehends danger when his responsibility shall cease. Any neglect in this respect will not be excused." Then page 32: "Officer of the watch - 252 - Duties (a.) He must remember that his first duty is to keep a good look-out, and avoid running into danger, and though it is desirable to obtain the position of the ship as often as possible, he must on no account neglect his look-out to do so. He must also preserve order in the ship. (b.) He must not alter the course without consulting the Commander, unless to avoid some sudden danger, risk of collision, etc. (c.) When he believes the ship to be running into danger it is his duty to act at once upon his own responsibility, at the same time he will immediately pass the word to call the Commander. (d.) When it is his duty to alter the course for some approaching or crossing vessel, he must do so in plenty of time, signify by sound signals such alteration, and give such vessel a wide berth. (e.) He must call the Commander at once if it becomes foggy, hazy, if he does not think he can see a safe distance, or if in doubt about anything. (f.) He is expected to make himself thoroughly conversant with the usual Channel courses, and to be thoroughly posted in the run of the ship. Any doubt he may have as to the safety of the position of the ship, or of the course steered, he will immediately express to the Commander in a respectful manner." - Then there is pasted in on that page opposite article 254 - "Look-outs." "All Quartermasters and, as far as possible, the regular look-out men in the Company's various services, Must hold a Board of Trade certificate of examination of their eyesight." I do not think there is anything more that I need read.