British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry

Day 26

Testimony of Sir Norman Hill, cont.

24648. Of the bulkheads Committee?
- It is a very strong Committee the board has appointed, and we would be guided by them on the question of buoyancy, I think.

Mr. Butler Aspinall:
I gather from the Report that in your view tonnage is the basis -

The Commissioner:
Yes, I wanted you to ask him about that.

24649. (Mr. Butler Aspinall - To the witness.) Upon which you think it is possible to lay down a practical boat standard for passenger and emigrant ships. That is so, is it not?
- I believe it is the only practical standard.

24650. Will you tell my Lord the reasons for that opinion of yours?
- Well, My Lord, the best way of testing the practicability of it is, I think, to apply it to the existing ships afloat. Of course, one knows that with regard to cargo ships the boatage is based on life, and cargo ships have to carry enough boats on each side to accommodate all the lives on board.

24651. (The Commissioner.) If you based it on tonnage, you would provide a number of useless boats?
- You would, a great many. On the other hand, if you are basing the boatage of the passenger ships, and still more of the emigrant ships, on the numbers carried, you should never have built the present class of passenger ship. May I take an example. The average size of the emigrant ship carrying 2,000 will be, say, 10,000 tons. Now if you are going to start from the numbers carried, 2,000, and you take 50 a boat, you have 40 boats. Now 40 boats on a 10,000 ton ship, 40 lifeboats, readily launchable boats, is an absolute impossibility; and you will find that still more so because it is not a difficulty only affecting the big emigrant ships; the same difficulty is affecting a substantial number of passenger ships. You will go down, My Lord, and you will find that they are boats of 3,000 tons carrying well over 1,000 people, and carrying them very safely indeed.

24652. Then it comes to this, does it Sir Norman, that it is practically impossible for an emigrant ship designed to carry 2,000 people, to carry lifeboats sufficient to hold those 2,000 people at one time?
- With lifeboats readily available for launching, it is an absolute impossibility, I believe. Now, My Lord, if that is an unsafe ship then you could prohibit her sailing the seas; but our view is (and of course we had before us the records of these boats year after year, we have had in detail the 20 years' record.) that we cannot say that that is an unsafe ship. If you compare the loss of life on that class of ship with a cargo-boat trading across the North Atlantic, with boat accommodation on each side for everybody on board, the loss of life in the emigrant ship, both amongst the crew and amongst the passengers, is a bagatelle compared with the loss of life on the other boat.

24653. I follow quite what you mean. I do not know whether there are any statistics published - we have had some - to show the comparative loss of life at sea in emigrant ships and in cargo ships?
- Well, My Lord, I have worked them out very closely in detail. In the last 20 years we find that there have been, as near as we can estimate, 32,000 voyages made by passenger ships across the Atlantic. That is 1,600 a year. There have been casualties either resulting in loss of life, or resulting in the total loss of the ship without loss of life, in 25 cases.

24654. Out of how many?
- Out of 32,000 in 20 years. Twenty-five voyages have met with casualties resulting in either loss of life or total loss of the ship without loss of life.

24655. Is that something less than one-tenth percent.?
- Yes, it is less than one in a thousand. Now, in those 25 casualties the lives of 68 passengers and 80 of the crew were lost; that makes a total of 148.

24656. But if you include the "Titanic" your figures, of course, would be greater?
- That is so, My Lord. In the same period there were 233 casualties to other ships resulting in either loss of life or in total loss without loss of life, and in those casualties there were 17 passengers and 1,275 crew lost, giving a total of 1,292.

24657. (The Attorney-General.) Will you give us the number of the ships as you did in the other case?
- The total number of voyages?

24658. Yes?
- No, I cannot; the total number of casualties is 233.

24659. Over what period?
- Over 20 years.

24660. We cannot get the proportion?
- No, I am doing my best to get it. It is a difficult figure to get at, but I believe you will find that in the North Atlantic trade at least three-fourths of the voyages are in the passenger and the emigrant ships; they represent nearly three-fourths of the total. If it can be found anywhere you will find it in the annual Navigation Returns. The figures that I have got from there are so striking - I mean it shows so few voyages from the other ships - that I am asking the board to verify them for me.

24661. (The Commissioner.) Can you speak generally as to the percentage of loss of life at sea as against the loss of life travelling on land?
- No, My Lord, I never compared those. I can give you the loss of life at sea.

The Commissioner:
I do not suppose there are any reliable figures upon that subject.

Mr. Edwards:
The figures are available for railways and mines on land, and also for sailors at sea.

24662. (The Commissioner.) Yes, but I am afraid they would be of very little use, because you could not find out what time the people on land had been travelling.

The Witness:
No.

The Commissioner:
You could not find out what the length of their journeys was.

Mr. Edwards:
That is true.

The Commissioner:
And I do not think the figures would assist very much, but I have always had the impression - not so far as I know supported by any facts - that travelling by sea was safer than travelling by land.

Mr. Edwards:
It is the old story of the chimney pot danger on land, My Lord.

24663. (The Commissioner.) That is an old story that I do not know.

The Witness:
If I am not wearying you on this question of tonnage, we have applied the figures to see how far the requirements of persons carried were met by boating on a tonnage basis. There were on the 23rd April last 521 passenger and emigrant ships with their certificates running. In 343 of those, that equals 66 percent, the boatage on the tonnage basis provided boats under davits for all on board. Now, with regard to 75 of the remainder when you brought into account the three-fourths' allowance -

24664. The 12th Rule?
- No, it is before that, when you have not got boats under davits sufficient for everybody then you have to increase it by three-fourths or one-half of their smaller boats. If you applied the Rule, with 75 of the remainder also, you found that the boat scale under the tonnage basis provided sufficient for all on board. The result is that under those two Rules, 428 out of your 521, that is 80 percent of the vessels boated on the tonnage basis, provide sufficient boat accommodation or life raft accommodation for all on board. Now, there is no other basis that I know of by which you could approximate any such results. The other important matter I take with regard to the passenger-carrying power of the ship, is the length. We have been working on gross tonnage. If you take length, and try any number of experiments, you cannot construct any general standard which would meet the object you have in view, which I take it is to provide boat accommodation for the greatest number of people. If you try to base on the standard of length you cannot get anything approaching these results.

24665. I think I understand what you say up to this point; but will you try to tell me, if you can, why there could not be on a ship like the "Titanic," say the "Olympic," a sufficient number of boats conveniently carried on the boat deck, to accommodate every soul on board?
- If I may say so, that is the point that my committee are now going very carefully into, and they are not ready with their recommendation.

24666. I quite understand what you say with reference to emigrant ships of 10,000 tons, and the impossibility from a practical point of view of carrying sufficient lifeboats to accommodate everybody on board such a ship; but take the "Titanic," a boat of 45,000 tons, designed to carry whatever the number may be: as I understand, the "Olympic" is now carrying, whether wisely or not is another matter, boats sufficient to accommodate any number that the law will allow that vessel to carry. That is so?
- So we understand.

24667. If the boats that are being carried now on board the "Olympic" do not themselves constitute a source of danger, which I quite understand may be the fact, I do not see why in respect to other boats of the size of the "Titanic" and the "Olympic," Rules cannot be made to compel them to carry boatage accommodation for the whole number that the ship may be by law enabled to carry. That is a matter, you say, under consideration?
- We are considering, if I may say so, the point you have named, that is, as I understand it, the safety of the ship herself -

24668. Yes?
- And, secondly, the availability of the boats that are immediately under davits for prompt launching, so that they may not be hampered and interfered with.

24669. There are many things to be considered, the feasibility, for instance, of some plan of shifting the boats easily from the port side to the starboard side, and vice versa?
- Yes.

24670. So that if a ship is in a rough sea, or has a list the boats of the ship may all be available on one side of the ship?
- That is so.

24671. And there are other matters of that kind which ought to be considered?
- And the distribution of the boats, My Lord, is a very important matter.

24672. And another matter, it appears to me, you ought to consider is this: I will assume for the moment that the evidence which has been given before us is accurate, that there was no disorder on this ship, that everything worked well during the two and a half hours when the ship was sinking: there is the fact that the boat accommodation was only used to the extent of two-thirds or three-fourths - many of the boats went away partly empty, so that in truth the boatage accommodation, assuming that it was properly used, was too much?
- One of the greatest difficulties in all these ingenious contrivances and ingenious inventions, of which my committee has had a good many commended to its notice, is that they seem to forget the question that one of the greatest difficulties is marshalling the people into the boats.

24673. Marshalling the people?
- Yes; you have got a huge hotel, a hotel with thousands of people on board, and how you can marshall those people into the boats is one of the greatest difficulties you can think of. The substantial recommendation of our report of 4th July last is that what you must do is to do everything you possibly can to secure the buoyancy of the ship.

24674. It has never been suggested that the passengers should be drilled?
- No, My Lord, you cannot do it; it is impossible.

24675. So as to make it easy for them to get into the boats; not only the crew drilled to handle the boats, but the passengers drilled for getting into them?
- My Lord, we should lose more passengers' lives by pneumonia, by turning them out at night, to have effective drills, than we should save in the boats.

Sir Robert Finlay:
In regard to what was said by your Lordship just now, May I refer your Lordship to what Mr. Sanderson said on page 481, just below the middle of the page your Lordship will see this passage occurs: "(Sir Robert Finlay.) My Lord, Mr. Sanderson would like to make a correction with regard to one thing he said yesterday, if your Lordship will let him. (The Commissioner.) You need not go into the box, Mr. Sanderson, if you tell us what it was. (Mr. Sanderson.) Thank you, My Lord. In the report of my evidence in regard to the boating of the 'Olympic' there is a possibility that I would be misunderstood in the record as it now is. I would like to say that after the accident to the 'Titanic' we started out with the intention of boating the 'Olympic' to the full extent of her capacity for passengers, that is to say, for about 3,500 people, 60 odd boats; and we found we were getting into such a ridiculous position, we were crowding the ship so with boats, that we modified those instructions and directed them to only boat the ship for the actual number of passengers and crew she was carrying at the time, and that is now the policy we are carrying out, which is a considerable reduction from the original intention."

The Commissioner:
But, still one must contemplate the possibility of the ship carrying the total number that the law permits her to carry.

Sir Robert Finlay:
Yes.

The Commissioner:
And if she did, then you would require to have the 60 boats.

Sir Robert Finlay:
Yes; it was only on the question of the practice on the "Olympic" that I desired to call attention to that passage.

The Attorney-General:
The additional boats are mostly Berthon's, I think, folding boats; we saw them.

The Commissioner:
Or are they Engelhardt boats?

The Attorney-General:
No, Berthon boats, Mostly.

24676. (The Commissioner.) You can tell me, Sir Norman, which boats do you prefer when you come to what are called collapsible boats; do you prefer the Engelhardt boats or the berthon boats?
- My committee do not want to pin ourselves to any particular patent, but what we call the decked lifeboats, such as the Engelhardt boats, we think are far the best; but we do not consider those are collapsible boats.

24677. You do not think the Engelhardt boats collapsible?
- No.

24678. You apply that term only to the berthon boats that double up?
- I do not want to deal with particular patents.

Examined by Mr. SCANLAN.

24679. Is it the case that this sub-Committee dealing with life-saving appliances only met twice?
- Twice.

24680. I gather they occupied part of the forenoon of each day?
- Probably from half-past 10 to half-past 1 or 2.

24681. Is that the entire time taken by this Committee to deal with the question of the increase of lifeboat accommodation?
- The entire time taken by the sub-Committee.

24682. Had the sub-Committee when it met any recommendations from the parent Committee with reference to lifeboat accommodation, and how it might be increased?
- No.

You complain of Mr. Carlisle's evidence as being unfair to his fellow members?

The Commissioner:
Inaccurate.

24683. (Mr. Scanlan.) Inaccurate, and I think you also said unfair to the Committee?
- Mr. Carlisle's evidence, so far as the Committee is concerned, is an invention - a pure invention.

24684. Do you think that is quite fair to him?
- What I stated?

24685. To characterise the whole of his evidence as pure invention?

24685a. (The Commissioner.) It is quite fair, if it is true, to say it.

The Witness:
And that it is true is shown absolutely by the shorthand Note that was taken of the whole of the proceedings.

24686. (Mr. Scanlan.) We have had it from him that he only sat two days with you, and that is quite true?
- Quite true.

24687. There is no invention about that?
- It is an invention to put it that he only sat for the two last days, or whatever the implication is.

The Commissioner:
The impression that his evidence gives, I think you will see if you read it, is that he joined the Committee on the two last days of its sitting, as though it had been sitting for weeks before; and it was not, you know.

24688. (Mr. Scanlan - To the witness.) But had not you, at all events, a meeting at which you decided to co-opt Mr. Carlisle on to your Committee?
- We did that at the general meeting at which the sub-Committee was appointed.

24689. So that it was not the sub-Committee that decided on taking in Mr. Carlisle and Mr. Royden?
- I believe it was the sub-Committee, but we were all in the same room together; the Committee left it to the sub-Committee.

24690. At any rate, that was one meeting before Mr. Carlisle came.

The Commissioner:
No, it is not. That was not a meeting of the sub-Committee at all; that was a meeting of the General Committee. But it does not matter.

24691. (Mr. Scanlan.) But there were all the members of the sub-Committee there. You contravert the statement made by Mr. Carlisle that the scale you arrived at provides for no increase in the lifeboat accommodation for ships like the "Titanic"?
- I say it does provide 50 percent increase.

24692. Your evidence is it provides 50 percent increase. Now, I would like to refer you to paragraph 6 in your report which deals with the additional provision of lifeboats?
- Yes.

24693. Where you have ships divided into watertight compartments -?
- To the satisfaction of the Board of Trade.

24694. Yes. Did not you propose there that the requirements of Section 12 of the original Rule should be departed from where the ships are provided with efficient watertight compartments?
- I am afraid I do not quite follow, Mr. Scanlan. We exempt them altogether if they comply with the addition, certainly.

24695. You exempt them from any addition?
- We strengthen Rule 12 in favour of shipping which complies with the requirements of the Board of Trade.

24696. You strengthen No. 12?
- Yes.

24697. But by strengthening No. 12 you weaken the provision for lifeboat accommodation?
- If you have got a ship which the Board of Trade will pass as unsinkable - we know at that time that the "Titanic" did not comply with the board's conditions; we knew at the time that the "Mauretania" did not comply with the board's conditions; we knew at the time that the "Lusitania" did not comply with the board's conditions, and you may take it we knew there was no commercial ship afloat carrying these large numbers that did comply with the board's conditions which are Sir Edward Harland's Committee's report.

24698. Are you making a statement that the "Titanic" did not comply with the Board of Trade's conditions?
- It did not comply with Sir Edward Harland's Committee's report.

24699. I wish you to tell my Lord in what respect the "Titanic" failed to comply?
- I could not, Mr. Scanlan.

24700. Why do you say that it failed to comply if you do not know in what respect it did fail?
- I could only tell you that Mr. Carlisle told us -

24701. (The Commissioner.) May I interrupt you a moment. Do you say there is no commercial ship afloat which complies with the requirements of Sir Edward Harland's Committee?
- Well, My Lord, no ship carrying these large numbers in the emigrant trade. Perhaps there is one, My Lord.

24702. What is it?
- It is one of the Cunard boats, one of the older Cunard boats, but we had it in evidence that plans of the "Mauretania" had been submitted and rejected as not being in accordance with Sir Edward Harland's Committee.

24703. Rejected by whom?
- By the Board of Trade as not being in accordance with Sir Edward Harland's Committee, and the same as to the "Lusitania." And Mr. Carlisle told us it was no good submitting the plans of the "Titanic" because they were not in accordance with Sir Edward Harland's Committee, and that no commercial ship could be so built; and it was because of that recommendation that we advised a reconsideration of Sir Edward Harland's recommendations.

24704. But I think we had some evidence that ships have been passed by the Board of Trade, I think four a year or something of that kind, that have complied with Clause 12?
- The majority of them are quite small ships; some of them, I believe you will find, are ferry boats, and the majority of them I think you will find are small vessels. I think I am right in saying that there is only one emigrant ship which has complied.

24705. Only one emigrant ship?
- I think I am right.

24706. Since the Rule came into existence?
- Well, I will not say that; at the beginning for some years there were one or two.

The Commissioner:
If it is true, Mr. Attorney, I am afraid I have misconceived the effect of the evidence as to what has been done under Rule 12. It never occurred to me that when an average of four vessels were said to have come under this Rule per annum since it was in existence the vessels included ferry boats.

The Attorney-General:
We will see what it really does mean.

24707. (Mr. Scanlan - To the witness.) Were you informed at the Board of Trade by some official of the Board of Trade that the "Titanic" did not comply with the Board of Trade's requirements?
- No, by Mr. Carlisle.

24708. Did you ask him in what respect was the failure of compliance?
- Yes, there was a general discussion on that point.

24709. Can you tell us generally, if you cannot tell us accurately, what are the particulars in which the "Titanic" was deficient?
- I think it is mainly a matter of longitudinal bulkheads.

24710. Longitudinal bulkheads?
- I think so; that is my recollection.

24711. (The Commissioner.) Am I right in saying that the objection was that the ship had not such bulkheads as the "Mauretania" and the "Lusitania" had?
- No, My Lord, those had been rejected.

24712. (The Attorney-General.) Is that quite right?
- Yes, we were told, and the dates were given, that the plans of the "Mauretania" and the "Lusitania" had been sent to the Board of Trade and rejected as not complying with Rule 12. I have a Return, and I will give it to you, Mr. Attorney, giving all the names and all the dates.

24713. (Mr. Scanlan.) Was it from somebody officially in the Board of Trade you got information about the "Lusitania" and the "Mauretania" failing to comply with the Board of Trade's requirements?
- No, the information about the "Lusitania" and the "Mauretania" in June, 1911, came from Mr. Royden, who was a member of our Committee and the Deputy-Chairman of the Cunard Company.

24714. I should like to ask you this to make it clear. Is there any official in the Board of Trade who is responsible for the statement that the "Titanic" did not come up to the Board of Trade's requirements?
- Under Rule 12, no. I had the statement from no official.

The Commissioner:
You are talking always of Rule 12?

24715. (Mr. Scanlan.) Yes, My Lord. (To the witness.) I think we had the statement made that no application was made under Rule 12?
- Mr. Carlisle told us at the Committee that it was no use applying for the "Titanic."

24716. Was it the case, then, that either the builders, Messrs. Harland and Wolff, or the owners, the White Star people, knew themselves that the ship was deficient in some particulars, and consequently did not make the application?
- I do not think that is quite a fair way of putting it.

24717. Just put it in any way you like yourself?
- Rule 12 says that if you comply, or if you come up to the category of unsinkable ships - I am paraphrasing the Rule -

24718. (The Commissioner.) That is not what it says, Sir Norman?
- That is too strong, My Lord.

24719. (Mr. Scanlan.) I will read it to you?
- I have it, so that I can follow it.

24720. "When ships of any class are divided into efficient watertight compartments to the satisfaction of the Board of Trade, they shall only be required to carry additional boats, rafts, and buoyant apparatus of one-half of the capacity required by these Rules, but the exemption shall not extend to lifejackets or similar approved articles of equal buoyancy suitable to be worn on the person?
- Yes. The way the board interpret that Rule is this in practice: Unless the ship comes up to the standard laid down by Sir Edward Harland's Committee of 1890 as practically an unsinkable ship it will not pass you under Rule 12.

24721. (The Commissioner.) Will you repeat that explanation; I did not hear it?
- My Lord, the way the board interpret Rule 12 is this; that unless a ship comes up to the standard laid down by Sir Edward Harland's Committee in all respects they will not give the exemption under 12.

24722. Sir Edward Harland's Committee reported as follows: "Vessels may be considered able to float in moderate weather with any two adjoining compartments in free communication with the sea if fitted with efficient transverse watertight bulkheads, so spaced that when two such compartments are laid open to the sea the uppermost watertight deck to which all the bulkheads extend, and which we will call the bulkhead deck, is not brought nearer to the water surface than would be indicated by a line drawn round the side at a distance amidships of three -hundredths of the depth at side at that place below the bulkhead deck." That is what they reported?
- Yes; and then there are detailed recommendations as to the mechanical arrangements by which that result is to be obtained, and the board, as I understand it, insist on these particular detailed arrangements being carried out in all respects before they will give the certificate under Rule 12.

Rule 12 does not appear to me to contemplate the construction of a vessel which shall be unsinkable, otherwise there would be no occasion for any provision of lifeboats except for the purpose of communicating with another ship.

Mr. Scanlan:
It seems to me to contemplate a standard of efficiency of the watertight compartments, and if this standard is to be insisted on for a matter which is so relatively small as the difference between 3/4 and 1/2 of the additional lifeboat accommodation, what it appears to me is that it should be insisted on for the general purpose for which watertight compartments are provided, that is, for the general security of the ship.

The Commissioner:
It may be.

24723. (Mr. Scanlan.) Do you follow?
- Yes, I follow that.

Continued >