United States Senate Inquiry


Speech of Senator William Alden Smith, cont.

It is no excuse that the apparatus on the Carpathia was antiquated; it easily caught the signal of distress and spoke with other ships nearly 200 miles away, both before and after the accident, while the operator says it was good for 250 miles. The steamship Californian was within easy reach of this ship for nearly four hours after all the facts were known to Operator Cottam. The captain of the Carpathia says he gave explicit directions that all official messages should be immediately sent through other ships, and messages of passengers should be given preference. According to "Jack" Binns, the inspector, the apparatus on the Californian was practically new and easily tuned to carry every detail of that calamity to the coast stations at Cape Sable and Cape Race, and should have done so. The course taken was singularly in accord with the reticence of the officials of the White Star Co., who knew at 2.30 Monday morning, through the steamship Virginian and their office in Montreal, what was supposed to have occurred. I recognize that this was not official and that they would insist on confirmation because of their faith in the vessel, but it was the truth, nevertheless, and, according to their own admission, the information then given and which they battled against during all of that day, contained absolutely the entire story, and yet, at 7.51 Monday evening, a message from their own office, officially signed, contained the positive assurance of the safety of the passengers, was sent to a half-crazed father at Huntington, W. Va., nearly two hours after their admitted familiarity with the details of the disaster. Possibly this was an accident, and I know it is greatly deplored by the managing officer of that company. But it is little wonder that we have not been able to fix with definiteness the author of this falsehood.

It is not a pleasant duty to criticize the conduct or comment upon the shortcomings of others, but the plain truth should be told. Capt. Lord, of the steamship Californian, sailing from London to Boston, who stopped his ship in the same vicinity where the Titanic is supposed to have met with the accident, passed two large icebergs at 6.30 p.m. Sunday evening, April 14; at 7.15 he "passed one large iceberg and two more in sight to the southward." Because of ice he stopped his ship for the night in latitude 42° 5' N., longitude 50° 7' W., and at 10.50 (ship's time and 9.10 New York time) he sent a wireless message to the Titanic, telling them he was "stopped and surrounded by ice." The Titanic operator brusquely replied to "shut up," that he was "busy." Capt. Lord stated that "from the position we stopped in to the position in which the Titanic is supposed to have hit the iceberg was 19 1/2 miles," and the course south, 16 west. I am of the opinion it was much nearer than the captain is willing to admit, and I base my judgment upon the scientific investigation of the Hydrographic Office of our Government. He says this was the last communication he had with the Titanic. He also says, "We doubled the lookout from the crew, put a man on the forecastle head - that is, right at the bow of the ship - and I was on the bridge myself with an officer" until half-past 10, "which I would not have been under ordinary conditions." He thus admits extraordinary conditions, and that he received reports of icebergs, growlers, and field ice 42° north from 40° 51' west from Capt. Barr, of the steamship Coronian, the day before, and also from the steamship Parisian on that Sunday, while the steamship New Amsterdam reported to him several days before that they had seen field ice "extending as far to the northeast as horizon is visible."

He also admits that the morning after this accident he "was practically surrounded by icebergs, the largest from 100 to 150 feet high and from 700 to 800 feet in width above the water." He admits that the officer on watch on the steamship Californian saw some signals and that when he (the captain) came off the bridge at half-past 10 he said: "I pointed out to the officer that I thought I saw a light coming along, and it was a most peculiar light." He also said that he went below and told the engineer to keep the steam ready, saying that he saw these signals, and then said: "There is a steamer coming. Let us go to the wireless and see what the news is." He says he "met the operator coming" and said: "Do you know anything?" The operator replied: "The Titanic."

I call attention to the fact that the last communication with the Titanic was the one to which I have referred, which occurred at 10.50 ship time, or nearly an hour before the accident occurred.

And the captain said: "I gave him instructions to let the Titanic know," which he did,and found that it was the Titanic, although the captain said: "This is not the Titanic; there is no doubt about it." He then says:

She came and lay, at half-past 11, alongside of us until, I suppose, a quarter past 1, within 4 miles of us. We could see everything on her quite distinctly; see her lights. We signaled her at half-past 11, with the Morse lamp. She did not take the slightest notice of it. That was between half-past 11 and 20 minutes to 12. We signaled her again at 10 minutes past 12, half-past 12, a quarter to 1, and 1 o'clock with a very powerful Morse lamp, which you can see about 10 miles.

He further says that -

When the second officer came on the bridge at 12 o'clock, or 10 minutes past 12, I told him to watch that steamer which was stopped. I pointed out the ice to him; told him we were surrounded by ice; to watch the steamer, that she did not get any closer to her.

I call attention to the fact that from the chart you can readily see the position of the Californian, and that to the eastward there is no ice, to the southward of her there is no ice, and to the northward there is no ice; this ship was not surrounded by ice. She was against the ice in her westward course, and was in exactly the same situation as the Titanic before the impact.

At 20 minutes to 1 I whistled up the speaking tube and asked if she was getting any nearer. He said, "No; she is not taking any notice of us;" so I said, "I will go and lie down a bit." At a quarter past 1 he said, "I think she has fired a rocket," and, continuing, "She did not answer the Morse lamp" - this is the officer on the bridge, who continued, "and she has commenced to go away from us." I then said, "Call her up and let me know at once what her name is." So he put the whistle back, and, apparently, he was calling. Then I went to sleep.

Capt. Lord then says -

Rockets are used as signals of distress and can not be mistaken.

He does not believe that he could have seen the Titanic Morse signals, but is not quite so doubtful about being unable to see rockets that distance.

Most of the witnesses of the ill-fated vessel before the committee saw plainly the light, which Capt. Lord says was displayed for nearly two hours after the accident, while the captain and some of the officers of the Titanic directed the lifeboats to pull for that light and return with the empty boats to the side of the ship.

Ernest Gill, a member of the crew of the Californian, says that he came on deck from the engine room at 11.56, ship's time, and just before the accident that fatal Sunday evening, and saw plainly over the rail on the starboard side "the lights of a very large steamer about 10 miles away," and that he "could see her port side lights;" that he then went to his cabin and said to his mate, William Thomas, that it was "clear off to the starboard, for I saw a big vessel going along at full speed"; that he could not sleep and went on deck again and "saw a white rocket about 10 miles away on the starboard side and in seven or eight minutes saw distinctly a second rocket in the same place," saying to himself "that must be a vessel in distress."

Why did the Californian display its Morse signal lamp from the moment of the collision continuously for nearly two hours if they saw nothing? And the signals which were visible to Mr. Gill at 12.30 and afterwards, and which were also seen by the captain and officer of the watch, should have excited more solicitude than was displayed by the officers of that vessel, and the failure of Capt. Lord to arouse the wireless operator on his ship, who could have easily ascertained the name of the vessel in distress and reached her in time to avert loss of life, places a tremendous responsibility upon this officer from which it will be very difficult for him to escape. Had he been as vigilant in the movement of his vessel as he as he was active in displaying his own signal lamp, there is a very strong probability that every human life that was sacrificed through this disaster could have been saved. The dictates of humanity should have prompted vigilance under such conditions. And the law of Great Britain giving effect to article 2 of the Brussels convention in regard to assistance and salvage at sea, is as follows:

The master or person in charge of a vessel shall, so far as he can do so without serious danger to his own vessel, her crew, and passengers (if any), render assistance to every person, even if such person be a subject of a foreign State at war with His Majesty, who is found at sea in danger of being lost, and if he falls to do so, he shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.

The Senate passed, on the 18th day of April last, a bill giving effect to the same treaty, which clearly indicates the disposition of the Government of England, and our own as well , in matters of this character.

I am well aware from the testimony of the captain of the Californian that he deluded himself with the idea that there was a ship between the Titanic and the Californian, but there was no ship seen there at daybreak and no intervening rockets were seen by anyone on the Titanic, although they were looking longingly for such a sign and only saw the white light of the Californian, which was flashed the moment the ship struck and taken down when the vessel sank. A ship would not have been held there if it had been eastbound, and she could not have gone west without passing the Californian on the north or the Titanic on the south. That ice floe held but two ships - the Titanic and the Californian. The conduct of the captain of the Californian calls for drastic action by the Government of England and by the owners of that vessel, who were the same owners as those of the ill-fated ship.

Contrast, if you will, the conduct of the captain of the Carpathia in this emergency and imagine what must be the consolation of that thoughtful and sympathetic mariner, who rescued the shipwrecked and left the people of the world his debtor as his ship sailed for distant seas a few days ago. By his utter self-effacement and his own indifference to peril, by his promptness and his knightly sympathy, he rendered a great service to humanity. He should be made to realize the debt of gratitude this Nation owes to him, while the book of good deeds, which had so often been familiar with his unaffected valor, should henceforth carry the name of Capt. Rostron to the remotest period of time. With most touching detail he promptly ordered the ship's officers to their stations, distributed the doctors into positions of greatest usefulness, prepared comforts for man and mother and babe; with foresight and tenderness he lifted them from their watery imprisonment and, when the rescue had been completed, summoned all of the rescued together and ordered the ship's bell tolled for the lost, and asked that prayers of thankfulness be offered by those who had been spared. It falls to the lot of few men to perform a service so unselfish, and the American Congress can honor itself no more by any single act than by writing into its laws the gratitude we feel toward this modest and kindly man. The lessons of this hour are, indeed, fruitless and its precepts ill-conceived if rules of action do not follow hard upon the day of reckoning. Obsolete and antiquated shipping laws should no longer encumber the parliamentary records of any Government, and overripe administrative boards should be pruned of dead branches and less sterile precepts taught and applied.

Upon the bosom of the sea the nations have for ages commingled together, arts and manufactures have been exchanged freely, and the knowledge of language spread to the remotest limit of civilization. The sea, once a torment to primitive man, has long since given way to his intelligent mastery, and in its changing moods there is real glamour; there the daring spirit of the explorer and trader still lingers in this period of sharpest rivalry; there prizes await the fleetest skipper.

I think the presence of Mr. Ismay and Mr. Andrews stimulated the ship to greater speed than it would have made under ordinary conditions, although I cannot fairly ascribe to either of them any instructions to this effect.

The very presence of the owner and builder unconsciously stimulates endeavor, and the restraint of organized society is absolutely necessary to safety. As men have re-formed anew the natural banks of the ocean and struck the shackles from its contracted bounds, dedicating its bays and shores to commerce, so must we do our utmost to overcome its perils.

Piracy and pillage are twin trophies of international concern and, under the same searching scrutiny, modern shipping should be free from every inherent defect.

The calamity through which we have just passed has left traces of sorrow everywhere; hearts have been broken and deep anguish unexpressed; art will typify with master hand its lavish contribution to the sea; soldiers of state and masters of trade will receive the homage which is their honest due; hills will be cleft in search of marble white enough to symbolize these heroic deeds, and, where kinship is the only tie that binds the lowly to the humble home bereft of son or mother or father, little groups of kinsfolk will recount, around the kitchen fire, the traits of human sympathy in those who went down with the ship. These are choice pictures in the treasure house of the affections, but even these will sometime fade; the sea is the place permanently to honor our dead; this should be the occasion for a new birth of vigilance, and future generations must accord to this event a crowning motive for better things.

Recently we have witnessed a marked concentration of control of ocean transportation. Three companies - the International Mercantile Marine Co., the Hamburg-American Co., and the Royal Mail Steam Packet Co. - control 604 ocean steamers with a gross tonnage of 3,632,233 tons. These companies control more tonnage than the total American tonnage of all classes on the Great Lakes - 2,943,523 tons. Any one of these companies controls tonnage nine times as great as the over-sea steam tonnage of the United States, and twice as great as the total registered steam tonnage of the merchant marine of the United States.

Regulation of steamship transportation is as necessary as regulation of railroad transportation, and less difficult to obtain. Transportation by rail is conducted through settled localities, where many residents would quickly discover and immediately report any irregularities or disregard of safety requirements, while by water it is conducted beyond the criticism of any except the actual passengers of the ship, making it all the more necessary for definite regulations.

Lanes of travel must be more carefully defined, strength of bow more positive, and watertight subdivision to limit submergence, life-saving equipment better and numerous enough for all, discipline and practice a rudimentary exaction, eye more keen and ear alert to catch the warning cry, as on British battleships as well as on our own, powerful lights should be provided for merchant vessels to search out the partially submerged derelict; buoys should be carried by every ship to mark temporarily the place of the ship's burial in case of accident; and men of strength and spirit there must be, won back to a calling already demoralized and decadent. But 10 percent of the men before the mast in our merchant marine are natives or naturalized Americans; even England, that 20 years ago had barely 7,000 Orientals on her merchant ships, now carries over 70,000 of that alien race. Americans must reenlist in this service, they must become the soldiers of the sea, and, whether on lookout, on deck, or at the wheel, whether able or common seamen, they should be better paid for their labor and more highly honored in their calling; their rights must be respected, and their work carefully performed; harsh and severe restraining statutes must be repealed, and a new dignity given this important field of labor.

"In our imagination we can see again the proud ship instinct with life and energy, with active figures again swarming upon its decks"; musicians, teachers, artists, and authors; soldiers and sailors and men of large affairs; brave men and noble women of every land. We can see the unpretentious and the lowly, progenitors of the great and strong, turning their back upon the Old World, where endurance is to them no longer a virtue, and looking hopefully to the new. At the very moment of their greatest joy "the ship suddenly reels, mutilated and groaning." With splendid courage the musicians fill the last moments with sympathetic melody. "The ship wearily gives up the unequal battle. Only a vestige remains of the men and women that but a moment before quickened her spacious apartments with human hopes and passions, sorrows, and joys." Upon that broken hull new vows were taken, new fealty expressed, old love renewed, and those who had been devoted in friendship and companions in life went proudly and defiantly on the last life pilgrimage together. In such a heritage we must feel ourselves more intimately related to the sea than ever before, and henceforth it will send back to us on its rising tide the cheering salutations from those we have lost.

At the conclusion of his speech, Mr. Smith of Michigan said:

Mr. President, I send to the Clerk's desk a joint resolution which I desire to have read.

The joint resolution (S. J. Res. 111) to convey the thanks of Congress to Capt. Arthur Henry Rostron, and through him to the officers and crew of the steamship Carpathia, of the Cunard Line, for the prompt and heroic service rendered by them in rescuing 704 lives from the wreck of the steamship Titanic in the North Atlantic Ocean, was read the first time by its title and the second time at length, as follows:

Resolved, etc., That the thanks of Congress be, and the same are hereby, presented to Capt. Arthur Henry Rostron, and through him to the officers and crew of the steamship Carpathia, of the Cunard Line, for promptly going to the relief of the steamship Titanic and heroically saving the lives of 704 people who had been shipwrecked in the North Atlantic Ocean.

SEC. 2. That the President of the United States is hereby authorized and requested to cause to be made and presented to Capt. Rostron a suitable gold medal appropriately inscribed, which shall express the high estimation in which Congress holds the service of this officer, to whose promptness and vigilance was due the rescue of 374 women and children and 330 men.

SEC. 3. That the sum of $1,000, or so much thereof as may be necessary, for the purchase or manufacture of said medal is hereby appropriated out of any money in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated.

The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Gallinger in the chair).
To what committee does the Senator desire to have the joint resolution referred?

Mr. SMITH of Michigan.
Mr. President, this recognition is so highly deserved, the valor shown by this officer is so marked and worthy of emulation, I'm going to ask Senators to give unanimous consent for immediate consideration and that the joint resolution be put on its passage without a reference to committee.

Is there objection to the request made by the Senator from Michigan?

There being no objection, the joint resolution was considered as in Committee of the Whole.

The joint resolution was reported to the Senate without amendment, ordered to be engrossed for a third reading, read the third time, and passed.

Mr. SMITH of Michigan.
Out of order I desire to introduce a bill and joint resolution, and I will ask their reference to the Committee on Commerce.

The bill (S. 6976) to regulate navigation by steam passenger vessels, to amend sections 4400, 4471, 4488, 4490, section 3 of act of July 9, 1886, section 1 of act of June 24, 1910, and for other purposes, was read twice by its title and referred to the Committee on Commerce.

The joint resolution (S. J. Res. 112) providing for the creation of a commission to investigate the laws and regulations for the construction and equipment in the navigation of vessels was read twice by its title and referred to the Committee on Commerce.

Mr. SMITH of Michigan.
The report of the Committee on Commerce has been unanimously agreed upon, and I am directed to make the report which I send to the Clerk's desk. We have thought it desirable to give the full sailing list, as well as the full list of the crew from Southampton, Cherbourg, and Queenstown, also a full and complete list of those rescued and of those lost. I will ask that the report be read following the speech of the Senator from Maryland, who has given notice of his desire to proceed now, and when it is read that it be printed in full in the Record.

Without objection, that order will be made.

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