Friday, 11 April 2014

Anecdote Saturday - SS Slavonia

The Slavonia was a steel passenger/cargo steamer built in 1903 by Sir James Laing and Sons, Sunderland, England. She was 510 ft in length, with a draught of 22.3 ft, grosse tonnage 10 605, and net tonnage 6 724. Similar to the Waratah, she also had a double steel hull with eight watertight compartments. Power came from twin triple expansion steam engines (six boilers), driving twin screws, and making 13 knots.

Compare with the Waratah's specifications:

Length 465 ft; draught 35 ft; grosse tonnage 9 339; net tonnage, 6 003; twin quadruple expansion steam engines (five boilers); twin screws; 13 knots. Both triple deck steamers were virtually identical (see image below). There was simply nothing unique about the Waratah's triple deck design which in fact had a greater draught margin for stability compared with the Slavonia.

The Slavonia was owned by the Cunard Steam Ship Company Ltd, Liverpool, England. She was certified to carry 2 331 passengers and crew, which is considerably more than the similarly sized Waratah - 1200 passengers and crew. She was well equipped with life-saving equipment and had three compasses on board - one on top of the chart house, one on the bridge and one aft. Her master of 16 months was Captain Arthur George Dunning.

3 June, 1909 (2 months before the Waratah went missing), the Slavonia departed New York for Gibraltar. 373 passengers and 225 crew comprised the manifest, including 100 first class passengers.
9 June, 11 pm, approaching the Island of Flores, without reducing speed, the Slavonia plunged into thick mist. Captain Dunning had altered course in the southerly direction and was under the impression that they would clear the island by 9 miles. After midnight (2.28 am) the Slavonia ran onto the rocks off pico Joas Martin. The sea was smooth, and due to these conditions and the mist, no indication of land or breakers was given. Passengers and crew were safely transferred to land by lifeboats.  70 crew were evacuated by a line, using a boatswain's chair.  The captain and his first officer were the last to leave the Slavonia. The Slavonia was wrecked beyond salvage.

It was subsequently discovered that junior officers had given incorrect compass bearings resulting in the misjudgement clearing the south of the island. The Court of Inquiry came to the conclusion that human error was to blame but taking into consideration Captain Dunning's excellent track record and actions bringing all passengers and crew to safety, his certificate was not revoked.

Captain Ilbery of the Waratah may have charted a course too close to reefs off Cape Hermes, land bearings obscured by smoke from the fire on board and bushfires onshore.

SS Slavonia

My book 'Waratah Revisited' will be available by 12 December, via Amazon. I explore the human aspect of the tragedy and take a closer look at the Inquiry into the loss of the Waratah. Revelations abound. Don't miss it!

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