Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Waratah - Inquiry summary.

The London correspondent of the"Argus," under date February 24. reports -
The Board of Trade inquiry into theloss of the Lund liner Waratah was concluded today, when judgment was delivered by Mr. J. D. Dickinson, P M.
The Court commented on the factthat Mr F. Lund one of the witnesseshad stated that none of Captain Ilbery'sletters mentioned the ship's behaviouron her maiden voyage, although theydwelt at length on trivial matters. MrLund accepted the assurance of Mr. Peck on behalf of the builders, regarding the stability of the Waratah, after informing the builders, "Captain Ilbery was able to convince us that the Waratah is not as stable as the Geelong".Mr. Peck's mere assurance carried moreweight than Captain Ilbery's consideredrepresentation. 
It is impossible that Captain Ilbery did not 'mention' the Waratah's behaviour in letters / telegrams after the maiden voyage, simply because the builders made adjustment recommendations during December of 1908, based precisely on Captain Ilbery's concerns.
Mr. Peck, as I understand it, was not 'competing' with Captain Ilbery's comment that the Waratah was not as stable as the Geelong. The point he made was that once adjustments were made to the cargo loading plan and ballast (additional filling of ballast tank 8), he felt in a position to reassure the owners that the Waratah was stable in her own, independent, right - aside from the Geelong.
Mr Lund had endeavoured to explain away the letters to the builders by saying that at the time he wrote them his firm and the builders were in conflict over the question of demurrage. Mr. Lund said that the complaints were mere bluff, intended to facilitate a settlement of the monetary claim. It was in comment on this explanation that Mr. Lund did not remember whether the final settlement of the demurrage, which he considered so important, had ever been made.
Ridiculous that Mr. Lund could 'not recall if demurrage' was settled or not. He had proved in one sentence that he was a totally unreliable witness. Further to this, vital documents relating to the Waratah had been destroyed when the Blue Anchor Line was sold to the P&O Line.  

The owners intended the Waratah to be an improved Geelong, and capable of going to sea light, but the builders were unable to guarantee this without the insertion of the words "if possible". It appeared to the Court that only four persons could be responsible for this paragraph in its original shapewithout the words "if possible" - Messrs Lund, Peck, Bidwell, and Captain Ilbery. The three first named stated that they were not responsible, and therefore it must have been Captain Ilbery. It might be that the owners attached no exact technical signification to the phrase, "greater stability than the Geelong" but the only meaning which the Court deduced was that the Waratah should be better able than the Geelong to go to sea in a light condition. It seemed unfortunate from the owner's point of view, that the condition suggested by the wide experience of such a trusted adviser as Captain Ilbery should have been so lightly abandoned. Although the Court was unable to discover from Mr. Lund what he meant by the words "greater stability than the Geelong," it seemed likely that he intended a comparison between the two ships in similar conditions of lading.
And so they deliberated an issue which held very little relevance to the condition of Waratah when she departed Durban. 
The Court concluded from the correspondence between the owners and the builders that a difficulty was experienced in loading on the first voyage, and this raised the presumption that the ship was "tender" when starting thatvoyage, although instability was notimplied. 
An unloaded vessel in harbour conditions, is entirely unrelated to the same vessel at sea, fully loaded according to an approved loading plan. Most steamers of the time were light to varying degrees, unloaded in a harbour setting. 
Letters addressed by the owners to the builders after the maiden voyage showed that representations had been made to the owners by Captain Ilbery, and it was noted on the homeward voyage that he did not use the spardeck for coal. 
This legal Inquiry into the loss of the Waratah, where submissions were made under oath, came to the conclusion there was no coal on the spar deck - oi vey!
On the second outward voyage two incidents ought to be recorded. One was related by the carpenter's mate, Pinel, who said that there was a heavy roll crossing the Bight, and he thought two or three times that the ship was never going to come back. The second incident was that spoken of by Mason, a man of 33years' sea experience. He said that onleaving Melbourne the ship heeled heavily in the breeze, and did not recover properly. He made strong remarks to the chief officer. There was also strong evidence that the ship behaved well on this voyage. The results arrived at by the owners and experts substantially agreed with the figures of Mr. Larcombe, the Board of Trade surveyor.
So much hinged on what Mr. Larcombe had to say..... 
Fascinating to note that the reporters thought it better to report on Mr. Pinel's and Mr. Mason's impressions, reinforcing a negative view on the overall stability of the Waratah, rather than presenting the many positive comments, which at the end of the day, balanced out the number of negative reports.
It was not easy to reconcile the metacentric heights on leaving some of the ports with the positive testimony of witnesses, particularly Mr. McDiarmid, whose depositions showed signs of careful observation. Two qualified persons deposed as to the Waratah's conditionon leaving Durban - Mr. Rainnie, thePort captain, and the tug master, Mr.Minnie's statement that the Waratahdid not list when leaving the wharf, andthat no list was created by the tugpulling her was important, and thetug-master's evidence was conclusive.The master and chief officer of the s.s.Clan Mclntyre also stated that theWaratah had no list, and was proceeding steadily.
What an odd paragraph. The testimonies of Mr. Rainnie and Mr. Minnie confirmed that the Waratah departed Durban with an acceptable metacentric height of 1.5 ft. What on earth could this have to do with the metacentric heights (a variable factor) of the Waratah when she departed other ports????
The Court found an explanation of alarge amount of adverse comment uponthe Waratah's behaviour in her undoubted tenderness throughout the first voyage and while loading. 
All of which was corrected once Captain Ilbery received advice on adjustments to the loading plan and ballast from the builders.
One suggestion as to her loss was made by captain Bruce, of the s.s. Harlow, who described a steamer's lights and flashes seen off Cape Hermes, South Africa. These he took to be a ship blowing up. Captain Bruce concluded that the Waratah's bunkers had fired, and that she had turned back to Durban, but blew up between Cape Hermes and St. John's River. The chief officer of the Harlow said that the lights were the mere flash of bush files on land. He said, and the Court agreed, that if steamer had been on fire she would have sent up rockets or distress signals. There was, indeed, a bunker fire on the first voyage of the Waratah, but if the repairs mentioned had been properly made, a second outbreak from a similar cause would be extremely unlikely.
Strange conclusions. Yes, repairs were made to the area of heat insulation required adjacent to the reducing valves, but there is no evidence to suggest that repairs or alterations were made in general and that the insulation deficiency did not reflect a greater problem.
Regarding the reports of human bodies made by the officers of the s s Insizwa and the s s Tottenham, the Court was inclined to discount them, and agreed with the Tottenham's master, that dead sunfish or whale offal from the Durban whaling station was mistaken for the bodies. Besides, the position in which the supposed bodies were sighted disagreed with the position in which the Waratah would be when she foundered.  According to the Clan Macintyre observations the whole set of the current was southwards, and any bodies from the Waratah would have drifted in a direction away from the Bashee River. 
A supposition based on an unfounded assumption that the Waratah went down at some mysterious position southwest of the Bashee River. No consideration was given to Mr. Day's (officer, Tottenham) statement under oath that one of the bodies was clearly a girl of about 12, clothed in a red dressing gown. There were no other passenger steamer losses during this time to account for the little girl.
The search made established a moral certainty that the Waratah did not break down and drifted, or that if she did, she succumbed at some point to the heavy weather which the searching ships encountered.
The Court considered that it mustnow be regarded as a certainty, so faris certainty could be attained in human affairs, that no one survived of those who left Durban. 
Conflicting evidence was given as to the boats, but the Court did not accept the loose accounts of some colonial deponents of the boats' rotten and useless state. It seemed, however that they were not in a satisfactory state and seaworthy condition on the first voyage, as an account was sent in by the owners to the builders for making the boats good and watertight. After the first voyage the boats, however, appeared to have been put into good condition for the second voyage, or they would not have been passed by Captain Clark, the emigration officer. 
Sadly the boats served no purpose whatsoever. Whatever happened was too fast for the safe deployment of lifeboats.
The fire gear on the ship was all new, but no fire drill ever seemed to have been carried out. The Court strongly urged on the owners of the vessel whose fire drill had not been adopted, the necessity for accustoming the crew to its use.
This important piece of information reveals that boat drill was not taken as seriously as it should, circa 1909. It is an important clue to the state of safety in shipping during this era. Legislation was in place (1906), but implementation was an entirely different matter.  
The Court desired to express regret for the loss of life, and sympathy with the relatives, and trusted the inquiry would set at rest the minds of those concerned. There was no reasonable doubt whatever that the passengers and ship's company of the Waratah met their death at sea soon after leaving Durban. The Court regarded it as the kindest course to emphasise this in the strongest manner.

Hope, dashed.
important update:

Waratah's final point of departure (courtesy, Mole)

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