Sunday, 13 December 2015

LIFEBOATS AND FIRE DRILL.

Other Matters of Comment. 

A good deal of conflicting evidence was given as to the condition of the boats. The Court does not accept as authentic the loose accounts given by some of the Colonial deponents of the boats' rotten and useless state, but it does appear that they were not in a satisfactory seaworthy condition on the first voyage, for in an account rendered by Messrs. Lund to Messrs. Barclay, Curle on the 5th May, 1909, appears an item, "Labour employed to make boats good and watertight on saloon boat deck (caused by unseasoned wood shrinking at butts and seams. The emigration officer, Captain Clarke, reports unfavourably of these boats)." 

The boats appear to have been put into good condition before the ship sailed on her second voyage, or they would not have been passed by Captain Clarke, as in fact they were. 

Let us not forget that this was the same Captain Clarke who allowed an excess of about 400 emigrants to depart British waters on the Waratah, destined for Australia, half way round the world. This same Captain Clarke did not question the vast quantity of alcohol which would eventually find itself inside a great many of these emigrants. Alcohol consumption by emigrants on board ships was prohibited under the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894.

Sadly, whether the boats had been repaired to standard, with or without the employment of green wood etc etc etc, I do not believe they would have been of any use in the circumstances surrounding the loss of the Waratah. Further to this there were accounts that the boats were very difficult to mobilize from the chocks, requiring a number of seamen.

The fire gear on this ship was all new and presumably in good condition. But no fire drill ever seems to have been carried out. The Court is aware that fire drill is held on most large passenger ships, and strongly urges on the owners of others where it is not adopted the necessity of accustoming the crew to the use of fire gear. Fire drill not only serves the purpose of practising the men in the performance of their duties in emergency, but shows whether the hose and other appliances are in good working order, and reassures passengers by showing them that attention is paid to the matter. 

This is a very important closing passage. One's immediate reaction is that of indignation - negligence on the part of the crew of the Waratah. Undoubtedly fire drill should have been routinely held during the Waratah's four major voyages. Today, it is enforced by laws governing ships at sea, but back in 1909, it was in reality, seldom practised. I have found a great number of anecdotal cases where fire drill on large passenger vessels was not routinely practised. We have a tendency to observe these facts through the retrospectascope, from a background of modern insights into safety at sea, or on land and in the air for that matter. We tend to judge, based on this innate acceptance of modern era measures to safeguard passengers across the board. I do not think that it is fair, or realistic. 





Fire drill on the steamer, Mongolia. Note the attentive enthusiasm!

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