|dimensions:||57.7 x 7.5 x 4.9 m|
|engine:||2 x 2 cyl. Compound engine, dual shaft, 2 screws|
|about the loss|
|date lost:||05/04/1908 [dd/mm/yyyy]|
|Description:||BOT Wreck Report for 'Bega', 1908|
|Creator:||Board of Trade|
|Copyright:||Out of copyright|
The Court of Marine Inquiry, at Sydney.
IN the matter of a formal inquiry held at Sydney, before His Honour Judge ROGERS, K.C., assisted by HENRY WITHERSPOON, Nautical Assessor, and JOHN HENRY BERRY, Engineering Assessor, into the circumstances attending the foundering of the British ship "BEGA."
The Court, having carefully inquired into the circumstances attending the above-mentioned shipping casualty, comes to the decision following:
(1) The British ship "Bega" (Official No. 83,765) was a steel awning-decked steamship of 567 tons gross, and 305 tons nett tonnage. Her length was 189 feet, and her beam was 24 feet. She may be described as a fairly flat bottomed vessel of light draft. She was surveyed by the Navigation Department, and was under overhaul for ten consecutive weeks, concluding in March of the present year. It is stated that her hull was in good seaworthy condition and all sound.
(2) She left Sydney on the third day of April last for Eden via Wollongong, Bermagui, Tathra, and Merimbula, which are all ports on the south coast of New South Wales. As she was not to call at Merimbula on her return trip, her cargo from Merimbula for Sydney was shipped on the way to Eden. Having taken in cargo at Eden, she left that port early on the morning of the fifth day of April, and arrived at Tathra at 6.15 a.m. the same day. The cargo taken in at Merimbula amounted to a little over 47 tons, that at Eden to a little over 18 1/2 tons, and that at Tathra to something approaching 62 tons 14 cwt., and it may therefore be taken that her cargo in round numbers amounted to 130 tons. She also had 53 passengers and her crew, amounting in all to 76 persons. The cargo was distributed as follows:
In the holds there were 60 tons 5 cwt. 3 qrs. 621bs.
Between the main and awning decks 60 tons 12 cwt. and 17 lbs.
On the awning deck 7 tons 8 cwt. 1. qr.
The cargo in the after hold consisted principally of undumped wool, in weight nearly 10 tons.
The after tanks, which held about 81 tons of water, were filled just before the vessel left Tathra.
The fore hold contained various items of cargo, the principal part of which consisted of wattle bark packed up in bags and weighed about 47 tons.
There were on board also 171 pigs, which, together with a horse and some calves, were put on the awning deck.
(3) The captain states that about an hour before leaving Tathra the vessel was drawing 7 feet 9 inches forward, and 8 feet 9 inches aft; this was before the Tathra pigs were put on board.
Mean draught 8.25 ft. - Depth = 16 ft. - freeboard = 7.65 ft. almost double the value for a ship of this size, suggesting that she was light (top heavy) when she departed Tathra...confirmed by total cargo 130 tons, total capacity about 600 tons = 22% full. Forehold cargo predominance compensated by 81 tons water aft ballast tanks. 7 tons pigs on awning deck (similar effect as coal on Waratah's spar deck, but worse - mobile / shifting) = 5%.
She was observed to have a list to port of from 4 1/2 to 5 degrees shortly before she left Tathra wharf, but this does not appear to have caused any anxiety as it was supposed to be due to the trimming of the cargo, and also was not exceptional, as several voyages had been made with the vessel in a similar condition. (refrigerating machinery on port side = slight list to port). She left Tathra wharf about seven in the evening bound for Sydney via Bermagui. It was a fine clear night, with a slight north-easterly swell, and an east-north-east breeze. When the vessel got under way, she righted herself a little, but, shortly before eight o'clock, the list had increased to such an extent (said to be from 10 degrees to 12 degrees), and the ship being then down forward, that the captain examined the after ballast tanks. They were found to be full. (The fore tank had been sounded on the previous evening about ten p.m., and found to then contain two inches of water.) The after and fore holds were then sounded and no water at all was found. About ten minutes past eight the engines were slowed, and the vessel turned round with her head to the south, it being thought that the wind, which was freshening from the east, and the shifting of some of the pigs from the port to the starboard side, would right the ship. Accordingly thirty-five pigs (the weight of which would be about 1 1/2 tons) were driven over from the port to the starboard side, and the vessel came upright for a very short space of time (the captain says about half a minute), and then fell to starboard with a greater list than she had ever had to port. The chief officer was directed to drive the pigs over to port again, but was unable to get them up the incline of the deck; and the captain then told him to unship the gangway, and let them go overboard. About 120 pigs were put overboard, their weight being about 6 tons. While the pigs were being put overboard, the captain sounded the fore hold again, and found two feet of water. He then directed the boats to be put out and the engines to be stopped. The starboard lifeboat was first put out, the time then being about fifteen minutes past nine. It was found impossible to get the port lifeboat into the water on account of its position and the list of the vessel. The port quarter boat was lowered, and two rafts were also launched. The boats and rafts took off all the passengers and crew, and also the body of a passenger who had died just previously. The coast was reached safely. There is no doubt that the starboard lifeboat leaked very seriously - it is said that she bumped heavily several times against the steamer when taking off the passengers, and this may have started some of the planking. She has since been examined by a competent shipwright at Bermagui, and all her woodwork found to have been in a sound condition.
(4) The "Bega," after she was abandoned, went round with her head to the north, and in about twenty minutes appeared to get momentarily on an even keel, and then sank head first. There can be no doubt that the immediate cause of this disaster was the presence of loose water in the ship. It appears from calculation that the depth of two feet of water in the fore hold indicated a body of water weighing forty tons. How that water got there is, and will probably always remain, a mystery; one theory is that the "Bega" must have struck either a submerged log or submerged wreckage after leaving Tathra and received such injury that a leak was caused and the water so got in. But, of course, this is nothing more than speculation, and the grave questions now for consideration are, whether the vessel was improperly loaded, and, if so, whether such improper loading tended to cause the disaster. The opinions of the chief officer (a duly certificated master) and of the chief engineer, founded on their practical experience of her, were that she was a tender ship, i.e., easily affected by distribution of weight. And, bearing in mind that there were approximately 65 tons in the lower holds, 58 tons on the main deck, and 11 tons 8 cwt. on the awning deck, and also having a strong impression that she was not originally designed to carry cargo on her awning deck, the Court, fortified as it was by the evidence given in the first instance by the expert called by the Navigation Department, would have strongly inclined to the opinion that, when the "Bega" left Tathra, she was in such a touchy and sensitive condition, owing to the disposition of her cargo, as to be incapable of resisting any abnormal or unusual condition that might have arisen. And the Court would also have been much impressed with the view that, but for such improper loading, she might have been able to continue her voyage to Sydney, or make the nearest port without disaster, notwithstanding the existence of the loose water.
(5) However, after the expert evidence above mentioned had been given, a postponement of the hearing was allowed on the application of the Illawarra Steam Navigation Company, Limited, in order that the evidence of other experts might be obtained. And, accordingly, three experts were subsequently called who stated that, independently of each other, and in possession of all available data, they had made calculations which enabled them to state with absolute certainty that, when the vessel left Tathra, she was neither overloaded nor improperly loaded, but was in a perfectly stable condition, and that the disaster was due to loose water coming into the ship at a constantly increasing rate.
(6) In the face of such evidence it would amount almost to an assumption of infallibility for the Court to hold to the view it had previously been inclined to entertain. And, therefore, the decision must be that the Court is not satisfied that there was improper stowage which conduced to the loss of the vessel. With regard to equipment, the Court cannot see that there is any evidence of insufficiency. The leaking of the lifeboat seems to have been due to damage suffered when taking the passengers off the vessel. With regard to the absence of sticks for the rockets it seems that they had been mislaid, and whoever is responsible for their custody is deserving of severe reprimand for not having them placed handy to the rockets.
(7) As to the action of the captain when he realized the danger of his position fault cannot be found, and both he and his officers appear to have done all they could to save life when the ship was abandoned, in which endeavours they were happily successful.
(8) But there is one matter that seems blameworthy, both as regards the chief engineer, and, in a perhaps lesser degree, the captain. The sluice valve in the bulkhead, which separates the fore hold from the engine-room, appears never to have been opened. When suspicion as to the condition of the ship first arose, it would surely have been a prudent step to have opened the valve, especially as the ship was down by the head. If there was then any serious amount of water in the fore hold, some must have flowed into the engine-room, from which it could have been easily pumped out, and indication of the danger would have been probably given in time to allow of some steps being taken to prevent the loss of the ship.
(9) Considering all the circumstances of the case, the Court does not deal with the certificates of either the master or the chief engineer.
Dated this twentieth day of June, 1908.
F. E. ROGERS,
I, John Macvicar Anderson Bonthorne, Registrar of the Court of Marine Inquiry at Sydney, hereby certify the foregoing to be a true copy of the decision of the Court in the matter of the inquiry into the circumstances attending the foundering of the British ship "Bega."
Dated at Sydney, this seventh day of July, 1908.
J. M. A. BONTHORNE,
Registrar of the Court.
(Issued in London by the Board of Trade on the 28th day of August, 1908.)
120 Wt 4 8/1908 D & S 1 33357