Friday, 9 June 2017


SS Sardinia:

The Argus (Melbourne) Saturday 28 November, 1908.


LONDON, Nov. 27.
The cause of the outbreak of fire on board
the steamer Sardinia at Malta, on her
voyage from Liverpool to Alexandria, which
resulted in the destruction of the vessel and
the loss of 150 lives, remains a mystery.
The steamer was laden with machinery,
Manchester fine goods, and general cargo.
More than half of those who lost their
lives were Arab pilgrims on their way to
Mecca. The cost of their burial was de-
frayed by the Duke of Connaught, High
Commissioner in the Mediterranean, who
had taken an active part in directing rescue
operations. At the funeral a sheikh, who
was among the survivors, warmly thanked
His Royal Highness, and expressed the
gratitude of the Moslems for his kindness.

The fire broke out in No. 2 hold of the
Sardinia, and is believed to have been due
to the carelessness of pilgrims. The
flames spread with amazing rapidity, 
immediately enveloping the amidships of
the vessel.
The Moors in the forward part of the
Sardinia, including many women and 
children, refused to jump overboard, 
although urged lo do so by numerous boat's
crews who were unable to approach
owing to the high seas.
The hatches were blown off, killing
many, mostly Moors. Everyone in the
engine-room perished.
Thrice the Sardinia made a circle before
she went ashore. The flames which rose
from her were 200ft highRepeated explosions 
rent the vessel, which, still burning finally struck 
the Klevoli rocks.
The officers and crew of the Sardinia
and the naval parties showed the utmost
heroism throughout the disaster.
Captain C. Littler, in command of the
Sardinia, perished with her. He stuck to
his post throughout, and when the fire
damaged the stern steering gear he went
and worked the hand-gear, bringing the
vessel's head round the headland towards
Ricasoli, thus avoiding the powder magazine 
at the mouth of the harbour.
Twenty-seven corpses have been recovered.

Extracts from wreck report:

(a) The British s.s. "Sardinia" of the Port of Liverpool, O.N. 93204, 1514 registered tonnage, 300 H.P., with a crew of 39 and 12 European passengers, 3 Indian passengers, and 150 Moorish passengers, under the command of Charles Littler, master, left Malta for Alexandria on the 25th of November, 1908, at about 9.30 a.m. 

(c) The cargo she had on board was that of a general nature. No explosive or inflammable goods were declared to be on board by the master of the ship. In fact the evidence collected in the inquiry proved that, with the exception of a barrel of turpentine taken on board at Liverpool for Tangiers, and thence over-carried and kept lashed on the well deck, nothing in the manifest of the cargo denoted that any dangerous goods were being carried on board. The cargo, on arrival at Malta, was the same as that as when the ship left Liverpool, saving that some merchandise had been landed at Tangiers, and that several bales of slippers and haicks, and one case of provisions were taken in at Tangiers. The hatches were not opened at all at Malta, as no cargo operations were carried out in this harbour. 

(d) The s.s. "Sardinia" had just left the harbour of Malta when those on board, as well as the signalman from the Valetta Signal Tower, noticed at 9.40 a.m., smoke coming out of No. 2 port ventilator. Rapidly that smoke increased in density, and scarcely had a water hose been thrust into that ventilator by an order of the master to the chief officer, who was yet taking in aboard the anchor, than the smoke blew out of the starboard ventilator. Fire had caught in No. 2 hold just in front of the bridge on which the master and the 3rd Officer were. By these, on the bridge in the wheel house, was quarter-master Marooth. The master, at the first notice of the fire, had ordered the ship's helm to be put hard-a-starboard with a view of re-entering the harbour for assistance. 

(e) In less than two minutes, however, No. 2 hold was ablaze, and the flames, accompanied by a stifling dense smoke, rose high up with an exploding noise. No more was after that seen of the master who, at that same moment, had told the man at the helm "For God's sake save your lives." 

(f) The ship was then a raging fire from No. 2 hold forward, and as the ship with her hard-a-starboard helm caused the choking smoke and the flames to drift to the bows, which had then become untenable, those on the bows (amongst whom was the 1st officer) flung themselves into the water, while the quarter-master at the helm left the steering gear, and the 3rd officer, burnt all over, crawled down the bridge and reached powerless the sternside of the ship. 

(g) The second officer had been at the stern streaming the log, but on the alarm of fire he had gone to the bridge to receive the orders of the master. It was to him that the master gave the order to connect the water hose. He had helped to put the hose on to the port ventilator, but the rapidly increasing smoke drove him aft, and there he kept, as the smoke and flames amidships had intercepted the passage from one end of the ship to the other

(h) The flames from No. 2 hold surging high had, within five minutes from the first notice of the fire on board, set fire to the four boats, the only boats the ship was carrying. 

(i) All were now helpless, crew and passengers alike. Belts and some lifebuoys as could be reached were dealt out by the stewards, who fetched them from the saloon, as all other belts and life saving appliances were out of reach. Those were given to the saloon passengers, and others were used by a few of the crew. The Moorish passengers, frantic with fear, flocked to the stern of the ship, the only place where breathing was possible. Some had procured a belt, but the great majority had none, and they jumped over the side of the ship mixed with some European passengers and some of the crew. 

(j) As the force of the wind was 3 and the sea was choppy, and as the propeller of the ship was all along going at full speed, the loss of life among those who were thus desperately throwing themselves overboard, though unable to swim, can be more easily imagined than accounted for. In fact, though the ship on her hard-a-starboard helm described five circles with a gradually decreasing speed of from 9 to 4 knots an hour, going over the same area before she struck the rocks, fewer of those who had jumped overboard later in the day lost their lives. 

(k) The ship being not under control and rapidly speeding ahead in circles, all the time throwing out particles of burning cargo, made it impossible to approach her safely so as to transship the imperiled crew and passengers. All that could be done, until the ship stranded, was to pick up from the sea those who threw themselves over. 

(l) The steamer stranded about 1 mile E. outside the Valetta Breakwater at about 11 a.m., and there she still lies a constructive loss. 

(m) Having already made out the impossibility of any practical aid being procured on board the steamer through the locality, the suddenness, and the intensity of the fire on board, it will be sufficient to attest to the nature and timely assistance given from the outside to the swimmers from the ship with a two-fold consideration.

(n) Yet the fire, and the rash dashing overboard from the steamer, steaming in circles without control, was the cause of an appalling loss of life. Ninety-seven persons found their death either in the sea or in the flames. A list is hereto annexed of the names of the persons which, from the Coroner's Inquest, held in Malta simultaneously with this inquiry, appear to have thus lost their lives. As above said, the number of the Moorish passengers who perished in this disaster has been obtained by calling up the roll of the survivors. 

To cause this conflagration, it would appear that there must have been material of a highly inflammable nature where the fire originated, though what it was, there is no evidence to show.

The captain appears to have been killed at his post by the first rush of flame on the bridge, and the first officer to have been driven overboard from the forecastle, which was untenable, to seek safety by swimming as he was seen swimming ashore. I consider that the second officer, who was uninjured, displayed great want of presence of mind in not passing to the engine room by word of mouth orders to stop the engines on his way aft, or, when the ship in her circling got stern to wind, at which time all the smoke must have been blowing forward, as from his experience of what he saw on the bridge he must have known that the captain was incapacitated, and also that it was impossible to stop the engines by the telegraph. 

The stranding of the ship was due to her being out of control caused by the fury of the fire driving everyone from the bridge, and it is to be regretted that she did not take the ground sooner. 

If Waratah, afire, did in fact founder astern of the Harlow this case example of the Sardinia could explain why Waratah was so close to shore and more importantly the St Johns Reef, Bluff Point. Smoke inhalation causes disorientation. 

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