Thursday, 20 July 2017


SS Vestris:

'...water was coming through an ash ejector below the waterline, and several hours later he noticed a distinct list to starboard.'

'According to statements made by the rescued stokers, the first leak in the Vestris came from a cracked sea valve which went down to the ash hopper in the stokehold of the steamer. According to the testimony of the stokers, this sea valve was cracked before the Vestris started her final voyage. [They] said there had been some question before the Vestris sailed as to whether she would sail at all.'

'water coming through the “half door” (also referred to as the “working door” and “coal port”) on the starboard side, about six feet above the normal waterline. The leak grew steadily worse.'

'They said the rubber gaskets that were meant to make the two swinging doors watertight had long ago rotted away and disintegrated, leaving gaps wide enough to admit tons of water.'

'assigned it to a dependable carpenter and carpenter’s mate, who were supposed to have bolted the doors and caulked the cracks. Although the coal ports closed from outside the ship, he admitted that he had not inspected them.'

'Chief Engineer James Adams said the first leak was found about 9:00 a.m. Sunday in the starboard ash ejector. It was plugged by noon after letting twenty tons of water into the stokehold bilge, nearly filling it. At 10:00 a.m., the second leak was discovered in a lavatory, which was caused by the carrying away of a scupper plate on the starboard side. This was also plugged by noon after letting fifteen or twenty tons of water into the engine room bilge, which it almost filled.'

Thayer, G. David. First to Die: The Tragic Loss of the SS Vestris (Kindle Locations 253-255). Rapidsoft Press ®, jointly with Our American Stories ® LLC. Kindle Edition.

The West Australian, 25 June, 1918.

A telegram from Geraldton was recently
published to the effect that the State
steamer Bambra, in her latest trip north
words occupied 60 hours on the voyage
from Fremantle to Geraldton, whereas the
time usually taken is 24. The Colonial
Secretary (Mr. H. P. Colebatch) has re
ceived from the. acting manager of the
State Steamship Service (Mr. Stevens) a re
port on the matter. This shows that the
chief engineer explained that the cause of
the trouble was the flooding of the stoke
hold owing to water having got down the
ash ejector pipes on each side of the ship,
and also through the side doors to the
bunkers. which apparently washed down
coal dust sufficient to fill the bilges and
choke the pumps. The ship was laden
deeply on leaving Fremantle, but was in
every respect in good order, and the trouble
was due to the exceedingly heavy weather
which prevailed, all hands having been kept
busy for 24 hours baling out the water. On
arrival at Geraldton the bilges were pro
perly cleaned out before the ship proceeded
on her voyage. Since leaving Geraldton
no further trouble had been experienced.

In the case of SS Vestris and SS Bambra, both deeply laden steamers, the ash ejector discharge ports, close to the waterline, were a weak link in terms of flooding. It is interesting to note that coal dust could choke the bilge pumps, further exacerbating a flooding situation. If Waratah experienced a severe coal bunker fire, 27 July, 1909, intentional flooding of the bunker/s in question might have caused a significant list, submerging the ash ejector outlet on one side. This could have been a source of further flooding and listing.

There was no evidence submitted to the Inquiry that Waratah's hatches and coal doors were adequately secured. I doubt very much whether Waratah departed Durban without this having been done. It was after all winter and storms anticipated on the run from Durban to Cape Town. 

SS Bambra

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