Monday, 24 July 2017


“In the case of a serious disaster happening to one of the vessels of this line while at sea, the master must in the first instance carefully consider the actual amount of the peril there may be for the lives of those under his charge and then judge whether he will be justified or not in fighting his own way unaided to the nearest port. His being able to succeed in this will always be considered a matter of high recommendation to him as a master.”

Thayer, G. David. First to Die: The Tragic Loss of the SS Vestris (Kindle Locations 3390-3393). Rapidsoft Press ®, jointly with Our American Stories ® LLC. Kindle Edition.

Although this extract applied to the SS Vestris, it is clear that masters of most lines, including the Blue Anchor Line, were under pressure to prevent their vessels being salvaged - i.e. 'rescued' by a vessel of another line. 

The Advertiser (Adelaide) Monday 16 August, 1909.

Every ship master, be he the captain of
a P. & 0. mail steamer or of the crankiest 
and most evil smelling tramp afloat on
the ocean, nurses the hope of some day
earning a small fortune by salvage work.
The high seas have in the past yielded up
many fat prizes in this way in the shape of
valuable, but disabled, ocean liners, and
now there is somewhere in the vast expanse
of the Indian Ocean, so it is thought and
devoutly hoped (apart from all thought of
personal gain), one of extra-high value, 
re-presented by the steamer Waratah. On
Friday a well-known Melbourne nautical
man, who is an authority on such matters,
estimated, for the benefit of the '"Age,"
that the safe conveyance of the Waratah
into port would be worth to the rescuing
ship at the very least between £25,000 and
£30,000. Of this sum the captain of the
rescuing vessel would receive from £1,500
to £2,000, and his crew about £3,500 or
£4,000, divided on the basis of seniority
and personal risk. "If that vessel is
towed into port," he said, "the owners of
the towing vessel will make a claim for 
salvage, asking a certain sum of money. The
owners of the Waratah and the underwriters 
will then discuss the claim, and if they think 
it is reasonable, a very unlikely thing, for the 
claims are always heavy, they will pay it. 
Perhaps each party will agree to submit it to 
arbitration, and abide by the result; but that 
is a rare procedure,
I think we will be safe in assuming
I that the matter will be tried before the
Admiralty Court. The judge of that court
has unlimited powers in the allotment of
salvage. He considers first the value of
the ship salved, and her cargo, then the
value of the salving vessel and her cargo,
the loss of time and coal by the salving
ship, the extra work of her master and
crew, their risk during the tow according
to the weather experienced, any damage
she may have sustained in collision with
the rescued steamer, loss of tow ropes, etc.

This suggests an ulterior motive for going to the assistance of vessels in distress. If Captain Ilbery was trying in vain to get back to Durban, one can understand and appreciate the pressure he felt in weighing up risk vs. success. As it was, Waratah neither made it to Cape Town or Durban. 

Captain Bruce of the Harlow must have considered it too risky going back to the site of where the large steamer's lights disappeared after two significant flashes of light. Salvage must have been a lure, but the proximity to reefs the deciding factor. 

He did consider that Waratah was gone which would not have left much vessel for salvage....

There again, and I hate to say this, but when Bruce gave specific coordinates months later, there might have been salvage reward in mind....

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