THE BURNING OF THE 'VOLTURNO' - PAGE 18
THE TEXT OF THE
BOARD OF TRADE INQUIRY REPORT
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I am happy to be able to advise that the actual report issued by the Board of Trade as a result of its Volturno Inquiry has now been located. Dated January 16, 1914. Located, in Jan. 2006, as a result of the diligence of Kathryn Atkin of the U.K. She, I gather, located it in a Government archive in the south of England. Kathryn, thank you so very much!
The Report is quite large or perhaps I should rather say it is quite large for someone with my limited typing skills. 16 pages, each with two columns of small type. And it has many tables of most interesting statistical data. Which are however difficult to put on site in such a way that the data layout is identical to that of the report.
I have chosen to transcribe the report so the text will be searchable by Google & others. However, now that the transcription is complete, I think it makes sense to also make available, as images, every page of the actual report. Those pages are now accessible via the foot of this page.
The short Report of the Court is as follows. With what they seem to term the 'Annex' i.e. the full detail of the Report to follow on below:
REPORT OF THE COURT OF INQUIRY
The Merchant Shipping Act, 1894.
In the matter of a Formal Investigation held at Caxton Hall, Westminster, on the 26th, 27th, 28th, and 29th of November, the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 8th, 9th, 11th, and 13th of December, 1913, and the 16th day of January, 1914, before the Right Honourable the EARL OF DESART, K.C.B., assisted by Commander W. F. CABORNE, C.B., R.N.R., Vice-Admiral L. WINTZ, Captain J. F. RUTHVEN, late Lieut. R.N.R., and E. C. CHASTON, Esq., R.N.R., into the circumstances attending the fire which occurred on board the British steamship "VOLTURNO," of London, when in or near latitude 49° 12' N., longitude 34° 51' W., North Atlantic Ocean, on the 9th October, 1913, the loss of life which occurred, and the abandonment of the vessel on the following day.
Report of Court.
The Court having carefully inquired into the circumstances attending the above-mentioned shipping casualty, finds for the reasons stated in the Annex hereto, that the the abandonment of the "Volturno" was due to fire, which occurred among the cargo, and resulted, directly and indirectly, in loss of life.
No blame attaches to the master or officers in relation to the fire, the loss of life, or the abandonment of the vessel.
Dated this 16th day of January, 1914.
We concur in the above Report.
W. F. CABORNE,
J. F. RUTHVEN,
E. C. CHASTON,
Mr. R. B. D. Acland, K.C., and Mr. W. Norman Raeburn (instructed by Sir R. Ellis Cunliffe, Solicitor to the Board of Trade, appeared on behalf of the Board of Trade; Mr. Butler Aspinall, K.C., Mr. C. R. Dunlop, and Mr. A. Bucknill (instructed by Messrs. Parker, Garrett and Company) appeared on behalf of the owners, charterers, master, second and third officers; and Mr. Lewis Noad (instructed by Messrs. Crump and Son) appeared on behalf of the Standard Steamship Owners' Protection and Indemnity Association which, upon application to the Court, was made a party to the investigation.
THE MAIN BODY OF THE REPORT, I.E. WHAT I BELIEVE IS REFERRED TO ABOVE AS THE 'ANNEX'
1. Description of the Ship.
The " Volturno," Official Number 123737, was a British twin-screwed steamship, built of steel at Glasgow, in 1906, by the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, Limited, and was registered at the port of London.
She was a straight-stemmed vessel, had two masts, was rigged as a fore-and-aft schooner, and was of the following dimensions:- Length from fore part of stem to the aft side of the head of the stern post, 342 feet ; main breadth to the outside of plank, 43.2 feet ; depth in hold from tonnage deck to ceiling at amidships, 20.7 feet ; and depth from top of deck at side amidships to bottom of keel, 31.5 feet. The round of beam was .9 of a foot. Her gross tonnage was 3,602.22 tons, and her registered tonnage was 2,222 tons.
She was propelled by two sets of triple-expansion engines (the cylinders of which were respectively 19½ inches, 32 inches, and 52 inches in diameter, and the length of stroke 3 feet) designed to give her a speed of 14 knots per hour, and was furnished with two steel single-ended multi-tubular boilers, fitted with Howden's forced draught, and having a working pressure of 180 lbs. to the square inch.
Her pumping arrangements consisted of two circulating pumps of the centrifugal type, each driven direct by open fronted high-pressure engines ; two air pumps ; two feed pumps ; one ballast pump of the duplex type, with steam cylinders, 8 inches in diameter, pump 9 inches in diameter, and a stroke of 8 inches ; one general service pump of the duplex type, with steam cylinders 7 inches in diameter, pump 5 inches in diameter, and length of stroke 8 inches, arranged to draw water from the sea, from the hot-well, from the bottom of the condenser, and from one ballast tank, and to discharge to the main boilers, to the deck-water service, and overboard ; one fresh water pump of the duplex type, with steam cylinders 4¼ inches in diameter, pump 4 inches in diameter, and length of stroke 5 inches with all necessary pipes, valves and connections ; two bilge pumps, 3½ inches in diameter by 18 inches stroke, one of which was arranged to draw from the sea and to deliver into the wash-deck or fire-service pipe ; one sanitary pump of the duplex type, with steam cylinders 5¼ inches in diameter, pump 5 inches in diameter and 5 inches stroke, arranged to draw water from the sea or ballast tanks, and to discharge overboard or through distiller to the sanitary tank, and connected to the sanitary tank with wash-deck or fire service.
The engines and boilers were built by the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, Limited, of Glasgow, at the time when the ship was built.
She was furnished with steam steering gear, the steering wheel of which was on the bridge, while the engine was placed in the after house on the shelter deck. Hand steering gear was also fitted aft.
She was constructed with a top-gallant forecastle 50 feet long, a bridge deck 155 feet long, and an after house 55 feet long.
The after end of the forecastle was partially enclosed by a steel bulkhead, there being and open alley-way in the centre. The seamen were berthed right forward, across the ship, there being a bulkhead, fitted with a door, separating their quarters from the after portion of the forecastle. Abaft the seamen's quarters on the starboard side, was a cabin for the boatswain and carpenter, and still further aft were lavatories for emigrants. In corresponding positions on the port side, there was cabin for the quartermasters, lavatories for the crew and lavatories for emigrants. In the space set apart for the seamen there was a hatchway, measuring 4 feet by 3 feet, with a steel division in the centre, leading respectively to the fore peak and chain locker. There was a ladder just abaft the chain pipes leading to the stewards' accommodation under the shelter deck ; while at the after end of the forecastle, on either side of the alley-way, were ladders leading to the emigrants' steerage.
Under the bridge deck were the saloon, first-class passengers' state-rooms, galleys, officers', engineers' and stewards' accommodation, female emigrants' lavatories, &c.
On the fore part of the bride deck were situated the captain's cabin and chart-room, while abaft the engine-room skylight was a house for the instruments of the Marconi wireless installation.
In the after house were more lavatories for emigrants, and the before-mentioned steering gear.
The ship had three decks, respectively named shelter deck, upper deck and main deck. The shelter deck was of steel extending fore and aft, 12/40 to 10/40 inch in thickness, and was sheathed with 3-inch red pine ; the upper deck was of steel for two-fifths of its length amidships, and was sheathed with 2½-inch white pine ; and the main deck was of 2½-inch white pine over steel tie-plates and stringers.
The vessel had four cargo hatchways of about the following dimensions :—
No. 1. Fore hatch = 12 feet by 12 feet. No. 2. Fore main hatch = 18 "" 12 feet. No. 3. After main hatch = 12 "" 12 feet. No. 4. After hatch = 12 "" 12 feet.
The evidence was that upon the voyage in question, these hatchways were battened down, and provided with suitable booby-hatches and ladders t give access to the accommodation below.
The vessel had six steel water-tight transverse bulkheads, the scantlings of which were in accordance with Class B.S.* in the British Corporation Register. No. 1, or the collision bulkhead, was carried right up to the shelter deck, which was about 13 feet above the designated deep load-line. No. 2 bulkhead, which divided No. 1 and No. 2 holds (the coal bunker being formed by No. 2 lower hold), was carried to the upper deck (the deck immediately below the shelter deck), which was about 4 feet 3 inches above the designated deep load-line. No. 3, or the stokehold bulkhead, separating No. 2 hold from the stokehold, was carried to the upper deck, and was fitted with three vertical water-tight doors, for access to the bunker, opened and closed by means of rods and screws worked from above. No. 4, or the engine-room bulkhead, was carried up to the main deck, was stepped six feet forward, and then carried to the upper deck. A water-tight door, worked by a rod and screw was fitted to this bulkhead for access to the tunnel. No. 5 bulkhead, dividing No. 3 and No. 4 holds, was carried to the upper deck. No. 6 bulkhead formed the fore end of the after peak tank and was carried up to the main deck, then stepped back about ten feet, and carried up to the upper deck, which was about six feet above the designed load-line.
The vessel was built on the cellular double-bottom principle, and had six water ballast tanks with a total capacity of 550 tons.
The ventilation throughout was very satisfactory for a ship of her class, and consisted of cowl ventilators, swan-neck ventilators and thermo ventilators, as follows :-
On the forecastle head—
Two 9-inch ventilators leading to crew's quarters.
One 10-inch ventilator leading to No. I hold
Two 18-inch ventilators leading to No. I upper and lower 'tween decks.
On the bridge deck—
Two 12-inch ventilators to saloon.
Two 9-inch ventilators to hospital.
One 9-inch ventilator to pantry.
Two 30-inch ventilators to stokehold.
One 9-inch ventilator to butcher's shop.
One 9-inch ventilator to pantry.
Two 12-inch ventilators to galley.
Two 18-inch ventilators to engine room.
One 9-inch ventilator to cook's room.
One 18-inch ventilator to passenger stairway.
One 10-inch ventilator to No. III hold.
On the poop—
One 18-inch ventilator over stairway.
One 12-inch extractor ventilator from hospital.
On forecastle head—
Fourteen 7-inch x 4-inch ventilators leading to upper and lower store rooms (fore peak)
seamen's forecastle, carpenter's and boatswain's quarters, stewards' accommodation
On shelter and bridge deck—
Twenty 7-inch x 4-inch ventilators, five of which led into the coal bunker (No. II. hold) ; four into the No. II. upper 'tween decks ; four into No. III. upper 'tween decks ; four into No. IV. upper 'tween decks ; one into the emigrants' meat store ; and two into stewards' store.
On bridge deck—
One 6-inch ventilator to engineers' quarters.
One 6-inch ventilator to pantry.
One 8-inch ventilator to lavatory.
One 10-inch ventilator to steering gear.
One 8-inch ventilator to stewards' quarters.
One 8-inch ventilator to wash-house.
Thermo Tank Ventilators.
One into No. I. upper and lower 'tween decks ;
One into No. II. upper and lower 'tween decks ;
One into No. III. upper and lower 'tween decks ;
One into No. IV. upper and lower 'tween decks ; fitted with the usual distributing pipes.
For fire extinguishing purposes, she was furnished with nine lengths of 2½-inch hose, each 50 feet long, fitted with the usual couplings and nozzles. These hoses could be joined up to the fire and wash-deck service main which was 2½ inches diameter, and led through a great portion of the length of the ship, in the following places :- Above decks-the break of the forecastle ; the saloon ; the bridge deck, abreast of the funnel ; on the shelter deck, at the after end of the bridge ; and at the fore part of the after house. Below decks-forward upper 'tween decks ; No. 1 lower 'tween decks ; No. 2 lower 'tween decks ; in the firemen's, &c., space, just forward of No. 3 bulkhead ; in the after upper 'tween decks in two places ; No. 3 lower 'tween decks ; and No. 4 lower 'tween decks. The Court is advised that, for full efficiency, hose pipes and mains should, in passenger ships, be not less than 3 inches in diameter.
She was fitted with steam fire-extinguishing apparatus, the pipes of which were led into all passenger and cargo spaces below decks. She was provided with 14 Minimax chemical fire extinguishers, distributed about various parts of the ship. She also had two Downton pumps - one forward and the other aft - and 12 fire-buckets, fitted with lanyards.
The " Volturno " carried 19 boats of the following dimensions:—
Dimensions-Feet Capacity Persons No. 1. — 28.0 x 8.0 x 3.25 = 436 = 43 " 2. — 28.0 x 8.0 x 3.25 = 436 = 43 " 3. — 28.0 x 8.0 x 3.25 = 436 = 43 " 4. — 28.0 x 8.0 x 3.25 = 436 = 43 " 5. — 27.4 x 8.15 x 3.4 = 455 = 45 " 6. — 28.0 x 8.0 x 3.25 = 436 = 43 " 7. — 27.3 x 7.9 x 3.7 = 478 = 47 " 8. — 27.2 x 8.3 x 3.6 = 487 = 48 " 9. — 27.3 x 8.65 x 4.0 = 566 = 56 " 10. — 27.4 x 8.8 x 4.0 = 578 = 57 " 11. — 24.5 x 7.5 x 3.0 = 330 = 33 " 12. — 24.5 x 7.5 x 3.0 = 330 = 33 " 13. — 24.5 x 7.5 x 3.0 = 330 = 33 " 14. — 24.5 x 7.5 x 3.0 = 330 = 33 X A. — 21.4 x 7.1 x 3.3 = 300 = 30 Z D. — 18.8 x 5.5 x 2.3 = 142 = 17 2 Engelhardt — placed under 3 and 4 = 108 1 Collapsible — 28.0 x 8.6 x 3.0 = 433 = 54 ----- Total boat capacity ... = 809 2 rafts — 26.0 x 10.0 ... = 130 4 rafts — 22.0 x 7.0 ... = 154 ------ Total ... = 1,093 ------
The boats were placed in the following manner : Nos. 1, 3, and 5 on the starboard side of the bridge deck, and Nos. 2, 4, and 6 on the port side of the same deck, and all those boats were in chocks, under davits. X (or 5 B) and Z (or 6 B) were inside boats, respectively carried abreast of Nos. 5 and 6, and could be put out with the same davits. Nos. 7, 11, 9 and 13 were placed on the starboard side of the after boat deck, 9 and 13 being inside numbers. Nos. 8, 12, 10 and 14 were placed on the port side of the after boat deck, 10 and 14 being inside numbers. The outer boats were in chocks, under davits, and the inner boats could be put out with the same davits. The collapsible boat was amidships on the after boat deck, and the two Engelhardt boats were on the bridge deck under Nos. 3 and 4. All the foregoing boats were provided with their proper equipment. The six rafts were carried on skids abreast of the foremast.
For other life-saving appliances, she had 1,511 life-jackets and 23 life-buoys, all being in good condition. The forward upper 'tween decks formed one compartment (above No. 1 and No. 2 holds), with the exception of certain wooden bulkheads enclosing the hospital, &c., and thus is obvious that if a serious fire, which it was found impossible to check, broke out in No. 1 hold, it would readily spread along that deck. Then, owing to the light steel shelter deck becoming red-hot, the sheathing of this deck would become ignited, and thus the saloon would be set alight. From the saloon, there was nothing to prevent the fire travelling aft, the alley-ways being practically open.
The " Volturno " was owned by the Canadian Northern Steamships, Limited, Mr. Harry William Harding, of Bond Court House, Walbrook, London, E.C. being designated as the person to whom the management of the vessel was entrusted by and on behalf of the owners, according to advice received on the 30th day of March, 1910.
2. Stowage, disposition and properties of cargo.
The materials upon which the Court has to go in dealing with the cargo, its stowage, and disposition are:—
(1) The manifest. (2)
A cargo list, prepared in the office of Messrs. P. A. Van Es and Company, the cargo brokers for the Uranium Steamship Company, and dated the 27th of September, 1913, with rough notes in pencil.
A stowage plan, dated the 2nd October, 1913, prepared by one Bock, a foreman in the employ of Van Es, made up from the tally books and information supplied by the stevedores actually engaged in the stowage.
Another stowage plan, said to be a copy prepared for the purposes of this enquiry, of one made by the stevedore on October 3rd, partly from memory and partly from marginal notes on the cargo list, placed there by the stevedores before the loading commenced and during consultation with the chief officer as to the stowage.
The oral evidence of Mol and Gouswaard, the stevedores engaged in the stowage, and of the second and third officers of the ship, who partly supervised the stowage.
The manifest furnishes the best evidence as to what goods were shipped by the consignors, but is useless as indicating their disposition in the ship.
The rough pencil notes on the cargo list are useful to compare with the plans, but as they are mere notes of the proposed storage, made before operations were commenced, there is no certainty that they represent the actual state of affairs when the ship sailed. They are, further, of the most general description, and do not pretend to indicate what quantity of any commodity was to be placed in any one cargo space.
The plan — Exhibit No. 42 — prepared by the foreman of the cargo brokers was not made from first-hand knowledge, but from information supplied to him by the tally clerks as to which cargo space any particular commodity went into, and by the stevedores as to the relative positions of the various consignments.
For documentary evidence the Court is therefore thrown back on Exhibit No. 43. The evidence as to the origin of this document was not very clear but its history seems to be as follows :— Immediately after the sailing of the ship the stevedore Mol prepared a stowage plan, and this is in accordance with what is understood to be the usual practice of stevedores. This plan, or a copy of it, was sent to the cargo brokers. Then, for the purposes of this case, a further copy was prepared in Van Es's office, with lists of the articles in each hold annexed to it, and this copy is the document, Exhibit No. 43, before the Court. The original plan prepared by Mol was not produced, and, as was perhaps not unnatural, he thought the copy served the same purpose, and accepted it in evidence as his plan. He was, in that sense, correct in saying the plan was prepared immediately after the ship sailed, and Mr. Offers was equally correct in saying that it had been made just a few weeks ago.
The Court has had to consider the value of this plan, and is of the opinion that it is open to criticism and that, working out the quantities and the cubic space occupied, it cannot represent the actual stowage with accuracy. Such documents are almost always prepared under conditions which preclude the possibility of accuracy in all details.
The Court cannot rely on the oral evidence of the stevedores as to the disposition of the cargo. It is impossible that men continually engaged in the performance of similar duties in different ships should remember every detail of the stowage of one particular ship. The officers of the ship do not profess to be able to give details of the stowage.
The Court has, in effect, as evidence of the stowage, only a document which purports to be a copy of a somewhat unreliable original, or perhaps the copy of a copy, and the recollection, many weeks after the event, of persons whose daily occupation must render their recollection of particular cases untrustworthy. In these circumstances the Court feels that it would be useless to attempt to set out the exact disposition of the cargo, but from the documents and the evidence taken together, it is of the opinion that a list, reliable as far as it goes, though perhaps incomplete, can be constructed of the particular commodities and the approximate quantities of each of them, which were placed in each cargo space. For the purpose of this investigation it is unnecessary to go into the stowage of the after holds, and the following particulars are what the Court considers relevant to the enquiry into the cause of the fire :—
No. 1 hold—
130 packages peat-moss.
180 packages straw covers and straw mats.
619 bales salted hides.
288 bales rags.
392 barrels tar oil.
20 barrels aniline oil.
34 barrels chloride of barium.
19 drums tetrachloride of carbon.
No. 1 'tween decks—
114 iron barrels barium superoxide.
2 casks rape-seed oil.
24 cases plants.
In addition there were, either in No. 1 hold or in No. 1 'tween decks, a number of packages of cocoa husks ; the plans are in contradiction on this point ; but as cocoa husks are not usually inflammable the matter is not of the first importance.
No. 2 'tween decks—
2,000 kegs herrings.
25 casks magnesite.
1 case celluloid.
2 cases crockery.
6 cases cottons.
8 cases deck stock.
309 packages straw covers.
190 bales rags.
116 bales peat-moss.
14 casks wine.
Some of these commodities were not inflammable at all, such as the herrings, the magnesite, the salted hides, and the crockery. Some would only ignite when strongly heated-the flash points of rape seed oil and tar oils are very high, and that of the aniline oil above the limit allowed for petroleum by the Petroleum Acts. Other articles, such as the peat-moss and the straw covers, would burn fiercely on the application to them of a flame. The packing of the plants would probably be highly inflammable material. Celluloid plates would burn furiously, once kindled. Rags would furnish fuel for an existing fire. They are also liable to spontaneous combustion in certain conditions, and the possibility of these conditions existing was investigated during the course of the enquiry.
Only the chemicals remain to be considered. Some of them would give off under heat, oxygen which would increase the violence of a fire, and one, superoxide of barium, has the dangerous property of bursting into flame under friction with any inflammable material. Their properties are more fully stated in another part of the Annex.
In view of this fact it became necessary to discover how this barium superoxide was packed. The manifest refers to it as " 64 iron drums barium superoxide," " 48 iron drums barium superoxide," " 2 iron drums barium superoxide " ; plan No. 42 shows in No. 1 'tween decks, 2, 64, 48 iron barrels, without mentioning the commodity in them ; plan No. 43 shows in No. 1 'tween deck, " drums barium superoxide," and the explanatory list attached thereto mentions 2, 64, 48 iron drums barium superoxide ; the cargo list has against the entries of barium superoxide the pencil note "1 T.D." ; and the stevedore Mol spoke of stowing iron drums in that cargo space.
Two iron barrels were produced to the Court, obtained by the solicitors for the owners and charterers, from Messrs. Van Es ; and Mr. Lloyd, the second officer, said he saw similar barrels loaded into No. 1. There is therefore little doubt that the barium superoxide was in fact packed in iron barrels similar in appearance to those produced. These barrels are stout iron receptacles. Each has a closely fitted lid, locked by an iron ring sprung into position and further secured by pieces of iron turning stiffly over it. They seem to be a good serviceable type of receptacle for the packing of such chemicals, and in Mr. Dupré's opinion form sufficient protection under all ordinary circumstances. For their contents to get into a position in which their dangerous properties would come into play it would be essential that the iron barrels should receive damage, either, as is possible, in the course of loading, or by getting adrift or shifting when the ship was rolling. The ship did roll very heavily for some days before the fire was observed, and as early as Monday morning, the 6th of October, three days before the fire, the chief officer went below to see if any of the cargo had shifted. He reported to the master that all was secure.
No. 2 lower hold formed the bunker, and when the vessel left Rotterdam it contained 710 tons of coal of which 200 to 210 tons was American coal left over from the last homeward voyage. This was left at the forward end of the bunker. About 500 tons of Westphalian coal was shipped at Rotterdam. The coal was similar to what had been used in this ship on other voyages, and the chief engineer had found it satisfactory.
In the progress of the fire aft, some of the coal ignited, but the Court is satisfied that this was a consequence of the fire, and not the cause.
3. Incidents of the voyage up to the date of the fire.
The "Volturno" having loaded a general cargo (hereinbefore described) at Rotterdam and also embarked 22 cabin and 539 steerage passengers, sailed thence on the 2nd day of October, 1913, bound to Canadian and North American ports, her draught of water being 17 feet 6 inches forward and 16 feet 7 inches aft. She was manned by a crew consisting of 93 persons, all told, and was under the command of Mr. Francis James Daniel Inch, who holds a certificate of competency as master, numbered 033893. Sailing as she did from a Dutch port, she was subject to the law of Holland as to emigrant ships. Before she sailed she was visited by the Dutch Emigration Commissioners who granted the requisite certificate for clearance testifying that she complied with the provisions of the law. She had also a British passenger certificate.
At the beginning of the voyage a moderate breeze was experience with generally fine weather, the vessel making about 10½ knots per hour. On the 4th of October she was off the Bishop's Rock Lighthouse, and on that day a change was experienced, the wind being from the south-west and the weather squally.
On the Saturday (the 4th), which was the usual day for those evolutions, the crew, who had previously been told off to their respective boats and fire stations, were exercised at boat and fire drill. The boats' covers were stripped off, and the equipment of each boat checked by the person in charge of such boat. Owing to the rolling of the ship, it was deemed inadvisable to swing out any of the boats.
At the conclusion of the boat drill, the crew were exercised at fire stations, the hoses being connected up in the best positions for fighting imaginary fires in various parts of the ship. This was the practice on every voyage, and was always the subject of a report by the master on the return of the vessel to her home port.
The arrangements made for assigning members of the crew to the different boats and placing lists of the boats and their crews in various parts of the ship where they would be seen by those concerned were in the opinion of the Court sufficient, and seem to have been effective when the moment came for them to be tested.
The boat drill itself was probably all that was practicable in the circumstances, but it cannot be said to have been very complete, or to have been sufficient to teach men without previous experience in working boat gear, how best to do so under difficulties less than those which actually arose in this case. The mere lifting of boats from their chocks and swinging the davits does not go far to show men how to deal with the lowering of a heavy boat full of passengers from a ship in a seaway, but it is difficult to say in the conditions under which trade afloat is usually carried on how really effective training in this respect can be secured.
The crew are usually engaged up to the time when the ship sails and cannot have drill on board or afloat in harbour. They only sign on for a voyage, and many, if not all, may not have sailed in the ship before or be known to the officers.
Weather conditions may make it impossible to lower boats after the ship is at sea, even if the time could be given for this, and the difficulty in view of the competition for trade between individuals, companies and nations, of making or, if made, of enforcing regulations not universally applicable is apparent.
Equally, and for similar reasons, the master of a ship has but seldom any opportunity before a voyage of knowing whether the men he assigns to the boats are at all qualified to manage or row a boat. Some lines take opportunities when in harbour of exercising men in boats, and some of the important lines keep the same men in their service over long periods and learn their capabilities, but these are the exceptions.
Generally speaking, the master has to take the men's qualifications in this respect on trust, and in this case Captain Inch said that he had no means of knowing which, if any, of the crew were accustomed to boat work and pulling an oar.
It is very difficult to see how this point can be met for the reasons given above. No doubt regulations might be suggested, but to be effective they should be universal. The Court does not think it necessary to do more than call attention to the matter, for it is one of the questions that have been discussed at the International Conference under Lord Mersey's presidency and will, no doubt, be dealt with by the Conference.
Before bad weather set in, the cowl of the large ventilator on the forecastle was unshipped, and the coaming plugged and covered.
It was stated that before the vessel left Rotterdam the hatches to the cargo spaces below the emigrants' quarters were covered over with tarpaulins and battened down, but they were not locked and could, without much difficulty, be opened.
By the evening of the 5th of October it was blowing a moderate gale and there was a heavy sea.
On the 7th of October heavy weather still continued, the wind veering from S.W. to W., and up to N.W., and by midnight of that date it was blowing very hard, there was a heavy sea, and the ship was rolling very heavily.
Similar weather prevailed on the 8th of October, the wind being still from the N.W., and nothing worthy of special note appears to have occurred on that day.
At 4 a.m. of the 9th of October the weather conditions were much the same, the wind being from the N.W., and a heavy sea running.
4. Outbreak, incidents, and consequences of the fire.
The evidence as to the outbreak of the fire is abundant, and, if somewhat confused, and in places not altogether cohesive, does, when carefully pieced together, enable a fairly clear and consecutive story to be gathered.
The first piece of evidence with which it is necessary to deal is the statement of a third-class passenger, Solomon Wechler, in a deposition made by him before the British Consul at New York. He says: " My sleeping quarters were slightly aft of No. 1 hatch . . . About 9 o'clock on Wednesday night when standing near the sleeping quarters with a number of other passengers, I noticed a slight smell of smoke. The other passengers noticed it also, and it attracted attention because nobody was smoking a pipe, cigar, or cigarette in that place at the time." Nowhere else in the evidence, either in that given before the Court, or in the depositions read, is there any corroboration of this statement, and it is quite impossible to estimate its significance. It was suggested by Mr. Acland that there was nothing whatsoever in this incident ; that what Wechler was looking out for was tobacco smoke, and that was what he smelt, although he could not see anybody who was smoking. It is possible that cross-examination of the witness would have elicited that this was what was in his mind, but the statement, as it stands, is equally susceptible of the view that he smelt smoke and was all the more struck by the fact that he could see nothing to account for it. This evidence is quite uncorroborated, and being given only on affidavit, it was not possible to test it by examination.
Between 12 midnight on Wednesday the 8th, and 0.30 a.m. on Thursday the 9th of October, the third officer, Mr. Düsselmann, went the rounds with a quartermaster, and he made the usual report to the officer of the watch that all was in order. The rounds consisted of going through all the quarters occupied by steerage passengers to see that there was no sign or smell of fire. In addition to an officer making the midnight round, a steward was on duty as night watchman, with orders to report hourly to the officer of the watch. The steward, who acted as watchman on the night of the 8th/9th October, was not a witness before the Court ; it was not ascertained whether he was a survivor or not ; but there is no reason to suppose the duty was not performed in the usual way.
It was a very bad night, the ship rolling heavily, and people were awake in all parts of the ship. In these circumstances it is only natural to suppose that any sign of fire or smell of smoke would have been perceived and reported by somebody.
At 6 a.m. those on board began to get up and go about the ship. The boatswain, who was berthed on the starboard side of the shelter deck immediately abaft the seamen's forecastle, came on deck at that time. No smell of smoke or fire in the forecastle was perceived then. The boatswain is corroborated in his statement by a number of other witnesses, whose quarters were in the same part of the ship. To take one of them, Kalving, the carpenter, at 6 a.m. went into the forecastle to sound the fore peak, the sounding pipe for which was situated there. He smelt nothing unusual.
There is similar evidence from the stewards' quarters which were on the upper deck, abaft the boatswain's store, and separated from the emigrants' quarters by a wooden bulkhead. Hans Muller, the officers' steward, had turned out earlier, at 10 minutes to 5. He noticed nothing unusual. Berkemeyer, another steward, who left the stewards' quarters about 6 o'clock and went aft about his duties, and Unger, another steward who turned out at the same time, speak to the same effect.
It is not easy to discover any clear statement in the affidavits as to the condition of things in No. 1 steerage at that time, but there were people stirring there, and it is not likely that any sign of fire would have remained unreported when there were plenty of the ship's company about who could be told of it.
At 6.45 a.m., Mr. Malcolmson, the third engineer, going into the bunker noticed a smell of burning. He thought that probably a little waste had got into there and a fireman had dropped a hot slice on it and set it smouldering. He failed to find anything of the sort, but unless some simple occurrence of that kind does explain the smell in the bunker, it is difficult to account for it. It is not possible to associate it with the main fire, which soon after appeared in No. 1 hatch.
Just before 7 a.m. an alarm of fire was raised in the emigrants' quarters. Unfortunately, the only evidence the Court has of what happened in No. 1 steerage is contained in affidavits. There are, however, several of them on this point, and their cumulative effect is to make it clear that the fire did not originate in the steerage, but came through from the cargo space underneath. In the affidavit of Thomas Vashinsky there occurs the remarkable passage, "I woke up at about half-past 5 on Thursday morning, and went to have some breakfast. About an hour later, as I was sitting at the table with several others, we saw smoke coming up through the floor of the room in which we were sitting, and one of the stewards lifted up a plank, and the flames came up." The floor at that spot was the wooden portion of the upper deck, and the " plank " is no doubt a mistranslation for hatch. Which hatch it could be is a matter for conjecture, but it is possible that one of the smaller hatches under the stairways to the shelter deck is meant. It is within the range of possibility that this hatch had been lifted by an obliging steward to enable an emigrant to get at his baggage, and when replaced had not been battened down again. In any case, there seems no good reason for disbelieving the statement, which is very definite.
A forecastle boy, Dobbelaar, who was called as a witness, was standing in the alleyway just outside the forecastle, after having cleaned out the forecastle. In the forecastle were two quartermasters, two sailors, and another deck boy. A steward, who could not be identified, came up the starboard forward staircase from the No. 1 steerage, and shouted, " Fire."
From the entrance to that staircase thick smoke was coming, and the steward came out of the black smoke. Dobbelaar at once went to the forecastle and called out, " Fire " to the men there. He ran then as fast as he could to the boatswain and the other day men who were at work on the after deck rigging life lines for the emigrants. When he started, he had to run through heavy smoke which was coming from the starboard staircase. He was followed from the forecastle by the quartermaster, Oller, who ran up on the bridge, and reported the fire. It was noticed by the captain that Oller's face was burned. Oller afterwards assisted in getting out No. 2 boat and was lost in her. The other three men and the boy in the forecastle perished. Their bodies were seen later in the day by Captain Inch, and were again seen on the 17th October by the people from the Dutch ship " Charlois " who scuttled the " Volturno."
Directly Dobbelaar reported the fire to the boatswain and the men working aft with him, they ran forward to connect the hose, shouting down to the engine-room hands to put water on deck. Smoke was then coming through the booby hatches fitted in No. 1 hatch as covers for additional stairways into No. 1 steerage.
By that time the fire had been reported to the master by the chief officer who was on the bridge and in charge of the ship. Captain Inch had just been awakened by the drawers falling out of his chest of drawers through the heavy rolling of the ship. Immediately after he awoke he heard two small explosions. He is the only witness who speaks to two explosions. He gives the time as 6.50 a.m. The second of these explosions, which is the only one spoken to by the other witnesses, blew off No. 1 hatch, out of which flames immediately burst, reaching as high as the top of the foremast.
Immediately after the first report to the master he had ordered that the ship should be got around before the wind, and by the time he came on the bridge the ship was in fact coming round slowly under starboard helm. He went down on to the fore deck, passing the injured man Oller, who reported that four men were burning in the forecastle. Then came a third, very heavy explosion, so heavy indeed that Captain Inch thought his ship would not survive another of the same character. The flames were reaching back to the bridge, and the life rafts on the fore deck were burning. The captain is of opinion that the explosion took place immediately under where he was standing at the foot of the bridge ladder, that is, somewhere in No. 2 lower 'tween decks. Its effects were to blow the compass out of the binnacle, jam the engine-room telegraph and the steam steering gear, wreck the saloon and also the hospital immediately abaft No. 1 steerage.
All this had happened in less than ten minutes, but the time had sufficed for all the steerage passengers in No. 1 to be removed to the after part of the vessel. In the work of removal the stewards Unger and Feuerhahn did good service. There seems no reason to suppose that any persons, other than the three men and the boy in the forecastle, lost their lives directly by fire.
The wrecking of the steam steering gear rendered the process of getting the ship before the wind slower and more difficult, but the hand gear was expeditiously got into working order by the chief engineer and the boatswain, and she was brought round.
The first thing done by the boatswain and those with him had been to connect hoses, and begin playing on the fire. The chief engineer now connected up the steam fire-extinguishing apparatus. As No. 1 hatch was off the steam could have little effect in that hold, and as after events showed, it would have been better to have economized steam, which can only have its full effect when all openings are sealed.
The master, meanwhile, had given orders for boats to be got away, and had himself taken part in getting away No. 2. This is a matter with which the Court will deal later, and it is unnecessary to say more about it in this place. After helping with No. 2 boat, the master went forward as far as he could get, which at that time was not very far. The ship by now was nearly before the wind, being steered by the hand gear, and the engines running dead slow ahead. The master now took charge of the work of fighting the fire. A hose was already connected up by the break of the forecastle, but it would seem from the state of the fire that this could not have been in use at that moment. Captain Inch had two more hoses connected, one alongside the funnel on the boat deck and one by the saloon, immediately below his own cabin. The hoses were never shifted from those connections, although during the day it became necessary to replace them by fresh lengths, the heat from the deck rendering them leaky. This may account for an allegation made in his affidavit by the steward Reisewitz, as to the bad condition of the hoses. The Court is satisfied that they were in good order. Water was played on the deck, on the deck houses, and the life rafts ; and the flames were gradually beaten back to No. 1 hatch, down which a hose was thrown. The other two hoses, worked by the chief engineer and a sailor, were also played down that hatch, and gradually the flames were got under. It was found that the whole of the hatch covers had disappeared, but the volume of smoke and the heat coming from the hatchway rendered it impossible to look down it.
Smoke was still coming from the forecastle which was burned right out. The master climbed on the forecastle and played the hose around, being relieved by the boatswain. By the master's orders the carpenter sawed through No. 1 derricks, letting them drop on to the coaming of the hatch. A hose was now carried into the alleyway of the forecastle, into which the master at last succeeded in penetrating. In the alleyway he found one dead body, inside by the door two more, and a fourth where the forecastle table had been. Through the hatch in the forecastle leading to the boatswain's store were coming flames and smoke. The time seems to have been about 8.30 or 9 a.m.
About this time a fire in the bunker was reported to the chief engineer, and another in the saloon was reported to the master. The fire in the saloon was relatively a small matter, and was due to the fusing of the electric wires leading to the bridge, the chart room, and elsewhere. These wires had been displaced and broken by the explosion, and had fired the wood casing in which they were led. The master put out this fire and removed the fuses from the fuse boxes outside the saloon.
The fire in the bunker had the gravest effects on the fate of the ship, and it will be convenient to deal with it at this point, although by doing so the order of time will not be followed.
When the alarm of fire was first given, the second engineer was on watch in the engine room. The engine-room telegraph rang for fire stations, and he went up to report to the chief engineer. He was followed up by two firemen and two trimmers, who were on duty in the stokehold. These men appear to have been startled by the heavy explosion, but they returned to their duty shortly after, when their officers told them to do so. One man, indeed, hesitated to comply with the order to go below, and the third engineer drew a revolver on him to compel obedience. No further difficulty was experienced with the engine-room staff. All the junior engineers went below, and extra firemen were ordered into the stokehold. The chief engineer remained on deck assisting the master, but he frequently went to see how his own department was getting on. The second engineer was also at times on deck.
Just before 8.30 a.m. a trimmer, who was at work in the bunker, reported fire there to the third engineer. The third engineer went into the bunker and got up on the slope of the coal. The coal was not trimmed right up to the top of the bunker, and between the coal and the deck above, right forward on the port side, he saw a small flame. The fire was at once reported to the chief engineer, who fully realised its importance. He gave orders that as much coal as possible was to be got out on the stokehold plates. The men then worked in relays in the bunker. Three steerage passengers volunteered for this duty, and, although their services may not have been necessary with the staff of firemen on this ship, they were accepted. Coal was hastily shovelled on to the stokehold plates until about 10 o'clock, when the smoke and gas in the bunker became unbearable. The watertight doors were then closed. At that time water, from the trunk hatch, was coming through the top of the bunker, showing that the hatches above it had been destroyed. There were on the stokehold plates about five or six tons of coal, all that could be placed in that confined space without crippling the work of firing the boilers.
About 2 p.m., the main engines were stopped by the master's orders, to economise coal. From this time the ship had no steerage way upon her and could not be manœuvred. The available coal was finished between 4 and 5 p.m. The pumps and the dynamos were still run with the head of steam in the boiler. The dynamos gave out about 8 p.m., putting the ship in darkness, and compelling the working of the wireless apparatus on the emergency set. The pumps continued to work slowly up to between 9 and 10 p.m., when they too ceased. Fires were drawn between 8 and 8.30 p.m., and the work of the engine-room staff was finished.
To return to the story of the main fire - after the master had extinguished the fire in the saloon, he found that the shelter deck was getting very hot. It began bursting into flame, especially on the port side of the trunk hatch in No. 2. The deck planking was prized up, and the engineers cut two holes in the iron deck to enable hose nozzles to be thrust through, and water played upon the fire, which was very fierce below that part of the deck. When the planking was removed the deck was found to be corrugated and the rivets to have been drawn out by the heat. Through the rivet holes the fire could be seen burning.
While the holes were being cut, fire was observed in the midship hospital under the saloon. The master found the staircase of the hospital had been wrecked. He and another man climbed down with a hose and put out the fire. Everything had collapsed below and he could look along the starboard side to right forward, where everything was in flames. At intervals throughout the day the hospital kept catching fire, but in every case it was successfully extinguished up till about 5 p.m. Mr. Lloyd, the second officer, had the special duty of keeping the hospital clear of fire.
The second hole was cut, with the assistance of some passengers, when part of No. 2 hatch fell in and fire came up. A hose was put down there.
About 12 noon the carpenter sounded No. 1 hold. On the starboard side the sounding pipe had been burned way. On the port side he found five feet of water. The ship was then considerably down by the head.
For a long time there was no great change in the state of things. Hoses were kept going down Nos. 1 and 2 hatches, and one was kept playing on the deck to keep it cool. Wherever the deck bulged the planking was wrenched off and thrown into the sea. The foremast had sagged down. The second and third officers stayed and secured it, and the carpenter wedged it in the mast hole.
All the work on deck was highly dangerous as the ship was rolling heavily, and those engaged had to hold on to the rails to prevent themselves falling into the fire below.
As the afternoon wore on the head of steam in the boiler began to fall, and the pumps to work more slowly. It became necessary to disconnect one of the hoses to keep up the pressure on the other two. About 8.45 p.m. the pumps stopped altogether, and the fire had to remain unchecked. About 9 o'clock the master was standing on the after end of the boat deck on the starboard side, when he saw flames coming out of the saloon door. The whole forward part of the bridge house burst into flames, and the magazine, containing detonating and other signals and powder for the gun, exploded, bringing down the aerials, and so putting an end to wireless communication. Flames blazed 70 feet into the air for about 20 minutes.
All the people left in the ship were congregated aft and boats from other ships were then attempting the work of rescue.
Meanwhile the fire was working steadily aft under the shelter deck. At 1 a.m. on the 10th October smoke was observed coming through a door leading from the galleys on the shelter deck, abaft the boiler casing. This door the master shut. He also closed the scuttles of Nos. 3 and 4 hatches. On the port side he saw the fire was burning down into the firemen's quarters, which were abreast of the boiler casing. Smoke was also coming out of the entrances to No. 3 steerage. Later, smoke was seen coming from No. 3 hatch under the tarpaulin.
Soon after daylight on the 10th of October boats again came from ships which were standing by, and the master and chief engineer were kept too busy to make any further observations of the progress of the fire.
Its last effects were seen when the " Volturno " was boarded by the chief officer and engineer of the " Charlois " on the 17th of October, seven days after she had been abandoned as hereafter appears. They found her completely burned out fore and aft. The outer skin of the ship was badly corrugated down to the water line. The engine-room was in good condition.
During the night of the 9th/10th October everything possible was done for the comfort of the passengers. The measures taken for their safety are dealt with in another part of the report. Canvas screens were rigged to shelter them from the wind. Blankets were served out, and coffee and bread were handed round or were available for all. The bakers were actually at work throughout the night, baking bread. Milk was also served out to the women and children just before the work of transferring them to the boats commenced.
5. Work of the boats and the rescuing ships
The fierceness of the fire which burst out of the fore hatch on the second explosion, followed by the violent explosion which wrecked the steam steering gear and compasses, led the master to believe that the ship might very shortly become untenable, and that if there should be more explosions the end might come at any moment.
In these circumstances he very naturally and properly decided that efforts should be made to save the passengers by the use of the boats, and gave orders that they should be got away. The ship was then rolling very heavily, and the task of getting crews and passengers into the boats, swinging the boats out, and lowering them, was obviously difficult and dangerous, and the difficulty was increased by the fact that it was necessary to keep her moving, and as much as might be before the wind so that the flames and smoke might not blow aft. The attempt to use the boats turned out to be disastrous, and, as in fact the ship remained afloat and sufficiently free from fire aft to enable its occupants to remain on board till the following morning, unnecessary, while it was the principal cause of the loss of life which occurred.
The Court does not, however, desire in any way to suggest that the master is open to criticism for the action he took. In the circumstances in which he was placed the order he gave was that which any man in his position would have given. He had good reason to think it probable that at any moment all persons on board might perish with the ship, and the use of the boats was the only means of escaping that peril.
In the first rush for the boats, the passengers, terrified as they were by the explosion, and by the flame which followed the explosion, created some confusion. Some had to be driven out of a boat which they had filled, and there were instances in which threats had to be used towards individuals, but order was shortly restored, and it should be said that the passengers on the whole behaved well, while the officers and crew performed their duties as well as was possible in circumstances of exceptional difficulty.
No. 2 boat, containing about 30 passengers and 11 of the crew, with the chief officer in charge, was lowered into the water, but, owing to the block of the after fall jamming under the gunwale, the boat was almost capsized, and the occupants fell out. It righted and cleared the ship. The chief officer, the quartermaster, the chief steward and another person clambered back into the boat and were last seen endeavouring to pick up some of those who had fallen out. The boat drifted away, and was never seen afterwards.
No. 6 boat was lowered with about 25 to 30 passengers and a crew of about 6 men, and was in charge of the fourth officer. It got away safely, and was never seen or heard of again.
No. 7 boat was successfully lowered, and filled at the shelter deck with 40 to 50 passengers and a crew of six. It was driven under the ship's counter and crushed or swamped, and those on board perished.
No. 12 boat was, according to the evidence, lowered by the passengers, but only by the after fall at first, and 10 or 15 people who were in it fell out, while the boat itself was smashed. Five or six people are said to have jumped after it, who were drowned.
It should be stated that the numbers given above are mere estimates by the witnesses made in circumstances when accuracy of observation could not be expected, and are almost certainly in excess of the actual number of lives lost in connexion with the attempt to get boats safely away.
Attempts were made to lower other boats, but they were all stove in against the chocks, davits, or ship's side by the heavy rolling of the vessel and rendered useless. Having regard to what had happened, the master realised how desperate was the chance of saving life by the use of boats, and, having just about this time received a wireless message from the "Carmania" that she was coming to their assistance, he gave orders to stop the attempts to lower boats. This was done, perhaps not instantaneously, but as soon as it was possible to convey the order to the after part of the ship through the crowd of emigrants. The officers and crew were doing all that was possible to fight the fire, there had been no further explosions, and, though the fire was still progressing, the burst of flames had not recurred, so that the chance of rescue from outside seemed to be greater than that of escape by means of boats.
The disasters to the boats had naturally added to the apprehension of all on board, and there was obviously a possibility of panic arising. One man did, in fact, throw his wife and daughter overboard and jump into the sea afterwards. Measures were therefore taken, immediately after the receipt of the message from the "Carmania," to tell the passengers that she was coming to their rescue. This helped to modify their fears, and restored a measure of confidence among them.
During this period, and throughout the day, everything that was practicable was being done to fight the fire, as has already been described, and the ship had, when the fire was first reported, been slowed down and put as nearly as possible before the wind so that the flame and smoke should not drive aft where the passengers had been collected.
From the time when the fire was reported till the aerial was destroyed by the last explosion, about 10 p.m. on the 9th October, the two Marconi operators, Mr. Seddon and Mr. Pennington, were engaged in sending and receiving wireless messages and reporting them to the master. The vessels receiving messages were communicating with other vessels, and the ultimate result was the assembling of 12 steamships to afford such assistance as was possible to the "Volturno." All those vessels from which the Court had direct evidence, proceeded to the position of the "Volturno" at full speed, and there can be no doubt that this was the case with regard to the other vessels.
The "Carmania" was the first to arrive, which was at about noon on the 9th of October ; the "Seydlitz," the "Grosser Kurfürst," the "Kroonland" in the afternoon ; later the "Minneapolis," "Czar," "La Touraine," "Devonian," and "Rappahannock" ; and on the morning of the 10th, at 5.30 a.m., the "Narragansett." There were also the "Asian," and another vessel whose name is not known, but there is no evidence as to when those two ships arrived.
When the "Carmania" arrived, she came close up to the "Volturno" and sent a boat away in charge of the first officer, Mr. Gardner, but the condition of the sea made it impossible for the boat to reach the burning ship, and after two hours struggle the boat was with difficulty brought back to the "Carmania." The "Carmania" then, at the request of the master of the "Volturno," made a wide circle to look for that ship's missing boats and could not find them, but she saw several buoyancy tanks floating, which had no doubt come from one of the boats. On her return she dropped rafts on the lee bow of the "Volturno," but they unfortunately went clear of that ship, as by this time she had no longer steam for manœuvring and was nearly broadside on to the sea, driving to leeward. This was the best chance of getting the rafts to her, but it failed to succeed. By this time, other vessels had arrived, and, having regard to the great size of the "Carmania" and the fact that she was not a handy vessel to manœuvre, it was found necessary for her to keep, generally speaking, outside the other ships. She was not able, for that reason later in the day to send boats ; but she was placed with great foresight by the master, Captain Barr, in a position where she would have the best chance of picking up people in the event of the "Volturno" foundering, and she did, in fact, save one man who had gone overboard from the "Volturno." She also, by the use of her searchlight, was able to pick up any boat, and by this means she saw and took aboard the crew of a boat of the "Minneapolis" who were exhausted and in danger.
The "Seydlitz" and the "Kroonland" both tried in the afternoon of the 9th October to get boas to the "Volturno," but without success.
Matters seemed desperate just before dusk, and Mr. Lloyd, the second officer of the "Volturno," suggested to the master that he should try to get away with a boat, in hopes that, if he were successful in getting to one of the other ships, they might be encouraged again to try to send boats to rescue the passengers. The ship was at this time rolling very heavily, and, considering the condition of the sea, the master thought it foolhardy, but ultimately gave the required permission. The second officer asked for volunteers, and with great difficulty and some damage to the boat, 5 B, one of the smaller boats, was got into the water, with the second officer, two able seamen, a fireman, and a steward. The service was one of very great danger, and the master rightly, in the opinion of the Court, did not feel justified in allowing any passengers to go in the boat. With great difficulty the boat got to the "Grosser Kurfürst," occupying an hour to go the quarter of a mile which separated the ships. The men were hauled on board the "Grosser Kurfürst," but the boat, which was nearly full of water, was swamped alongside. Mr. Lloyd explained the situation on board the "Volturno," and urged the master of the "Grosser Kurfürst" to send boats.
At about 9.45 p.m. the flames that burst out after the explosion which wrecked the aerial were seen from the "Grosser Kurfürst". The master decided to send a boat to do what it could, and at or soon after this time, the other vessels began to send their boats, so that at about 10 p.m., or soon after that time, on the 9th of October there were a number of boats near the "Volturno." They could not get alongside because of the heavy sea and the rolling of the ship, but worked round and round as near her as possible.
At about 9.45 p.m., as stated, the fire had reached the bridge and got to the magazine, which exploded. Captain Inch thought the vessel would not last much longer, and as boats from the other vessels were then near the ship, he decided that the best chance would be for the passengers to jump into the sea and to endeavour to reach the boats. The passengers were invited to do this, but none of them would face the sea, and Captain Inch then told some of the crew to jump and give them a lead. He also gave them permission to do the best for themselves, as he believed the ship was practically gone, and they could be of no further use. A good many of the crew jumped, and on seeing them do so a number of passengers followed them. Many were saved, though no doubt some lives were lost at this time and in this way.
About 1 a.m. on the 10th of October, when the moon set, this work had to be discontinued till dawn broke at about 5 o'clock, when the weather had moderated, and the boats from the other vessels were able to come alongside. The remaining passengers were lowered by ropes into the boats. Captain Inch then went round the ship to satisfy himself that no one was left, and got into the last boat with Mr. Dewar, the chief engineer, the seamen Gunderson and Saariner, Mr. Seddon, the senior Marconi operator, the chief baker, the assistant baker, and two stewards.
There was no possible chance of saving the ship or doing anything more, and nothing was open to Captain Inch but to abandon her.
The discipline and behaviour of the officers and crew and the conduct of those in the rescuing ships will be dealt with in another part of the report, but the foregoing observations give the story of the boat work.
6. Use of Oil.
According to the evidence the owners of the "Volturno" recognised the possibilities and the value of oil. She carried a stock of heavy fish oil in the forecastle store, and in each boat there was a tin of fish oil or colza oil. So far as the vessel herself was concerned no use was, or could, be made of the fish oil because from the outbreak of the fire the forecastle store was inaccessible, and the oil must have been burnt up very shortly after the fire was detected.
There could be no evidence as to whether oil was found in the boats that got away, but none was used at the moment they reached the water nor would it have been practicable to use it at that time. There was on board, besides the fish oil, lubricating, colza, and paraffin oil carried for other purposes. It is doubtful whether, in the conditions, these oils could have been got at and used, and as a matter of fact it did not occur to Captain Inch to use them.
There was, however, some evidence from the rescuing boats as to the use of oil, which is of interest, and which indicates that, had the "Volturno" been able to make use of suitable oil it might have facilitated the getting away of her own boats and made the work of the rescuing boats easier when at about 10 p.m. and after, they were working round her and endeavouring to get alongside.
It would appear however that the main cause of disaster to the "Volturno's" boats was the heavy rolling of the ship, apart from the breaking of the seas, and equally it was this which, till the weather moderated, prevented the boats of the rescuing ship from getting alongside her.
The effect of oil is to create a smooth surface on the water, but it does not, as the Court understands, affect the actual size of the wave, and thus would not materially affect the rolling of a vessel, though to some extent it might assist the boat work.
In this case the master of the "Rappahannock" found the oil of service in getting his own boat alongside.
The evidence of Captain Barr, Captain Harnden, Captain Kreibohm, Captain Trant, and Captain Harwood all goes to show that the use of oil is of marked value whether it be to facilitate boat work or to create favourable conditions for a ship or a boat to ride out a gale, or to run before a heavy sea. In this case, when the "Narragansett" came up, the weather had moderated, and the use of oil may not have been essential, but testimony was borne to its value in expediting and assisting her boat work. An interesting photograph was produced to the Court showing the effect of the oil spread from the "Narragansett."
The Court does not think that the case of the "Volturno" has added much to what is already known as to the effect of oil, but all that has come to light confirms and illustrates the view officially taken by the Admiralty and by the Board of Trade as to its value.
7. Behaviour of officers, crew, and passengers of the
"Volturno," and the work of the rescuing ships.
From the time of the outbreak of the fire at about 7 a.m. on the 9th to the time of the abandonment of the ship on the morning of the 10th of October, the officers and the crew of the "Volturno" did all they could to fight and keep down the fire, to save life, and to provide, so far as was possible, for the comfort of the passengers during their long period of mental anxiety and physical suffering.
The orders given by the master and officers were carried out as well as might be, in circumstances of great difficulty, and the Court has the gratification of being able to commend the conduct of those belonging to the ship, from the master and officers downwards.
Almost everything that might well have led to a panic was present in this case - a fire breaking into full fury in a few minutes without warning, and accompanied by explosions, a heavy sea making movement in the ship dangerous, a crowd of emigrants, including many women and children, all unaccustomed to the sea and speaking different languages, and disaster to the boats, which must at first have appeared to afford the only hope of safety. In these circumstances it is creditable to all that, after some confusion, some rushing for the boats, the passengers in most respects acted on the directions given to them from time to time, and did not actively hinder the officers and men in the performance of their duties, while some actually afforded assistance on deck and below. The Court recognises that credit should be given to those persons for their resignation and self control in the terrible position in which they were placed, and feels that it was largely due to the measure of confidence afforded to them by the bearing of, and steady performance of their duties by, the officers and crew, to whom they looked for their chances of preservation. They appear also to have derived courage, notably in the case of the Jews, from their religious faiths, and held through the night almost continuous prayer and singing of hymns.
Of the master, Captain Inch, it would perhaps be sufficient to say that he did his duty. To the best of his judgment he did all he could to save the passengers and to preserve or prolong the life of his ship. He was in the course of the day nearly blinded by a wave of heat. His eyes had to be treated to enable him to carry on, and after the fire, when on board the "Kroonland," he was practically blind for several days. His suffering from this injury in no way effected his activity in the performance of his duties till the ship had to be abandoned.
The Court has already referred to his order to get out the boats immediately after the explosion on the morning of the 9th of October, and considers that, disastrous as was the result of this order, it was at the time, and in the circumstances, a proper order, for it appeared to afford the best and perhaps the only chance of saving the lives of any of the passengers. The fire was burning fiercely, no one could tell but that another explosion might break up the ship at any moment, and no vessel was in sight, or so far as was then known, aware of the "Volturno's" position.
A similar situation in some respects arose at 9.45 the same evening when the explosion occurred which destroyed the aerial. Captain Inch, and with good reason, thought the ship was practically gone, and that the best chance for the passengers was that they should jump into the sea and endeavour to reach the boats of the rescuing ships which were then near the "Volturno" but not able to get alongside. Failing to induce them to do this, he not only encouraged members of the crew to set the passengers an example, but gave them permission to endeavour thus to save themselves. He acted in the belief that the breakup of the ship was imminent, and that they could be of no further use. The heat from the fire had buckled the deck plates, and those in the side of the vessel, and there was in his mind the danger of foundering, which might well have occurred if the weather had not moderated. A good many lives were saved in this way, but some, no doubt, were lost, and the ship was deprived of the services of many of the crew who might possibly have been useful later on. In the opinion of the Court, however, the conditions which existed justified the action of Captain Inch, and no blame attaches to him in respect thereof, nor to those of the crew who availed themselves of this chance of saving their lives. At the same time due credit should be given to those who, seeing the passengers jumping, realised that the main object of the order had been effected, and decided to stay by the ship to do anything further that could be done, and to look after the passengers who remained on board.
The Court feels it to be its duty to refer shortly to an omission in the measures taken by Captain Inch to endeavour to limit and check the progress of the fire, namely, forgetting to throw overboard the magazine, which, as has already been stated, blew up at about 9.45 p.m., and might, though happily it did not do so, have added directly to the loss of life. The destruction of the aerial was at that time not of any serious importance, as the rescuing ships had been already been summoned, and sufficient were there to save life when the weather conditions made it possible. Captain Inch very frankly stated that he did not think of throwing the magazine overboard, and, considering all he did during the day, the numerous dangers he had to foresee and to provide against so far as he could, and the immense demands made on his fortitude and his judgment, the Court does not consider that this one instance of forgetfulness ought to lessen the force of the commendation which it is able to bestow on him in respect of the manner in which he performed his duty in circumstances as trying as any in which a commander could well be placed.
He was well supported by his officers and crew. Those who perished in the boats died in the performance of their duties. Those remaining worked in their several capacities with zeal and devotion, and by their example and by the action they took to meet occasion of danger as it arose in different forms, must have provided a source from which the emigrants might well have derived the fortitude with which they bore the physical suffering and the mental anxieties of those hours of peril. There were one or two cases in which the highest standard was not maintained, but the Court does not think that the lapses in those cases are of such a nature as to call for specific reference to the persons concerned.
There was after the first explosion some hesitation on the part of some of the firemen to stay in the stokehold, but strong and timely action on the part of an officer overcame this in a moment, and the men then worked with the utmost devotion till the steam failed and the fires were drawn.
The Court thinks it right to express its special appreciation of the action of Mr. Lloyd, the second officer, in volunteering to take a boat to one of the other ships, and of his skill and gallantry, and that of his boat's crew in the dangerous service they undertook for this purpose. It was, as the Court thinks, rightly described by Captain inch in a letter to Captain Tinsley as "the very brave act of Mr. Lloyd."
The chief engineer, Mr. Dewar, and his staff zealously and efficiently, wherever they were most required on deck and below, performed the duties required of them in fighting the fire, controlling the passengers, and assisting in the work of the ship. The water was applied immediately on the outbreak of the fire, the steam extinguishing apparatus was brought into action, and the head of steam was kept up as long as was possible with the coal that had been taken out of the bunker.
The two Marconi operators, Mr. Seddon and Mr. Pennington, remained at their posts from the outbreak of the fire till the explosion which blew away the aerial at 9.45 p.m., and when after that time, their services could be of no further use there, remained at the disposal of the master for other duties. Mr. Seddon remained with the ship till the morning and left with the master in the last boat. To their steady devotion to their duties in circumstances very trying to nerve and fortitude much credit is due in the opinion of the Court.
The stewards were prompt in warning and controlling the passengers and getting them aft and as far as possible out of danger, and many of them took an active share in the work of fighting the fire, assisting at the boats, and carrying out generally the orders of their officers. Special credit is in the view of the Court due to the bakers and those in the galley who worked steadily and without intermission, to provide the comfort for the passengers. Bread, coffee, and sausages were supplied throughout the night, and there can be little doubt but that the fact that this was done must have contributed to the calmness and resignation with which through that night the passengers faced their position, as it showed that some routine was being continued and that the crew were able to think of and provide for their wellbeing so far as practicable.
Thus it may be said that the master, officers and crew of the "Volturno" as a whole conducted themselves in a manner worthy of the traditions of the sea, and that their behaviour and the manner in which they performed their several duties averted a panic among the passengers, the results of which, had it arisen, it is hardly possible to estimate.
Reference has already been made in some detail to the services rendered by the rescuing ships, and the Court thinks it right to express its appreciation of the devotion, gallantry and skill displayed by the officers and crews of those vessels who took part in the operations by which so many of those on board the "Volturno" were saved. The vessels which arrived in the afternoon of the 9th of October were not deterred by the weather conditions from making the attempt to send boats to the "Volturno" at that time a service of great peril, and the spirit which must have animated all was well expressed by Captain Barr when he said that he found in his ship plenty of men "able and willing and anxious" to go in the boats.
The work done after dark and so long as the conditions made it possible up to the early hours of the morning was almost equally difficult and dangerous, while the saving operations after dawn on the 10th of October were carried out both by those in the boats and those on board the "Volturno" with skill and good seamanship.
To the services of Mr. Gardner of the "Carmania" and his boat's crew reference has already for special reason been made, but as all those engaged seem to have been equal in courage and resource the Court does not think it necessary to say more than that they all did their duty in the face of great perils and difficulties.
One act of gallantry on the part of a seaman is, however, as the Court thinks, deserving of special notice. When the "Devonian's" boat came alongside the "Volturno" on the early morning of the 10th a woman threw a child overboard. It fell between the boat and the ship's side, and a seaman in the boat named Hazelwood jumped overboard, dived, and got the child into the boat. Captain Inch, who witnessed the incident, described it as the quickest thing he had ever seen, and there is no doubt that, besides the danger of drowning, Hazelwood incurred the imminent risk of being crushed between the boat and the side of the ship.
The action of those in the rescuing vessels may perhaps best be described by saying that, without distinction of nationality, the traditions of the sea, and the courage, resource, and skill of seamen were well maintained and conspicuously illustrated in this case.
8. Cause of fire.
The evidence produced to the Court does not enable it to pronounce with certainty as to the cause of the fire which brought about such disastrous results and led to the abandonment of the "Volturno."
The character of the cargo carried and the manner of its stowage have already been dealt with, and there can be no doubt that, once the fire was started, there was the material at hand to produce an outbreak which no appliances could extinguish or do more that check for a time.
On the case as presented it appeared to the Court necessary to enquire closely into the following as possible causes of the fire:—
(a) The fusing or short circuiting of electric wires,
(b) spontaneous combustion of the rags or salted hides that formed a portion of the cargo,
(c) the possibility of ashes from pipes, or cigar or cigarette ends getting to any inflammable portion of the cargo in No. 1 'tween decks or hold, or of matches or naked lights being used by anyone in the hold,
(d) the creation of flame or of sufficient heat to ignite cargo by any of the chemicals carried.
The Court is satisfied, for the reasons hereinbefore given, that the fire originated in No. 1 'tweendeck or No. 1 hold, was communicated to the inflammable cargo there, and thus, after the hatch was blown off, gained such volume, that the efforts made to deal with it could only check its slow but sure progress to all parts of the vessel.
(a) No. 1 lower 'tweendecks, though devoted to cargo on this voyage, was sometimes used for the accommodation of emigrants, and the Court, therefore, was careful to enquire whether the electric lighting system, which in the latter case would extend to the lower 'tweendecks, was altogether disconnected therefrom when it was used for cargo on this voyage. The evidence given satisfied it that this was the case, and in the opinion of the Court this may be eliminated as a possible cause of the fire.
(b) A portion of the cargo consisted of rags, and these are known to be capable of ignition by spontaneous combustion, if packed when oily, or greasy, or damp, but this is almost, if not quite, impossible if they are stacked in proper condition. It was stated to the Court that enquiry had been made in this matter, and a letter from the consignors was produced stating that the rags were packed dry and free from oil or grease, and in good condition. Apart from this testimony, however, it appears to the Court very improbable that this was the cause of the fire. Mr. Dupré, the analytical chemist called by the Board of Trade, and to whom the Court is much indebted for his assistance, stated that if the rags were stowed dry and free from grease it was, in his opinion, "quite impossible" there should be spontaneous combustion, but that, if greasy or moist, it was a possibility. He also said that in any case it was most unlikely that spontaneous combustion could occur in so short a time as that between the 2nd October, when the ship sailed, and the date of the fire.
With regard to the salted hides he was of the opinion that, in the circumstances, their spontaneous combustion was practically impossible.
His view that this was not the cause of the fire is, in the opinion of the Court, confirmed by the fact that, had it been, it is practically certain that the smell of the burning rags, and still more of the salted hides, if smouldering, must have penetrated from the hold and been perceived by many persons before the actual outbreak of fire. The chief officer had actually been in the hold on the 6th, and smelt nothing then. A man named Wechler, who says he smelt something on the evening of the 8th of October, is quite uncorroborated, and it is more probable that what he smelt was tobacco, though he did not actually see anyone who was smoking at the time.
Having regard to all the evidence the Court has therefore come to the conclusion that the outbreak of fire cannot be attributed to the spontaneous combustion of the cargo.
(c) While, so far as the owners and master were concerned, all proper steps by notices in various languages and by orders to those responsible for looking after the passengers to prevent smoking below were taken, the Court is satisfied on the evidence that smoking below did in fact take place. The evidence of the third officer on this point was not satisfactory, and it was made clear by evidence given by the stewards that smoking did go on, and that their efforts to prevent it were unsuccessful. Not only were passengers often found smoking, but, hoping to avoid detection, they would sometimes conceal lighted pipes, cigars, or cigarettes in their beds when a steward appeared.
It is obvious that this was a source of danger, and one to guard against which the utmost vigilance is necessary, but it is, the Court thinks, quite clear that the fire on board the "Volturno" did not arise from this cause.
A more doubtful question arises, however, as to whether the ashes of pipes knocked out, or the lighted ends of cigars or cigarettes might not possibly have found their way into the hold and lighted some of the readily inflammable materials in the cargo.
The evidence was to the effect that the hatches were securely battened down, and that it was almost impossible that ashes could have got to the cargo in No. 1 'tween deck or No. 1 hold through any of the ventilators.
The hatches were, however, not locked, and it is not impossible that one might have been opened for some temporary purpose, or to oblige a passenger, without the knowledge of any of the officers of the ship, and that ashes might thus have got into the cargo. This possibility receives some support from the fact that there is evidence that when the fire broke out a hatch in the emigrants' quarters immediately above the lower 'tween decks, where the fire probably originated, was lifted, and smoke and flame came out from below. It is not quite clear as to which hatch this was, but probably, if the evidence is reliable at all, it was one of the small hatches under the ladders leading from the emigrants' quarters to the shelter deck.
If this hatch could be, and was, opened then, it might equally have been opened on some other occasion, and the possibility of the fire having originated from pipe ashes, cigars, or cigarettes, though in the opinion of the Court very improbable, cannot be altogether excluded.
If, however, this had occurred the day before the fire and led to any smouldering in the cargo, a smell would have followed which would almost certainly have been perceived. If it had happened on the morning of the 9th of October and created the fire which burst out with such violence, someone must have been smoking below at that time, and the hatch must have been open. It was very early in the morning, had been a very rough night, and the ship was rolling heavily. It is not likely that there would be much temptation to smoke below at such a time, and there is no evidence at all that any hatch was opened in the 'tween decks before the fire broke out. It is obvious that in such weather no hatch on the shelter deck could possibly have been opened.
The Court therefore thinks it highly improbable that this was the cause of the fire.
Equally it was improbable that either during the night or in the morning of the 9th of October any person would, without orders, have gone into the hold, so that the use of a match or a naked light is not likely to have been the cause of the fire.
While the Court is not of opinion that the fire arose in this case from smoking by the passengers or crew, the fact of the smoking by the passengers shows that laxity in enforcing proper regulations in this respect involves grave dangers, and that it is important that officers should have sufficient power to enforce rules and to deal with those who disregard them. Whether the existing powers of masters of ships are sufficient for this purpose may be doubted, and the Court thinks it a matter worthy of consideration by the Board of Trade whether any further powers of punishment, either of offending passengers or crew, should be conferred on them.
There was nothing to indicate the presence of any stowaways on board, so that the possibility of fire having been caused by any such persons may be excluded.
(d) There were, either in No. 1 'tweendecks or No. 1 hold, certain chemicals which, according to the evidence of Mr. Dupré, were, under special conditions, of an inflammable or dangerous character, namely.
1. Barrels of tar oil :—
These are inflammable, but have a high flash point (about 150º Cent.), and would not give off inflammable vapour.
2. Rape-seed oil :—
This has a very high flash point, and would not burn unless strongly heated.
3. Aniline oil :—
The flash point of this is much lower.
4. Nitrate of barium and nitrate of strontium :—
These are non-inflammable by themselves, but when heated give off oxygen, which would add to the violence of a fire, though they could not create it.
5. Superoxide or peroxide of barium :—
This has the same properties as the nitrate of barium, but has another and very dangerous characteristic, namely, that if it be subjected to friction in contact with any inflammable material, ignition and flame may readily be occasioned.
It will be seen that the articles named in the first four paragraphs would not, of themselves, create a fire or contribute to its violence unless exposed to great heat, such as there could not have been in this case before the outbreak of the fire.
While therefore they must, after the fire got hold and reached them, have contributed materially to its violence, the Court is of opinion that they cannot have been the cause of its outbreak.
As regards the superoxide of barium the conditions are very different, and the Court has carefully considered the possibility of its having been in some way exposed to friction, and producing, as in that case it might well produce, a flame capable of igniting the cargo stowed near it.
Mr. Dupré was good enough to give the Court a practical illustration of its qualities.
He placed some of the barium, which is a powder, on a piece of wood, and subjected it to what appeared to the Court a very moderate friction, when it burst into flame and ignited some wood shavings near it. Some of the powder was left on the board which had not been subjected to friction, and as Mr. Dupré turned away this powder, apparently without cause, also burst into flame, possibly because the heat had then reached it.
It is apparent that if an article of this kind were carried so that there was a possibility of its being exposed to friction, it would be an element of extreme danger, unless altogether separated from other cargo capable of ignition.
The Court has therefore had to consider carefully whether it could have been exposed to friction in this case so as to produce flame and set other portions of the cargo on fire.
According to the evidence, it was carried in iron drums or barrels, and certain drums were produced in Court, said to be specimens of those in which it was packed, and which were proved to be similar in appearance to them.
These drums and barrels, as closed and fastened, were calculated, as far as possible, to prevent any of the contents escaping, and they were said by Mr. Dupré to be well suited for carrying this dangerous article. This may be so, but things do sometimes go wrong, and unexpected results ensue.
Now, apart from the possibility which must be present to the mind of anyone who has seen ships loaded, of injury to barrels from blows against the quay or the ship, there was in this case the probability of these drums shifting and working in the very heavy weather to which the "Volturno" was exposed. It is true that the evidence was that the cargo and those barrels were well and securely stowed, but Mr. Acland, in his very careful analysis of this evidence, satisfied the Court that it could not be relied upon in this respect, and that it was quite possible that the drums might have sustained injury from shifting with the heavy rolling of the ship, and that in this way, some of the powder may have escaped and been subjected to friction so as to produce flame.
That this should have resulted in creating a fire is natural, but there is some difficulty, on the materials before the Court, in accounting for its sudden and extreme violence. As has already been stated, the Court cannot place reliance on the accuracy of the stowage plans. According to them, cases of plants were next the iron drums or barrels. Assuming this to be correct, the Court is not informed as to the manner in which the plants were packed, but it may well be that it was with some material which would blaze up quickly. The hold also contained very inflammable matter, it was very full, and it is quite possible that some of the peat moss and straw covers which were said to be near the top of No. 1 hold may, for want of space, have been put with the iron drums or have been ignited by heat from above.
Certainty is impossible, but the facts are that a fierce fire broke out very suddenly, and that there was among the cargo this superoxide of barium, which under certain conditions that might not impossibly or improbably have arisen in this case, might have caused the fire, that every other reasonably probable cause of fire on board this ship has been inquired into, and that on the evidence the fire cannot with likelihood be attributed to any of them. While proof is not possible, the most probable explanation is that the fire arose from some of the superoxide of barium escaping from the drums, being exposed to friction, breaking into flame, and igniting the cargo.
The question as to the carriage of chemicals, which in themselves are, or in certain conditions may become, dangerous, is a difficult one.
It would not, having regard to the commercial effect, be reasonable to exact what might be prohibitory requirements, to guard against a danger so remote as to be fanciful; but on the other hand, where the character of any substance is such that carriage under sea conditions renders it well within the bounds of probability that dangerous qualities may be developed, rules requiring it to be kept free from possible contact with inflammable material could not be otherwise than reasonable.
The superoxide of barium carried by the "Volturno" may well be considered as being within the latter category, and now that this danger - whether it did or did not cause the fire in this case - has been established, the Court feels sure that the matter will receive full and proper consideration by the Board of Trade.
Since the hearing of this case the Court has received from the Board of Trade and perused the reports in the cases of the "Rialto" and the "Cygnet" lost in consequence of fire on the 3rd March, 1897, and the 30th December, 1903, respectively. It appears that in each of those cases there was in the cargo a quantity of oxide of barium. The fire was not, having regard to the facts, in either case attributed to the ignition of that substance, though the cause was uncertain in both cases. In the case of the "Rialto" the Court was of opinion that this substance should be considered a dangerous substance under section 446 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, and in the case of the "Cygnet" the Court came to an opposite conclusion. The peculiar properties of the substance were proved by expert evidence in both cases.
The Court is not in a position to judge as to the cause of the fire in those cases, but the bare fact of the presence of this substance in no less than three cases of fire in which the actual cause was not ascertained, is significant. The Court was not informed of the previous cases while the "Volturno" Inquiry was proceeding, so that it had no opportunity till after the close of the evidence of considering their possible bearing thereon.
1. When leaving Rotterdam on 2nd October last, did the steamship "Volturno" comply with the provisions of the Laws and Decrees of the Netherlands Government respecting emigrant ships? Did she hold a British certificate, and if so what? Did she comply with the requirements of such certificate?
2. What was the total number of her passengers, distinguishing sexes and classes and discriminating between adults and children?
3. What was the total number of persons employed in any capacity on board the steamship "Volturno," and what were their respective ratings? What certificates were held by master and officers? What was the number of deck hands on board the "Volturno"?
4. What were the life-saving appliances on board the steamship "Volturno," and were they fit and ready for use at the time of the casualty?
What bulkheads had the steamship "Volturno," how were thy constructed and to what height did they extend?
5. What means for extinguishing fire were on board the steamship "Volturno"? Were they adequate and in good working order? Were proper regulations in existence on board the "Volturno" to prevent smoking below and the danger of fire therefrom, and were adequate steps taken to enforce such regulations?
6. What distress signals were carried on board the steamship "Volturno"?
7. What installation for receiving and transmitting wireless messages was on board the steamship "Volturno"? Was there an emergency apparatus on board? What was its capacity? Was any part of the installation damaged or put out of action by the fire, and if so, when? How were wireless messages sent and received during the time the ship was on fire, and up to what time?
8. What were the particulars and nature of the cargo and coal which was loaded into No.1 and No. 2 holds and 'tween decks of the steamship "Volturno" before she last left Rotterdam, and how was it disposed? Was such cargo in good condition for shipment and stowage, and was it properly packed, stowed and secured from shifting? After the cargo and coal had been loaded were the hatches put on the hatchways of No. 1 and No. 2 holds and 'tween decks, and were the hatches properly battened down and secured before the vessel left Rotterdam?
9. What instructions were given by the owners or charterers of the steamship "Volturno" to the master of the steamship "Volturno" with regard to boat and fire drills? What was the general practice on board the steamship "Volturno" as to boat and fire drills? Were boat and fire drills, respectively, held on board the steamship "Volturno" on the voyage in question? If so, when, respectively?
10. Where did the fire, which broke out on board the steamship "Volturno" on or about the 9th October last, originate? When and by whom was it first discovered? What was the position of the steamship "Volturno" at the time? To what parts of the vessel did the fire extend and how?
11. Were prompt and proper measures taken by the master, officers, and crew to extinguish the fire? Were all the means on board the vessel for extinguishing fire used? If not, why not? Did such as were used work properly, and how was it that the fire was not extinguished thereby?
12. Did any, and if so how many, explosions occur on board after the fire broke out? What was the cause of them respectively?
13. What boats were got out and lowered? At what times and by whose orders was this done? Were such boats swung out, filled, and lowered or otherwise put into the water and got away under proper superintendence, in seaworthy condition and properly manned, equipped, and provisioned? How many persons went away in them respectively? Why were no more boats lowered?
14. What stock of oil was on board the steamship "Volturno" and in the lifeboats, or any of them, which could have been used for pouring on the sea? In the conditions which prevailed, would the use of oil on the water by the steamship "Volturno" have at any time prevented or lessened the difficulty or danger of getting out, lowering, and getting away of her boats, or have been of assistance to the boats of other vessels coming to the rescue?
15. How many persons on board the steamship "Volturno" at the time of the casualty lost their lives by :—
(2) The explosions?
(3) Drowning, after jumping into the sea from the vessel or falling from any of the boats when being lowered?
(4) Any other cause?
16. How many persons were ultimately rescued and by what means? What was the number of passengers, distinguishing between men and women, and adults and children, of the cabin and third class respectively, who were saved? What was the number of the crew, discriminating their ratings and sex, who were saved?
17. What vessels came to the assistance of the steamship "Volturno" in response to wireless messages for help? What assistance was rendered by them, respectively?
18. Was proper discipline, as regards the crew and passengers, maintained on board the steamship "Volturno" after the fire broke out? Did the crew sufficiently remain by the vessel whilst passengers were still on board? Under the circumstances, were all proper measures taken after the fire broke out for the safety and, so far as might be, for the comfort of those on board?
19. When and where was the steamship "Volturno" abandoned? What has become of her?
20. What were the causes of—
(1) The fire which broke out on board the steamship "Volturno"?
(2) The loss of life?
(3) The abandonment of the vessel?
1. The "Volturno" cleared from Rotterdam on the 2nd of October last, upon a certificate from the Dutch Emigration Commission, which, by the Dutch law, could only be issued is she was fitted out according to the existing regulations. The Court accepts this certificate as sufficient evidence that she complied with the provisions of the laws and decrees of the Netherlands Government respecting emigrant ships.
She held a British passenger certificate granted in December, 1912, with the conditions of which she complied, with one, or possibly, two exceptions. It is not quite clear from the evidence whether her life-boats were supplied with self-igniting red lights, as required by Rule 9 (e) of the General Rules of the Life-saving Appliances Rules, 1913, but the superintending engineer of the company stated that she carried the "necessary" lights for each boat; and she carried no life-jackets of a size suitable for children, as required by Rule G for Class 1. It appears, however, that the Board of Trade have suspended the enforcement of this obligation temporarily when, as in the case of the "Volturno," life-jackets are provided for every person carried. The "Volturno" did, therefore, comply with the requirements of her certificate and of the Rules in all pertinent matters, and it is not, therefore, necessary for the Court to deal with the question, which was incidentally raised during the enquiry, as to her legal obligations in this respect, having regard to the particular trade on which she was engaged at the time of her loss.
2. The "Volturno" had 561 passengers:—
Classes-22 cabin, 539 steerage.
Sexes-418 males, 143 females.
Ages-472 adults, 89 children under 12 years of age.
3. There were 93 persons employed upon the "Volturno." Their ratings were:—
Master, holding a master's (foreign going) certificate.
Chief mate, holding an extra master's (foreign going) certificate.
Second mate, holding a second mate's (foreign going) certificate.
Third mate, holding a (German) master's certificate.
Fourth mate, said to have held a Hungarian certificate.
Chief engineer, holding a first class engineer's certificate.
Second engineer, holding a second class engineer's certificate.
Third engineer, holding a second class certificate.
Fourth engineer, uncertificated..
Fifth engineer, uncertificated.
Sixth engineer, holding a (Hungarian) certificate as engineer.
Two Marconi operators
Carpenter, carpenter's mate.
Boatswain, boatswain's mate.
Six sailors.-these were stated, by Mr. Tinsley, the manager of the Uranium
Steamship Company, to have put in the service necessary to qualify them as
A.B.s, but to have been unable to furnish the required proof before the consul.
Purser, assistant purser.
Chief steward, second steward.
Chief cook, second cook .
Chief cook, second cook.
Two steam cooks.
Six assistant stewards.
Chief steerage steward, second steerage steward.
Eighteen general servants.
For the purpose of deciding how many deck hands the ship carried, the Court adopts the definition of the Board of Trade in its instructions for the assistance of their officers in carrying out duties in connexion with British emigrant ships sailing from or touching at British ports, namely that "the term 'deck hand' means the master and mate and all bona fide able bodied seamen," counting all those who, although serving on deck in some other capacity, yet are fit to serve as A.B.s. The Court has included in this latter description the six "sailors." On this basis the Court finds that she carried 22 deck hands. According to the scale laid down in clause 22 of the above-mentioned instructions, the emigration officers might, if the "Volturno" had come to a British port to embark passengers have required, had they thought it necessary and practicable, the provision of 33 deck hands before giving clearance. These instructions, however, are for the general guidance of officers and have not statutory force.
4. The "Volturno" has 19 boats, consisting of 15 lifeboats, fitted with internal buoyancy, and one "D" boat, not fitted with internal buoyancy, one Berthon collapsible boat, and two Engelhardt boats. These boats were capable of accommodating 809 persons. In addition six life rafts were carried. There were on board 1,511 cork life-jackets, and 23 life-buoys. All these appliances were fit and ready for use at the time of the casualty.
The ship's steel watertight bulkheads, going from forward to aft, were :—
(1) Collision bulkhead extending to shelter deck,
(2) Between No. 1 and No. 2 holds extending to upper deck,
(3) Stokehold bulkhead extending to upper deck with three watertight doors, really the bunker doors,
(4) Bulkhead between the engine room and No. 3 hold, extending to main deck,
then stepped forward and carried to the upper deck,
(5) Bulkhead between Nos. 3 and 4 holds extending to the upper deck.
(6) After peak bulkhead extending to main deck, then stepped aft and carried to
5. For extinguishing fire there were nine 2½-inch fire hoses, each 50 feet long, and fitted with a nozzle of brass or of copper. These were carried in the different compartments alongside the connexions. There was also about 150 feet of wash-deck hose (discarded fire hose) which could be used if the others gave out.
There were 14 "Minimax" chemical fire extinguishers in various parts of the ship.
Steam fire extinguishing apparatus was also provided, with a connexion to each cargo and passenger space below decks.
There were also two Downton hand pumps on deck.
The fire extinguishing appliances were in good working order, and were adequate, so far as could be reasonably foreseen.
Proper regulations were in existence on board the ship to prevent smoking below. Notices in five languages were posted throughout the vessel, and though many of the emigrants were unable to read, sufficient were able to do so to make the prohibition known to all. With a view to enforcing the regulations, frequent rounds of the ship were made by the officers, and a steward was on duty all night as watchman, whose orders were continually to patrol the steerages, and once every hour to report to the officer of the watch. Any infraction of the rules should have been reported to the master. There is no doubt that smoking did go on, but the Court is satisfied that it was not reported to the master.
6. When the Board of Trade surveyor inspected the "Volturno" in December, 1912, she had 24 socket signals, 36 blue lights, 24 charges of powder for her gun, 24 Pain's rockets, and two deck flares. From the evidence of other witnesses the Court is satisfied that the supply was properly kept up.
7. The ship was fitted with a Marconi installation, deriving its power from the ship's dynamos, and having an effective radius of about 250 miles. There was an emergency set capable of working for 12 hours with a range of about 100 miles.
The whole apparatus was brought to a standstill through the destruction of the aerials by an explosion about 9.45 p.m. on the 9th of October. At that time the emergency apparatus had been in use for about two hours, current from the dynamo having failed owing to all available coal having been exhausted.
Wireless messages were sent and received continuously from the outbreak of the fire until the destruction of the aerials.
8. Two plans were furnished to the Court, purporting to show not only the particulars of the goods stowed in each hold, but the manner of their disposition. One was a copy of a plan said by the head stevedore, who conducted the loading operations, to have been prepared from memory, with some assistance from a list which he produced. The other plan was prepared in the office of the cargo brokers, from materials supplied by the tally clerks, supplemented by information from the stevedores. Taking the two plans and the list, together with the oral evidence, the Court is of opinion that they are not reliable as to the position of each article in the respective holds, but that they may be accepted as showing what articles were in some part of each hold.
There is no evidence that the cargo was not in good condition for shipment or that it was not properly packed, stowed and secured from shifting. The chief officer, who inspected the cargo on the 6th of October, found nothing wrong.
The nature of the cargo is shown from the following list.
No. 1 hold. Peat-moss, straw covers and straw mats, salted hides, rags, tar oil, aniline oil, chloride of barium, tetrachloride of carbon.
No. 1 'tweendecks. Barium superoxide, rapeseed oil, plants, cocoa husks, baggage.
No. 2 'tweendecks. Herrings, magnesite, celluloid, crockery, cottons, deck stock, straw covers, rags, peat-moss, wine.
Coal was carried in No. 2 lower hold, which constituted the only bunker in the ship. The vessel left Rotterdam with 710 tons of coal in this hold, partly Westphalian, taken on board for this voyage, and partly Pocahontas (American) left over from the previous voyage. There is no evidence to indicate that the coal was in anything but good and safe condition.
The evidence was that the hatches of No. 1 and 2 holds and 'tweendecks were properly battened down and secured at the commencement of the voyage.
9. The instructions given by the charterers of the "Volturno" to the master with regard to boats and boat drills were those contained in the regulations and handbill prepared by the Board of Trade for the guidance of shipmasters, copies of which the charterers supplied to the master. They further required from the master, at the termination of each voyage, a report as to what steps had been taken to carry out the regulations. There seems to have been an understanding that every boat drill should be followed by a fire drill. This appears from a report, placed before the Court, made by Captain Inch at the close of his previous voyage.
The practice on board the "Volturno" was to have boat and fire drills every Saturday while at sea.
Boat and fire drills were held on board the "Volturno" on Saturday the 4th of October. The men were mustered at the boats to which they had been assigned at the commencement of the voyage, the covers of the boats were removed and gear checked. The boats were not lifted from the chocks as the heavy rolling of the ship rendered it inadvisable to do so. When the boat drill was completed the fire bell was rung, the carpenter got out axes, hoses were connected and directed upon an imaginary fire, water being supplied from the engine room on receipt of signals from the bridge on the engine room telegraph.
After thee completion of the fire drill a sailor on the bridge deck, in view of the passengers below, fitted a life jacket upon himself, and then upon one of the passengers.
10. In the opinion of the Court the fire originated in No. 1 'tween decks or No. 1 hold. It was discovered at about 6.30 to 6.50 a.m. on the 9th of October. It is impossible on the evidence before the Court to speak with certainty as to the person by whom it was first discovered, but the probability appears to be that smoke was first perceived by someone in the forward steerage. The ship was in latitude 49º 12' N., longitude 34º 51' W.
The fire commenced as stated above. It rapidly spread forward to the forecastle, and by degrees worked its way aft, till it reached No. 3 hold shortly before the vessel was abandoned.
11. Prompt and proper measures were taken by the master, officers and crew to extinguish the fire. All the available means which could in the circumstances be serviceable, were used. The Minimax chemical fire extinguishers were not utilized; some of them were destroyed, and owing to the violence and extent of the fire they could have served no useful purpose.
The appliances did work properly, but the proportions assumed by the fire were such as to render them insufficient.
12. According to the captain there were two explosions almost immediately after the outbreak of the fire, the second of which must have been that which blew off the fore hatch. Shortly after there was a third explosion which wrecked the compass, the engine room telegraph, and the steam steering gear, and damaged the saloon and hospital. About 9.45 p.m. the magazine exploded on the bridge deck, and wrecked the aerial.
The cause of the first three explosions could not be ascertained.
No. 2 was lowered immediately after the outbreak of fire.
No. 5 was lowered, but stove and went adrift shortly after.
No. 6 was lowered and got away shortly after.
No. 6a disappeared from its place. There is no evidence as to what was done about this boat.
No. 7 was lowered, and sank shortly after.
All these were lowered in pursuance of or after general orders were given by the master.
No. 12 was lowered by passengers and lost.
The starboard Engelhardt boat was thrown overboard between 3 and 4 p.m., but
reached the water bottom up, and went adrift.
No. 5a was lowered and got away at 5.30 to 6 p.m., by the master's orders.
Efforts were made by the officers to swing out, fill, and lower the boats properly in all respects, but, owing to the weather conditions, and the unavoidable confusion and crowding, this was found impracticable.
No. 2 boat was almost capsized and lost many of the persons in her. She got away. No. 6 was successfully got away. Both were lost. No. 5a was successfully got away and reached the "Grosser Kurfürst."
According to the evidence, which cannot in the circumstances be expected to be accurate, the following list shows approximately the number of persons who were in these boats:—
No. 2_25 to 30 passengers and 11 crew,
No. 6_25 to 30 passengers and 6 crew,
No. 7_40 to 50 passengers and 6 crew,
No. 12_10 to 15 passengers,
No. 5a_An officer and 4 of the crew.
No more boats were lowered, because experience had shown how dangerous and difficult it was to get them away, and because other ships were known to be coming to the help of the "Volturno."
14. The "Volturno" carried a stock of fish oil in the forecastle store. It was all burned up immediately on the outbreak of the fire, and was not therefore available for use. Each lifeboat was supplied with one gallon of similar oil.
The Court has had evidence before it as to the use of oil, and is satisfied that whenever circumstances permit it ought to be used. Its use by the "Volturno," had that been practicable, might have lessened the difficulty of getting away her own boats and have been of assistance to the rescuing boats. In this connexion the Court thinks it worth while to invite attention to the extract from the Admiralty sailing directions, which has for many years appeared in the Board of Trade Notices to Mariners, entitled " Oil on rough waters." Paragraph 6 says, " No experiences are related of its use when hoisting a boat up in a seaway at sea, but it is highly probable that much time and injury to the boat would be saved by its applications on such occasions." The present case has supplied such experience, for the master of the " Rappahannock " said that he found oil of service for the purpose of getting his boat alongside his own ship and hoisting her inboard.
15. So far as the Court can ascertain, the number of persons lost in this casualty were:—
(1) By fire, 4.
(2) By explosion, none.
(3) (a) By jumping into the sea. There is evidence that three persons jumped or
were thrown into the sea shortly after the outbreak of fire, and it is practically
certain other persons lost their lives by jumping into the sea with a view of
getting into boats which came from other ships.
(b) It is impossible to state accurately how many persons were lost by falling
from the boats. For an approximate answer to this question reference is made to
the answer to question 13.
(4) It was in evidence that a number of persons fell from the after boat deck in the morning of the 9th of October. The Court does not find it possible to express an opinion as to whether this evidence was reliable, and as to how many, if any, persons lost their lives in this way.
16. Five hundred and twenty persons were ultimately rescued, most of them by the boats from the various ships which came to the assistance of the " Volturno." This number includes five men who by the orders of the master went in No. 5a boat to the " Grosser Kurfürst " and were taken on board that vessel ; and one man who successfully reached the " Carmania " after he had jumped from the " Volturno" and been swimming for some time.
These 520 people consisted of 457 passengers and 63 crew. The 457 passengers were:—
Sexes—330 males, 127 females.
Classes—14 cabin, 443 steerage.
Ages—376 adults, 81 children under 12.
The members of the crew, all males, who were saved were:—
Master, second officer, third officer.
Two Marconi operators.
Carpenter, carpenter's mate, boatswain.
Two A.B.'s, four sailors, one boy.
Storekeeper, two greasers, six firemen, six trimmers.
Purser, second steward, storekeeper.
Chief cook, second cook, chief baker, one steam cook.
Two scullerymen, two assistant stewards.
Hospital steward, second steerage steward.
Thirteen general servants.
17. The vessels which came to the assistance of the " Volturno," in response to wireless messages, and the number of persons saved by each were:—
" Asian "
" Carmania "
" Czar "
" Devonian "
" Grosser Kurfürst "
" Kroonland "
" La Touraine "
" Minneapolis "
" Narragansett "
" Rappahannock "
" Seydlitz "
Captain Inch stated that there was another vessel on the spot, with a yellow funnel ; she has not been identified. She is said to have had no wireless installation.
The " Asian " sent a boat on the morning of the 10th of October to the assistance of the " Volturno," but its services were not then required, as there were sufficient boats alongside to take off all persons on board.
The " Carmania " was instrumental in the distribution by wireless of information as to the condition and position of the " Volturno " on the morning of the 9th October. On her arrival on the scene on that morning she endeavoured to send a boat to the "Volturno " but it was unable to reach her, and the boat was recovered with much difficulty by the "Carmania." Further, the " Carmania " was at all times in the best position to pick up the " Volturno's " passengers and crew had that ship foundered suddenly or had persons on board have been compelled by the fire to jump overboard.
All the other vessels sent boats whenever it was possible to do so to the assistance of the " Volturno," and thus contributed to the saving of life.
In addition to sharing in this work, the " Narragansett," by pouring oil on the sea, facilitated the work of the boats belonging to other ships.
18. All steps possible to secure the observance of proper discipline were taken by the master and officers after the outbreak of fire, and proper discipline was generally observed by the crew. At the beginning there was some confusion among the passengers, and some acts of individuals are open to unfavourable comment ; but on the whole, considering the position, and the unfamiliarity of most of the passengers with sea conditions, their behaviour was satisfactory. The members of the crew, with hardly any exceptions, either left the ship in the execution of duty or remained by her until allowed or ordered to leave by the master.
In the circumstances, all proper measures were taken for the safety and, so far as might be, for the comfort of the passengers.
19. The " Volturno " was abandoned in about latitude 48º 30' N., longitude 34º 57' W., at 8.30 a.m. on the 10th of October. On the 17th of October she was found in latitude 45º 44' N., longitude 36º 44' W., by Captain Schmidt, of the Dutch steamship " Charlois." On his instructions, his chief officer and chief engineer took steps to scuttle her as she was a danger to navigation. They left her in a sinking condition.
20. (1) Uncertain ; there were articles among the cargo which might have produced the fire, but there is no direct evidence as to the actual cause.
(2) Fire and drowning.
W. F. CABORNE,
J. F. RUTHVEN,
E. C. CHASTON,
16th January, 1914.
(Issued in London by the Board of Trade on the 23rd day of January, 1914.)
It may well be that site visitors would wish to see the actual Board of Trade Report into the Volturno disaster, as such report was issued in January 1914. To see page 1 of such report, you may either click the image below or alternatively click here. The other pages are available as follows:-
Page 2, Page 3, Page 4, Page 5, Page 6, Page 7, Page 8, Page 9, Page 10, Page 11, Page 12, Page 13, Page 14, Page 15, Page 16 - the last page of the report. All of the images are very large.
If YOU have any new data about the Volturno, or in any way related to the Volturno, I would welcome your dropping me a line.
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