Friday, 18 August 2017



The Merchant Shipping Act 1894. 

IN the matter of a formal investigation held at Aberdeen Sheriff Court House, on the 29th, 30th, and 31st days of May, 1900, before Sheriff ROBERTSON, assisted by Captains A. WOOD and T. T. EDWARDS, into the circumstances attending the stranding of the British steamship "ST. ROGNVALD." 

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 vessel ran ashore in a fog owing to the default of the chief officer in allowing the vessel to go at too great a rate of speed and not taking precautions to ascertain whether the vessel was in a position of safety, she being in point of fact, for some unascertained reason, six or seven miles out of her course on a distance of 36 miles. 

The Court finds the chief officer alone in default, and suspends his certificate as master, No. 00514, for a period of three months, but recommends the Board of Trade to grant him a mate's certificate during the period of his suspension. 

Dated this thirty-first day of May, 1900. 


We concur in the above Report. 







Annex to the Report. 

This Inquiry was held at the Court House Town House, Aberdeen, on the 29th, 30th, and 31st days of May, 1900, when Mr. Henry Peterkin represented the Board of Trade, Mr. Charles Ruxton appeared for the master, Mr. Alexander Duffus for the chief officer, and Mr. Alexander Wilson for the owners of the vessel; while Mr. Alexander Knox, and Mr. Alexander Bain (Lerwick) watched the proceedings on behalf of the insurers and owners of live stock respectively. 

The "St. Rognvald," official No. 84373, was a British steamship, built of iron by Messrs. Hall, Russell and Co., Aberdeen, at Aberdeen, in 1883, and was of the following dimensions:—Length 240.15 ft.; breadth 31.35 ft.; and depth 15.45 ft. Her gross registered tonnage as amended was 979.97 tons, and after deducting 451.52 tons for propelling power and crew space, her registered tonnage was 528.45 tons nett. She was rigged as a schooner with two masts, and propelled by two compound direct acting engines of 250 nominal horse-power combined. She carried six boats, and was supplied with all necessary life-saving appliances according to the statute. She had three compasses, one on the bridge, by which the courses were set and steered, one on the standard abaft the mainmast on the saloon deck, and one on the deck aft. On the voyage in question the vessel was in good condition and well found in every respect. She was owned by Messrs Alexander Webster, advocate; Simpson Shepherd, merchant; and George Jamieson, merchant, Aberdeen; Mr. Charles Merrylees, shipowner, Aberdeen, being designated in the transcript of register as managing owner. The vessel was employed regularly in the passenger trade between Leith and the Orkney and Shetland Islands. On the voyage in question she left Lerwick on the 23rd April last, at 7.45 p.m., with a general cargo and 68 passengers, under the command of Mr. John Masson, who is 76 years of age, and holds a master's certificate, No. 13981. He had been 52 years in the service, 40 years of which he had served as master. The crew consisted of 36 hands all told, and both the first and second officers possessed master's certificates. At the time of leaving the weather was fine and clear, the sea smooth and the wind light from south. The vessel proceeded at full speed, and the master remained on the bridge with the second officer until the vessel was close to Fair Isle, when, according to the usual practice, he went below; this was about 10.30 p.m. At this time the weather was still clear and the lights visible to the full limit of their range. in coming from Bressay Island to Mousa, from Mousa to Sumburgh Head, and from Sumburgh Head to Fair Isle the vessel made her course correctly. When off Fair Isle the master estimated his distance to be from two to three miles from that Island, and the second mate, by a four point bearing of the light on the north end of the Island, found the vessel to be two and a half miles from the light when it was abeam. 

On leaving the bridge at 10.30 the master left orders with the second officer to alter the course from the course then being steered, S.W. by W., to S.W. 1/2 W., when the South light on Fair Isle was abeam, and to tell the chief officer that he was to be called if there was any change in the weather. After leaving the bridge the master remained about the deck until Fair Isle was abeam, when he retired to his berth. At 11.10 South light being abeam, the course was accordingly altered by the second officer to S.W. 1/2 W. by compass, which was correct magnetic. About 11.15 the chief officer came on deck, according to the usual practice, and relieved the second officer on the bridge, and it is said that at this time there was a very slight haze to be observed at the masthead light, but it had no effect in obscuring the shore light, and the ship was continued on her course, S.W. 1/2 W., going full speed, about 12 knots. North Ronaldsay light was abeam at 12.50 am., and appeared to be the usual distance from the vessel. After this time the haze became more dense, and North Ronaldsay light became obscured when about two or two and a half points abaft the beam. This was unusual, and the chief officer stated that he lost it on account of haze, and that this prevented him taking a four point bearing as he intended. Shortly thereafter the vessel was abreast of the Start light, and well within its range, but it was not seen, also on account of haze. About the same time, or very soon after, i.e., about 1.15 or 1.20, the ship was within the range of the Auskerry light, visible 16 miles off in clear weather, the vessel's expected or proper course being, however, five to six miles to the east of the Auskerry light. 

This light also was not seen. The vessel kept full speed on the same course till about 2 a.m., the weather gradually getting thicker, the nature of it being occasional lumps or banks of thick fog or haze, with lighter intervals between. 

There is some variation in the evidence from the different witnesses as to the degree of thickness of the weather, but the evidence is conclusive that the thickness of the atmosphere was considerable. At about 2.0 o'clock the Start light and Auskerry light having, as stated, not been sighted, the chief officer left the bridge and called the master who was asleep in his berth below the bridge. The mate returned to the bridge, but before the master got dressed and on the bridge the vessel was ashore. At this time the carpenter was on the lookout with the chief officer on the bridge, while an able seaman was on the look-out forward. A few minutes after the chief officer returned from the master's berth land was sighted simultaneously by him, the carpenter, and the man on the look-out. The sea birds were first heard screaming, and almost immediately high cliffs were observed ahead through the haze, which was more dense on the land. The mate at once reversed the engines, but, according to the statement of the engineer on duty, within half a minute of his receiving the order to reverse, the vessel stranded. 

It was found that the vessel had struck on Burgh Head, on the Island of Stronsay, being from six to seven miles off her course, and off the course that she should have been on if the courses set had been made good. Nothing whatever had been done with the helm. The passengers and watch below were called on deck, and the boats lowered. Some difficulty was experienced in lowering the boats, owing to the vessel having taken a heavy list to starboard. All the passengers were, however, safely landed in four boats. There was six feet of water in the fore hold of the vessel before the crew and passengers landed; she subsequently became a total wreck. 

With regard to this casualty it has to be remarked that there is nothing in the evidence to show how the vessel in coming some 36 miles from Fair Isle got set out of her course about six miles, but the Admiralty Tide Table, at page 141, in reference to observation there noted on the tides in that locality, states that:—"These "observations will show how little dependence can be "placed upon a direct course among these treacherous "streams," and the Court cannot too strongly condemn the practice—no matter what the experience of the seaman may be—of setting a course in such localities, and trusting to its being made good, without using other means to verify it, or at least to ensure that the vessel is not running into danger. 

In this case all shore lights were invisible, yet a cast of the lead at any time within an hour of the stranding would have informed the mate that the vessel was getting into danger. It is true that the mate was on the bridge at his post, that he had the carpenter on the bridge keeping a look-out with him, and another lookout placed on the forecastle head, yet, when the leading lights were invisible he neglected the easy, but imperative, duty of taking a cast of the lead, which, in the circumstances, ought to have insured the safety of the vessel 

At the conclusion of the evidence Mr. Charles Ruxton addressed the Court on behalf of the master, Mr. Alexander Duffus on behalf of the chief officer, and Mr. Henry Peterkin replied on behalf of the Board of Trade. 

At the conclusion of the evidence the following questions were submitted by the Board of Trade for the opinion of the Court:—

1. What number of compasses had the vessel, were they in good order and sufficient for the safe navigation of the vessel, and when and by whom were they last adjusted? 

2. Did the master ascertain the deviation of his compasses by observation from time to time, were the errors correctly ascertained and the proper corrections to the courses applied? 

3. Were proper measures taken to ascertain and verify the position of the vessel at or about 9.20 p.m., of the 23rd April? Was a safe and proper course then set and thereafter steered, and was due and proper allowance made for tide and currents? 

4. Were proper measures taken at or about 11 p.m., of the 23rd April, to ascertain and verify the position of the vessel, and before going below, did the master leave proper and sufficient instructions with the second officer? 

5. Was a safe and proper alteration made in the course at or about 11.10, and was due and proper allowance made for tide and currents? Was the course then set thereafter steered? 

6. Did the second officer convey the instructions given him by the master to the chief officer upon being relieved at or about 11.15 p.m. of the 23rd April? 

7. Were proper measures taken by the mate from time to time after 11.15 p.m. to verify the position of the vessel? Did he unduly delay reporting to the master the state of the weather? 

8. Having regard to the state of the weather after 11.15 p.m. of the 23rd April, was the vessel navigated at too great a rate of speed? 

9. Was a good and proper look-out kept 

10. What was the cause of the casualty? 

11. Was the vessel navigated with proper and seamanlike care? 

12. Was the loss of the "St. Rognvald" caused by the wrongful act or default of the master and chief officer, or of either of them? 

The Court replied to the questions as follows:— 

1. The vessel had three compasses: they were in good order, and sufficient for the safe navigation of the vessel They were last adjusted at Leith on 21st May, 1898, by Mr. D. Stalker, Leith. 

2. Yes, the master did ascertain the deviation of his compasses from time to time, the errors were correctly ascertained, and the proper corrections to the courses applied. 

3. Sufficient measures were taken to verify the position of the vessel at 9.20 p.m. of 23rd April. A safe and proper course was then set and steered, and due and proper allowance was made for tide and currents. 

4. Yes. The second mate took a four point bearing of the north light of Fair Isle, showing the vessel to be fully two and a half miles off the light. The master left sufficient and proper instructions with the second officer. 

5. A safe and proper alteration was made in the course at or about 11.15 p.m. Due and proper allowance was made for tide and currents. The course then set was stated to be steered, but it was not made good. 

6. The second officer did convey the master's instructions to the first officer on being relieved at or about 11.15 p.m. 

7. The mate took no measures to verify the position of the vessel after 11.15 p.m. He did unduly delay reporting to the master the state of the weather. 

8. The vessel was navigated at too great a rate of speed, having regard to the state of the weather, and the locality and circumstances in which the vessel was. The chief officer had lost sight of the North Ronaldsay light, owing to the fog or haze; he had subsequently been unable to see the Start light, though well within its range, for the same reason, and he had approached within three and three-quarter miles of the Auskerry light, which, under ordinary circumstances, is visible 16 miles off, without seeing it; in these circumstances he should have slowed down and taken other precautions, e.g., using the lead, to ascertain with certainty that he was in a position of safety. 

9. A proper look-out seems to have been kept. 

10. The cause of the casualty was (a) that for some unascertained reason the vessel went six or seven miles out of her course to the westward on a distance of about 36 miles, and consequently ran ashore in a fog; (b) the default of the mate, in allowing the vessel in the circumstances to go at too great a rate of speed, and not taking precautions to ascertain whether the vessel was in a position of safety. 

11. The vessel, subsequently to 11.15 p.m., was not navigated with proper and seamanlike care. 

12. The loss of the "St. Rognvald" was not due to the wrongful act or default of the master. 

The Court consider that the chief officer was in default, and that the loss of the vessel was due to his default, and the Court accordingly suspend his certificate, No. 00514, for three months.

The Court recommend that a mate's certificate be granted to him during the term of suspension. 





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