King Alfred (1)

Board of Trade Wreck Report for 'King Alfred', 1894

"KING ALFRED" (S.S.)

The Merchant Shipping Acts, 1854 to 1887.

IN the matter of a formal Investigation held at Glasgow, at the Sheriff Court, on the 4th and 5th days of May 1894, before Mr. Sheriff GUTHRIE, assisted by Captains KENNETT HORE and A. WOOD, into the circumstances attending the stranding and loss of the British steamship "KING ALFRED," near Stuley Island, on the 4th of April 1894.

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 struck on a sunken rock (called Ring Rock) off the Island of Stuley on the east coast of South Uist, and that the casualty was caused by the neglect of the master to take common precautions in approaching the land to verify his position by bearings. The Court therefore suspends the certificate of the master, Mr. William Wishart, No. 09291 for the period of 12 months from this date.

Dated this eighth day of May 1894.

(Signed)

W. GUTHRIE, Judge.

We concur in the above report.

(Signed)

KENNETT HORE,

A. WOOD,

Assessors.

Annex to the Report.

This was an inquiry into the circumstances attending the stranding and loss of the British steamship "King Alfred" on or near the Ring Rock, Stuley Island, on the east coast of South Uist, on the 4th of April 1894, and held before Sheriff Guthrie at the Sheriff Court, Glasgow, on the 4th and 5th of May 1894. Mr. C. D. Donald appeared for the Board of Trade, and Mr. Wyllie represented the master, Mr. William Wishart. The first and second officers were not represented by counsel.

The "King Alfred," of Glasgow, official number 96086, was a screw steamship built of steel at Blyth by the Blyth Shipbuilding Company (Limited) in 1889, her length being 225 ft., breadth 32.75 ft., and depth of hold 15.8 ft. She was fitted with triple expansion engines by the North-Eastern Marine Engineering Company, of Wallsend, of 99 horse-power combined, her gross tonnage being 1,136.62 tons, and registered tonnage 717.36 tons.

She had two masts, schooner-rigged, and was fitted with boats and life-saving appliances according to the Board of Trade regulations, and carried four (4) compasses, two of which were placed on deck, a standard on the bridge by which the courses were set and the vessel navigated, and a steering compass in the wheel-house by which the vessel was steered, the other two being kept below as spare compasses. The standard and steering compasses were last adjusted on the 25th of May 1892, by Messrs. John Bruce and Son, of Liverpool. They were in good order and condition, and sufficient for the safe navigation of the vessel, the standard being a patent compass supplied by Messrs. Alexander Dobbie and Son, of Glasgow, in 1891, the steering compass by Messrs. Hutchinson, of South Shields, in 1889, when the ship was built and, judging by the evidence adduced, the vessel appears to have been well found and properly fitted and equipped for the voyage on which she was engaged when the casualty occurred.

The "King Alfred" was owned by the King Line Company (Limited), and managed by Mr. Owen Cosby Phillips, of 12, Renfield Street, Glasgow, as per register dated 16th of October 1890, and she was commanded by Mr. William Wishart, who holds a certificate of competency numbered 09291. On the 16th of March 1894 the "King Alfred" left Fernandina, in the Gulf of Florida, with a cargo of about 1,225 tons of phosphate rock, bound for Barrowstoness, with a crew of 20 hands all told, as follows: The master, 2 officers, 6 A.B.'s, 3 engineers, 4 firemen, 1 donkeyman, 1 cook, 1 steward, and 1 boy, her draught of water at the time of leaving part being 15 ft. 2 in. forward and 16 ft. 2 in. Aft.

The weather fine and clear with a smooth sea. She proceeded on her voyage all well, having met with occasional heavy weather about the 22nd, 23rd, 24th. and 25th of March, from the S.W., West, N.W., and Northward, and on the 4th of April at noon was said to be in latitude 56.36' north longitude 7.10' west, by good observations, the weather fine but dull, with light airs from the southward and a smooth sea. This position would place the vessel about S.S.E. 3/4 E. from Barra Head Lighthouse, distant 19 1/2 miles, and nearly 8 1/2 miles from the N.W. end of the Island of Tiree; the master stating that it was then his intention to proceed up through the Little Minch Channel towards Cape Wrath, that having had good observations for latitude and longitude on this day and the day before he was quite confident where the vessel was.

From this position at noon of the 4th of April, a course was set N.E. by E. magnetic till 1 p.m., the vessel going full speed about 8 1/2 to 9 knots. At about 1 p m to 1.15 the course was altered to N.E., and about 2 p.m. the land was sighted on the port bow 3 1/2 miles distant. The course was then altered to N.N.E. to draw into the land, and shortly afterwards they were within 300 yards of it, somewhere in the neighbourhood of Ru Horday between Eriskay Sound and Loch Boisdale, and the second officer, who was on the bridge with the master, appears to have advised him to keep further out, as they were getting dangerously close to the rocks. The master took no heed of this warning, and about 3 pm. an island with a lighthouse upon it was seen on the port bow, and also a buoy on the starboard bow, and he stated in his evidence that he at once took the lighthouse to be that of Glass Island or Scalpay, and the buoy to be the one marking the position of the Skeir-inoe Shoal. But how or why he could have so suddenly imagined himself to be 47 miles further ahead than he ought to have been when only three hours previously he had taken the latitude at noon, there is no evidence to show. Moreover, a glance at the chart would at once have made this error clear to him by the bearings of the land and the courses he was steering; but this simple precaution was either neglected or disregarded, for no bearings were taken of the land at any time after it was first sighted. The vessel's course was altered to pass inside the buoy seen on the starboard bow, and she was then steered along the coast going full speed till 3.50 p.m., when, passing an island some two hundred yards off, she suddenly struck a sunken rock, crushing in the floor-plates forward, filling the forehold with water, and wrecking her immediately. The lead was now used for the first time, and nine fathoms found round the stern and on both quarters. The boats were then got out, and several fishermen came off from the shore to their assistance, and they found they had struck on the Ring Rock off Stuley Island on the east coast of South Uist; that they had passed inside the Mackenzie Rock buoy, and that the island which the master said he had taken for Glass Island or Scalpay was the small island of Calavay, inside the entrance of Loch Boisdale, from which a light is shown to mark the Mackenzie Rock by night. Assistance was sent, some 700 tons of cargo was discharged, and every endeavour made to get the vessel off by the Salvage Company's steamer "Ranger," but with no effect, and after remaining by the wreck until the 10th she was finally abandoned. The crew were taken off by the Salvage Company's steamer and safely landed, no lives being lost.

From these facts it is evident that the "King Alfred" was stranded on the Ring Rock, and lost through the neglect of the master to use ordinary prudence when approaching the land, It is almost impossible for the Court to understand how on a fine afternoon, with a smooth sea, no wind, and every opportunity of taking bearings, to determine the distance run and verify the position of the vessel, she should have been so recklessly navigated as to pass inside the McKenzie buoy, and steered along the land, sometimes within two or three hundred yards of the shore. In the first place there was no apparent reason why the course of the vessel should have been inside South Uist and through the Little Minch Channel, instead of by the more direct one northward of the Island of Lewis. The weather was fine, the sea smooth, and there was less risk in keeping out than by going inside, and the distance was shorter. Secondly, the master stated that having had good observations of the sun, and being quite satisfied of the position of the vessel at noon on the 4th of April, he from that position (latitude 56° 36' N., longitude 7° 16' W.) steered N.E. by E. for an hour and then N.E. for another hour, going about 8 1/2 knots (and by allowing 1 1/2 for tide, 10 knots over the ground), and he then made the land on his port bow about 3 1/2 miles distant. It is clear that if the vessel was where the master placed her on the chart at noon this course was wrong. But as they steered these courses and ran the distance named, it is evident that the vessel was some 10 or 12 miles westward of the position laid down at noon, and hence they made the land as they did 3 1/2 miles on their port bow.

Lastly, the master stated that when he saw Calavay Island with a lighthouse upon it, and a buoy on the starboard bow, he at once came to the conclusion that it was Glass Island Lighthouse, and the buoy off the Skeir-inoe Shoals, but he took no bearings of the land or buoy, which would immediately have shown him that the conclusion he had arrived at was wrong, nor could he offer any suggestion why he supposed the vessel to be 47 miles ahead of her reckoning at 3 p.m., when he had taken the latitude at noon. The Court therefore failed to see there was any justification in the neglect of the master to use common precautions to determine his position, or in mistaking Calavay Island in Loch Boisdale for Glass Island (Scalpay), or mistaking McKenzie Loch buoy for the buoy off Skeir-inoe Shoal.

At the conclusion of the evidence Mr. Donald submitted the following questions on the part of the Board of Trade, and Mr. Wylie having addressed the Court on behalf of the master, the Court proceeded to give judgment as follows:

Questions.

1. What number of compasses had she on board, where were they placed, and were they in good order and sufficient for the safe navigation of the ship?

2. When and by whom where they made, and when and by whom were they last adjusted?

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

4. Whether proper measures were taken at or about noon of the 4th April 1894 to ascertain and verify the position of the vessel?

5. Whether a safe and proper course was then set and thereafter steered, and whether due and proper allowance was made for tide and currents?

6. Whether safe and proper alterations were made in the course after noon of the 4th April, and whether due and proper allowance was made for tide and currents?

7. What was the land sighted at or about 2.45 p.m. of that day, and was the master justified in taking it for part of the Island of Lewis?

8. Whether proper measures were then and thereafter taken to ascertain and verify the position of the vessel?

9. What was the island sighted at or about 3 p.m., and whether the master was justified in taking it for the Island of Glass?

10. Whether the total neglect of the lead was justifiable?

11. Whether, having regard to the state of the weather after noon of the 4th April, the vessel was navigated at too great a rate of speed?

12. Where did the vessel strike, and what was the cause of the casualty?

13. Whether the vessel was navigated with proper and seamanlike care?

14. Whether the master and officers are, or either of them is, in default?

Answers.

1. The "King Alfred" had four compasses on board at the time of the casualty: the first a standard, placed on the bridge, by which the courses were set and the vessel navigated; the second a steering compass, placed before the wheel in the wheelhouse, and two spare compasses kept below. The two on deck were in good order, and sufficient for the safe navigation of the vessel.

2. The standard was a patent compass, by Messrs. Alexander Dobbie & Son, of Glasgow, supplied in 1891, and the steering compass was supplied by Messrs. Hutchinson, of South Shields, when the vessel was built, in 1889. They were last adjusted by Messrs. John Bruce & Son, of Liverpool, on the 25th of May 1891.

3. The master stated that he did ascertain the deviation of his compasses by observation from time to time, and that the proper corrections to the courses were applied, and this statement was corroborated by the chief mate in his evidence. There was no compass note-book of errors or adjustments produced to show what azimuths or observations had been taken to find the corrections. But the deviation cards were produced.

4. Proper measures were taken to ascertain the position of the vessel at noon on the 4th of April, observation of the sun for longitude having been taken in the morning, and again for the latitude at noon, and these observations were worked out by both the master and the mate, and the position laid down on the chart. But from the subsequent courses set and steered between noon and the time of the vessel's stranding, it is evident to the Court that the position as regards longitude was not correct, and that the vessel was some ten miles or more to the westward of where the master placed her at noon.

5. If the vessel had been where the master placed her on the chart at noon on the 4th of April, a proper course was not then set and afterwards steered. The master stated that he steered N.E. by E. for an hour from noon till 1 p.m., then N.E. till 2 p.m. And to have done this and made the land about the Sound of Barra and Eriskay Island (distant 3 1/2 miles) shows that the vessel must have been some ten miles westward of the position as given by the master at noon, viz., latitude 56° 36' N., longitude 7° 10' W.

6. Safe and proper alterations were not made in the course after the land was sighted at 2 p.m. The master stated that he allowed half a point to the eastward for set of tide and currents.

7. The land sighted about 2.45 p.m. was the S.S.E. part of South Uist, and the master was not justified in taking it for part of the Island of Lewis.

8. No measures were taken to ascertain and verify the position of the vessel at 2.45 p.m. or afterwards. She was at this time steering full speed, perilously near the land. The master was in charge on the bridge, and had he consulted his chart he must have at once seen that the course he was steering was impossible to continue and that he ought to haul out immediately.

9. The island which was sighted about 3 p.m. may have been the island in Loch Boisdale called Calavay, which shows a light over the Mackenzie Rocks. But there appears to be no proper lighthouse, and the master was certainly not justified in taking this for Glass Island.

10. The neglect of the lead was not justifiable.

11. There was nothing in the state of the weather to prevent the vessel going at full speed had the course been correct; the land was in full view and the sea was smooth.

12. The vessel struck on a sunken rock in the neighbourhood of Stuley Island, east coast of South Uist, and the casualty was caused by the neglect of the master to take ordinary precautions to verify the position of the vessel after land was sighted.

13. The vessel was not navigated with proper and seamanlike care after noon of the 4th of April.

14. The master alone is in default, and the Court suspends his certificate, No. 09291, for the limited period of twelve months.

(Signed)

W. GUTHRIE, Judge.

We concur.

(Signed)

KENNETT HORE,

A. WOOD,

Assessors.

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