Sunday, November 10, 2013

Titanic Inquiry

After reading through the British Inquiry into the Titanic disaster, I wanted to post a selection of telling statements from the Inquiry. Stanley Lord said, the night of the Titanic disaster, "it was hard to define where the sky ended and the water commenced. There was what you call a soft horizon." Charles Lightoller said the sea was so "absolutely flat that when we lowered the boats down we had to actually overhaul the tackles to unhook them, because there was not the slightest lift on the boat to allow for slacking, unhooked."

In sum, the night the Titanic sank was a strange night (no swell on the water, clear, no moon). The iceberg was likely dark in color so that it could not be seen in time to avoid hitting it. The speed at which the Titanic was going contributed to the disaster. It's apparent that when in the ice region, Captain Smith should've decreased the vessel's speed and put an additional lookout at the bow of the ship. In his testimony below, Sir Ernest Shackleton, an experienced explorer, confirms these last three statements.

25040. How far would you see one of these dark bergs on a clear night, assuming it to be 60 to 80 feet high?
- It might be only three miles, depending on the night and depending almost entirely on the condition of the sea at the time. With a dead calm sea there is no sign at all to give you any indication that there is anything there. If you first see the breaking sea at all, then you look for the rest and you generally see it. That is on the waterline. I do not say very high, because from a height it is not so easily seen; it blends with the ocean if you are looking down at an angle like that. If you are on the sea level it may loom up.

25041. That would rather suggest that your view would be that you could detect bergs of that kind better at the stem than you could at the crow's-nest?
- Better, the nearer you are to the waterline. When we navigated in thick or hazy weather there was always one man on the look-out and one man as near the deck line as possible.

25042. That is thick or hazy weather?
- Yes, that is thick or hazy weather, or even clear just the same.

25043. What I want you to tell my Lord is, Do you think it is of advantage in clear weather to have a man stationed right ahead at the stem as well as in the crow's-nest?
- Undoubtedly, if you are in the danger zone; in the ice zone.

25044. And supposing you were passing through a zone where you had ice reported to you, would you take precautions as to the look-out? Supposing you only had men in the crow's-nest, would you take any other precautions?
- I would take the ordinary precaution of slowing down, whether I was in a ship equipped for ice or any other, compatible with keeping steerage way for the size of the ship.

25045. You would slow down?
- I would slow down, yes.

And supposing you were going 21 to 22 knots, I suppose that would be the better reason for slowing down?
- You have no right to go at that speed in an ice zone.

25046. (The Commissioner.) And you think that all these liners are wrong in going at this speed in regions where ice has been reported?
- Where it has been reported I think the possibility of accident is greatly enhanced by the speed the ship goes.

25047. We have been told that none of these liners slow down even though they know that they are going through an ice region - that is to say a region where there are icebergs?
- I have been in a ship which was specially built for ice, but I took the precaution to slow down because you can only tell the condition of any ice you see; there may be projecting spurs and you may suddenly come across them.

...

25063. (The Attorney-General.) According to the evidence - I am only dealing with one part of it - perhaps the most striking part - during the afternoon on this particular occasion on 14th April of this year, the temperature was reported to be falling, so much so that the Captain ordered the carpenter to see that the water in his tanks did not freeze. Would that be any indication to you?
- If I knew what the mean temperature of that locality was for that month of the year and there was a great variation, then I would certainly think there was some abnormal disturbance in the ice to the North. Of course, that particular night was an abnormal night at sea in being a flat calm; it is a thing that might never occur again.

25064. That is what Mr. Lightoller says. You say apparently it is very rare to get such a flat calm as there was that night?
- I only remember it once or twice in about 20 years' experience - the sea absolutely calm, without a swell, as it was recorded to have been.

(Image of survivor Margaret "Molly" Brown displayed at Titanic Memorial in Washington, DC. Taken by Bossi.)

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