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We have next considered the work that would be entailed by an attempt to clear the Removal of North Atlantic of the derelicts that float in it, and to keep it clear.
derelicts. The conclusion come to in the United States Hydrographic pamphlet is that, on an average, there are about 19 derelicts afloat at one time in the North Atlantic, whilo it is also estimated that the average life of a derelict is about 30 days. This latter average is probably a high one, as it is raised by a few abnormal instances of vessels floating for long periods.
The great majority of the derelicts mentioned in the pamphlet were off the coasts of North America, but we have, for the sake of argument, assumed that one half of the above average of existing derelicts, say 10, may be considered to be in waters in which this country has an interest. Of these 10 only a small proportion will be in or near the great trade route to North America, as the reports extend over the whole area of the navigated Atlantic. In other words, the task, if undertaken, would be to search for 10 small, moving, and generally short-lived, objects in an area, excluding coastwaters, of between 8,000,000 and 9,000,000 square miles.
We have it in evidence that the Trinity House find that in the majority of cases search for floating derelicts reported as being near the coast even only a few days before, is fruitless.
We are also informed that in the special cases where the Admiralty have from time to time detailed a vessel to search for a derelict, which, from its reported position in a line of crowded traffic, has appeared especially dangerous, such search has invariably proved unsuccessful.
The short average life of a derelict in a stormy ocean, her constant movement in directions which can be only approximately foreseen, the time which necessarily elapses between the date of the report of sighting her and the date when a ship with knowledge of the report can be in the vicinity, the very small belt that the eye can cover from a searching ship even in clear weather, and the fact that search can only be carried on in daylight, convince us that even a large number of ships would not succeed in appreciably reducing the number, already small, of Avating derelicts in the principal trade route. It is evident that any scouring of the seas would be perpetual, as no sooner has one derelict disappeared under the waves than another may be abandoned or may drift in,
We have also considered the various methods by which attempts may be made to Destruction destroy floating derelicts when found. They are
of derelicts. (a.) Explosives, (6.) Shelling, (c.) Ramming, and
(d.) Firing. (a.) Esplosives properly applied may disperse a floating wreck, but, except in the calmest weather, there is much difficulty in their proper application.
(b.) Shelling.–We cannot find that attempts to sink timber ships by shelling have ever been successful. Shelling only succeeds in cases of wrecks which are unlikely to remain on the surface if left alone.
(c.) Ramming.–Perhaps the most efficacious means of making such a breach as will enable the cargo to escape and cause the hull to sink is by ramming. This can only be attempted by a ship specially prepared for the purpose. The use of such a method in the case of a vessel laden with heavy timber would not remove the danger, but, as with the use of explosives or any other method of destruction, would only result in the casting adrift of heavy baulks, which are themselves a fertile source of danger to navigation.
This has been recognised in the order contained in the Admiralty instructions to Her Majesty's ships, which runs as follows:
“Should any of Her Majesty's ships fall in with any water-logged vessel abaudoned at sea, and constituting a danger to navigation, the same should be examined, and unless it appear that the cargo is composed of such large baulks of timber as to be of themselves a danger if released to float, or unless the position of the wreck is such as to make it probable that she may be presently towed into port, every effort should be made to sink or otherwise to destroy her.”
(a.) Firing.-- The United States pamphlet contains a paragraph on the “ Efficacy of destroying derelicts by fire,” and gives figures with respect to 76 cases; of which 72 are stated to have been “thereby destroyed.”
The statement in the pamphlet_bas been freely interpreted to mean that 72 derelicts have been destroyed by United States ships sent out for the purpose, but examination of the details which have, by the courtesy of the United States Hydro
grapher, been received, shows that this is not the case; all the derelicts mentioned Appendix coming under one of the following heads :G., No. 2, (1.) Vessels set on fire by their own crews on abandonment, in many cases on
account of having sprung a leak;
In only one of the cases is the ship reported as having been seen to sink; in the others the efficacy of the firing is assumed from the fact that after a certain lapse of time the vessel has not been reported as afloat. Many of the vessels would clearly have sunk, even if they had not been fired.
they had not been fired. In seven instances distinct failure resulted.
While firing au abandoned vessel may in many cases conduce to her more rapid disappearance beneath the waves, we cannot find that there is any evidence to prove that fire would be generally successful in the case of water-logged vessels laden with light timber or other light cargo, which are the derelicts which float for the longest periods, and are the most difficult to destroy.
Whichever of these methods of destruction may be attempted, it must be remembered that it is necessary to ascertain the nature of the cargo, and that this, especially
in the case of a submerged or capsized vessel, is a task of great difficulty. Proposed We have also considered the proposal for an International Conference on the International subject.
It will be observed from the evidence that the point was considered Conference.
by the International Marine Conference held in Washington in 1889, and that the delegates came to a unanimous decision that nothing could be done with respect to derelicts, &c., on the high seas, although they went on to suggest that it might be possible to take some international steps with regard to a limited area in the North Atlantic. With regard to this latter suggestion we see no reason to think that international action of the limited nature proposed is required in the interests of
British shipping Reports of
Although the subject of reporting derelicts does not perhaps, in strictness, come derelicts.
within the terms of our reference, it is one upon which many of the witnesses appear to feel strongly, and it may, therefore, be convenient that we should deal with it in this Report.
Put briefly, the complaint is made that captains of vessels are not required or encouraged to make any official report, either at the Custom Houses in this country or at the Consulates abroad, of derelicts which they may have sighted on their voyage, and that no facilities exist for at once making known to the trade interested such information when received. It is stated that in the United States every effort is made to obtain information of wrecks and derelicts, and that all information obtained is published in the Weekly Bulletin and the Monthly Pilot Chart, which are distributed gratis to the shipping trade.
With regard to this it may, in the first place, be pointed out that under section 432 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1854, a report of every casualty happening to a British ship is at once made to the Board of Trade. In this manner reports of vessels abandoned, and of vessels which strike derelicts or wreckage, are regularly received. In addition to this, under the Customs Consolidation Act, 1876, masters of vessels arriving in England are bound, under penalty, to report to the Collector of Customs within twenty-four hours of their arrival, and to answer any questions as to the voyage which may be put to them. Amongst other things which they are to report is whether they have fallen in with or picked up any wreck, and we are assured by the Collector of Customs at Liverpool that under the Act in question a master is bound to report whether he has seen a derelict, and that questions on this point are asked by the officials who, it appears from the evidence, are pecuniarily interested in obtaining early information.
It would, therefore, seem that so far as reports of derelicts in this country are concerned the necessary machinery already exists, but in view of the doubt by some of the witnesses whether this machinery is generally made use of by Collectors of Customs for the purpose of obtaining reports of derelicts sighted during the voyage, it would be well that the point should be brought to the notice of the Commissioners of Customs, with a view to their issuing such instructions to their collectors in the matter as may be found necessary. It appears to us that it is better that reports
of this nature should be made to the officer who is already charged by law with the duty of receiving a report of the voyage, and who occupies an independent position, and further that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to enforce the duty of reporting derelicts, unless there is some penalty for omitting to do so. On both these grounds, therefore, it would seem desirable to make use of and improve existing machinery rather than to attempt fresh methods.
With regard to reports by masters of vessels arriving in foreign ports, we understand that reports are frequently made to Consular Officers at those ports, but that there is no obligation on masters to make them, and that there is, therefore, do guarantee that dangers to navigation sighted on the outward voyage will be officially reported by any person whatever. This scarcely appears to be satisfactory, and we consider that steps should be taken to invite captains to report to Consular or Colonial Officers all dangers to navigation so sighted, and also to provide for the speedy transmission to the Board of Trade by those Officers of all reports so made to them.
During the course of our enquiry we have been much impressed with the great Danger from danger which is caused to British shipping by the existence of ice in unexpected Ice. places, and with the great importance of the observation of any fresh ice being promptly reported. This is a matter which does not come within the terms of our reference, but we would, nevertheless, suggest in passing that the sighting of ice should invariably be included in any reports which it may be decided to require.
Although, as above pointed out, we consider it of importance that official reports Publication should be made either in this country or abroad of all derelicts fallen in with at sea, of Reports. we are by no means of opinion that the indiscriminate publication of all such reports, without reference to the length of time which inay have elapsed since the derelict was sighted, is of any practical value to seamen, while any indiscriminate publication might even be inischievous and misleading by giving an erroneous impression of the real state of the case, and thereby exciting needless alarm. If some time has elapsed since the derelict was seen, it is probable that she has sunk before the arrival at the spot of another vessel which left port after the report was received, or even if she has not sunk it is certain that she will be far from the locality in which she was reported.
But although an indiscriminate publication of all reports of derelicts would be of no practical benefit and might be injurious, cases no doubt arise from time to time in which it is of importance that the earliest possible notice should be given to all concerned. We think, therefore, that all reports of this nature, made either to Collectors of Customs or to Consular or Colonial Officers, should be at once forwarded by them to the Board of Trade, leaving it to that Department to decide as to the necessity or otherwise for its publication in pursuance of the system already in force at the Board of Trade.
The present system is as follows :-All reports of obstructions to navigation received Existing by the Board of Trade are carefully checked by them, and immediate notice is given system of through the medium of Lloyd's and the “ Shipping and Mercantile Gazette,” published warning
mariners, daily, of all cases which are of importance to mariners. Obstructions near the British coasts are also reported to the General Lighthouse Authorities, who take prompt steps to deal with them. In addition to this, all notices of dangers are included in a Monthly Summary issued by the Board of Trade, copies of which are distributed free of cost to the masters of all vessels leaving the ports of the United Kingdom. Copies are also sent to the Government Shipping Office at each Colonial and Indian Port, and to the British Consulate at each Foreign Port, for the inspection of mariners who may not be in possession of the latest Summary.
We would suggest that all reports which are of special importance to mariners should be at once embodied in a Supplementary Summary to be distributed as widely as possible, without waiting for the ordinary monthly issue.
Owing to the generally ephemeral character of floating derelicts, and their constant movement, we are of opinion that the publication of a monthly chart, showing the positions of those reported for some weeks before, would be of no practical utility to the mariner, and might create unfounded alarm.
Though some witnesses spoke of the value of such information, we were unable to ascertain in what manner it was of service, whilst the statement of it very experienced Atlantic captain that “no captain would turn his vessel one inch out of her course owing to the reported existence of a derelict,” is in accordance with the experience and opinion of the professional members of this Committee.
To sum up, we desire to state our conclusions and recommendations as follows:
(1.) The number of well-established casualties from collisions with derelicts in the open sea is very small, and the danger resulting from them has been much exaggerated.
(2.) Taking the average estimated in the pamphlet published in the United Statesan average which is probably high-the number of derelicts at one time afloat in the whole of the North Atlantic is not more than 19, and the area of the North Atlantic is some ten million square miles. But the number of derelicts floating in the Atlantic trade routes frequented by British ships is very much less than 19.
(3.) The chances of discovering even a few of such a small number of derelict vessels in so vast an area are infinitesimal. The destruction of certain classes of derelicts when found is a work of great difficulty, and the dispersion of their cargoes in some cases creates an additional danger.
(4.) Any systematic attempt to destroy floating derelicts on any one route would necessitate the constant employment by the Government of a considerable number of ships specially equipped for this purpose. It would be impossible to confine such operations to the North Atlantic; every trade route would have to be dealt with ; the efforts of the searching vessels could never be relaxed; and the cost of such an undertaking would be out of all proportion to any benefit which could conceivably result from it.
We are, therefore, unable to recommend that any such attempt should be made.
(5.) For the same reasons we fail to see that any adequate advantage would be likely to accrue from an International Conference on the subject.
(6.) We are of opinion that more advantage should be taken than is at present the case of existing statutory requirements, in order to ensure that all derelicts seen, and also all ice passed, are at once reported at the various Custom Houses by the masters of inward-bound vessels, and that the masters of outward-bound vessels should report in the same manner to the Consular Officers or other proper authorities in Foreign and Colonial ports. That the reports thus receivel should be sent direct to the Board of Trade with a view to examination, and that such information as the Board of Trade might think desirable to immediately make known in the interests of navigation should be published in Supplementary Notices to Mariners with the least possible delay.
(7.) The publication, in addition, of any such information on derelicts as is given in the chart issued in the United States would be of no practical use, but would be likely to be misleading and to create unnecessary alarm.
We have, &c.,
J. WADDON MARTYN,
23rd August 1894.