HC Deb 20 June 1867 vol 188 cc170-1

said, he wished to ask the Vice President of the Board of Trade, Whether, in the event of loss of life at sea, where there has been gross culpability or negligence, Her Majesty's Government will adopt measures in order that offenders may be made amenable to the Criminal Laws of the Country?


said, in reply, that by the 239th section of the Merchant Shipping Act of 1854, breach of duty, or neglect of duty, or drunkenness on the part of the master or crew, tending to the loss or damage of a ship, or danger to those on board, was a misdemeanour. Under other clauses the Board of Trade could institute an inquiry in such cases, and punish by deprivation of certificate the master, mate, or engineer, and this had been found easier and more effectual than proceeding under the former section. When there were suspicious circumstances in a shipwreck, the Board of Trade held inquiries for the purpose of ascertaining the cause of loss, and with a view, if necessary, to the suspension or cancelling of certificates; but the Board did not prosecute criminally, though the facts which might come out in the course of the inquiries might form the groundwork of criminal prosecution on the part of the underwriters or others. Fraudulent abandonment or destruction of a ship by owner or master was a crime at Common Law, by Statutes of Anne and George I., and latterly under the Act of 1837, called the Burning and Destroying Act, and the Malicious Injuries to Property Act, of 1861. The Board of Trade did not prosecute in such cases, but left it to the underwriters. "Whether it would be advisable for the Board of Trade to prosecute criminally in such cases was a question which was a fragment only of the greater question of a public prosecutor, which must be settled on more general considerations than the restricted though very important subject to which the hon. Member had referred.