§ 66. Mr. W. THORNE
asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that if any person under the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, Section 457, sends or attempts to send, or is party to sending or attempting to send, a British ship to sea in such an unseaworthy state that the life of any person is likely to be thereby endangered he shall in respect of each offence be guilty of a misdemeanour; if he is aware that the owners of the steamship "Mount Oswald" did send to sea their steamship in February, 1912, from Baltimore in an unseaworthy state with a crew of twenty-four, and that the ship has not been heard of since; and whether the Government will at once take action against the owners for wilful negligence for allowing the ship to be sent to sea in an unseaworthy state?
I have carefully considered the Section to which my hon. Friend refers, and the Report of the Court which inquired into the loss of this vessel. It will be remembered that the Court, which had all the available facts before it, stated that, being unable to determine the actual cause of the loss of the vessel, it could not attribute the disaster to any wrongful act or default on the part of the managers, but considered that the 1750 managers had committed a grave error of judgment in not having the vessel dry-docked at New York. I am legally advised that the case is not one in which criminal proceedings could be instituted against the managers.
§ Mr. J. WARD
Has there ever been a case in the history of this law where a. prosecution has been taken against an owner, no matter how dangerous a condition the ship was when he sent it to sea?
Yes, there have been cases; but in this instance the Court arrived at a certain conclusion, and I have taken legal advice on that conclusion, and I am advised no prosecution would lie.
§ Major ARCHER-SHEE
Was not that inquiry only preliminary, and in view of the attitude of the owners, who tried to make out that the captain was drunk before the ship was taken out to sea, ought not a further inquiry be held into this case, which is an extremely bad one?
I am acting on the Report of the only inquiry made, and I am advised by my legal advisers that a criminal prosecution could not be instituted on the present Report. Perhaps the hon. Member would give me notice of his other question.
§ Mr. J. WARD
Has the right hon. Gentleman laid the evidence before the Public Prosecutor? Really, it is disgraceful if there is to be no punishment upon those who destroy twenty-four men's lives!
My legal advisers had the whole question before them and they informed me that a criminal prosecution would not lie upon the information before them.