My Lords, I rise to ask Her Majesty's Government if they will cause special instructions to be given to the Board of Trade Marine Surveyors to report any vessels coming into or leaving English ports with their propellers insufficiently immersed? When I had the honour last week of moving a Resolution relating to the insufficient ballasting of steamers I withdrew it on the suggestion of the noble Earl the Secretary of the Board of Trade; but since that time I have received so many communications asking me to bring this 1507 matter again before your Lordships' House that I felt it was my duty to do so. The noble Earl, in his reply to me last week, said he wished to associate himself with my desire that every possible means should be taken of ensuring the lives of our British shipping community, and I am perfectly sure, my Lords, that when I show—as I hope to be able to—the risks that are incurred through sending steamers to sea with insufficient ballast, the noble Earl will be a warm advocate for remedial measures being taken. There are many dangers and many risks at sea, my Lords, which it is beyond the power of man to either prevent or guard against, but this one special danger is well within our power to prevent. Although the noble Earl said preventive regulations would harass the great mass of shipping owners unjustifiably, yet I say, and I think, my Lords, you will agree with me, that when it is a question of human lives being at stake no other consideration whatever should be allowed to have any weight. The noble Earl stated in his speech last week that it could not be said with much accuracy that any system was in vogue at the present time of sending ships to sea from our ports with insufficient ballast; if that is so, I fail to see how the mass of the shipping owners are to be harassed. It cannot harass them just to put two extra coats of paint on their vessels. They are obliged by law to paint the load line, and when they do that they surely could paint a ballast mark as well. If, on the other hand, the mass of the shipping owners will be harassed, and by that I presume the noble Earl means they will be harassed by having to put in a sufficient quantity of ballast to render their ships seaworthy, it only shows how very much needed this ballast mark is. My Lords, I think I shall be able to show you that there is a risk, and a very great risk, of life in sending steamers to sea with very little ballast and with their propellers half out of the water. I should like to say a few words about the masters of these steamers. They are men who have under their care property, in the shape of vessels and cargoes, of a very large monetary value; they take this property to all parts of the world, and very seldom have any loss. When a loss does occur, I think you will generally find that it is 1508 not the fault of the master or his officers. Nobody on shore, I think, or very few people indeed, realise the anxiety and the strain of mind which even, under favourable circumstances, a shipmaster has to undergo; in fact, to fully realise it one should be in charge of a vessel himself. But when you send a shipmaster to sea in a big steel tank, with her nose sticking out of the water and only half her propeller immersed, you unjustifiably increase his anxiety and the strain on his mind. In fact, the only wonder is that you can find men who are able to stand it, and that you have not more ships reported missing. They only bring them through by good seamanship and good handling. The noble Earl stated that, so far as the records at the Board of Trade were concerned, he had not been able to find more than a very few instances in which any accident had occurred owing to the lack of sufficient ballast. I do not know if the noble Earl refers to shipwrecks only. Any other accident I can conceive the Board of Trade not hearing of. Anything short of actual shipwreck the Board of Trade might not hear of. Surely, my Lords, the Board of Trade are not to wait until some steamer is lost from want of ballast to adopt measures for safety of these vessels. When a steamer is missing, no one on shore thinks of speculating as to what trim that vessel was in. Three months ago, I was talking to a captain of a very large English steamer in Bordeaux. He had just come from the Pacific. We were talking over this question, and he told me that just before he left his port for Bordeaux there was a very large steamer—in fact, one of the largest steamers afloat—which was going to cross the Pacific with only half her screw covered. My friend told the master of that vessel that it would be, in his opinion, unsafe for her to cross the Pacific in that trim, and that he would not think of taking her across in such a condition. The answer he got from the captain was, that he knew it would be unsafe. He also detailed the scrapes he had got into through this vessel before, but he said he had to go. If he did not he might lose his berth. That steamer sailed, and she has never been heard of since. Now, my Lords, I will give you a case of a steamer on a voyage from Cardiff to Newcastle, with her propeller 1509 not having sufficient hold in the water. The ship's head fell off, and the vessel lay in the trough of the sea; the tarpaulins on the hatches were washed overboard, and a large quantity of water got into the hold, which might easily have resulted in the loss of the ship. I think that was rather risky.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE BOARD OF TRADE (The Earl of DUDLEY)
What was the name of the ship?
The Eddystone I have another case here of a ship on a voyage from Antwerp to the Tyne, which was four days in the North Sea, owing to being unmanageable. I have a letter from a captain, who speaks of another steamer, which left Bury in company with him. There was a strong westerly wind, and they were only making six points. This steamer had to put back while the vessel under the command of the writer of the letter I have here was able to make her course, as her propeller was altogether submerged, while that of the other steamer was not. He says he has passed many steamers at sea without sufficient ballast, and which have required the whole of the English Channel to themselves for safe navigation. I think, my Lords, those cases will prove that there is a danger in sending ships to sea insufficiently ballasted. I do not see how the Board of Trade can say that such cases are not frequent. Anybody who is on our shores can see these steamers constantly going down Channel with their propellers insufficiently immersed. Now, my Lords, I have a lot of cases, but I do not know whether I should take up your Lordships' time by reading them. However, I will read one or two.Draft, leaving all available tanks run up 9ft. forward, 12ft. 10in. aft (her load draft is 22ft. 2in. mean) with some 190 (bunkers raise her aft) tons of bunkers. All went fairly well until south of Manilla, approaching the Palawan passage, when the monsoon stiffening, with frequent rain squalls and fairly high seas, she soon became unmanageable, tearing off on either tack, until wind and sea were abeam, rolling just 'dredful,' and 'compass chasing round like a cat at play'—drifting fast towards the reef by good hap. Enough daylight was left me, by wearing and running back, to make the passage round the north end of Palawan Island.1510I arrived here last Monday with a cargo of grain from Baltimore, not an enviable trade to be in at any time, and especially at this season, entailing as it does a long run in ballast. I always make a point of going well south, as I consider it is the very height of folly to attempt the great circle track in the winter time with a light ship. She is not fit to contend, and utterly helpless against the enormous seas and westerly gales which prevail nine-tenths of the time.All these are from seamen. There is not a single one of them who would not tell you that the ships as they are going out now—these tramps—are perfectly unfit to put to sea, and they are certainly not fit to risk men's lives. I will ask your Lordships to think who are the most lifted to pass judgment on what constitutes a seaworthy ship, and who are the most interested in having seaworthy ships. I venture to say that there can be no other answer but the shipmasters. They are the men who have to navigate them, who are responsible for them, and who have the whole trouble. It is their profession. I told you last week, my Lords, that the opinion of the shipmasters was that an overladen ship was much safer than a light one with too little ballast, and I am very proud to find, my Lords, that what I said on that occasion has been considered and approved of by those men who are most interested. You may remember, my Lords, that individual shipmasters are debarred from making any grievance by fear of losing their employment. If you could guarantee shipmasters against loss of work, I am sure an inquiry would elicit facts which would very much astonish your Lordships, and very much astonish the Board of Trade. And now, my Lords, I urge on Her Majesty's Government to direct the Board of Trade to have the low ballast line mark on all tramp steamers, and thereby to add another safeguard, and a very necessary safeguard, to the lives of our merchant seamen. My Lords, I now beg to put the Question that stands in my name—namely, whether the Government would cause special instructions to be given to the Board of Trade Marine Surveyors to report any vessels coming into, or leaving, English ports with their propellers insufficiently immersed?
§ THE EARL OF DUDLEY
The Marine Surveyors of the Board of Trade have already, as I intimated to my noble 1511 Friend the other day, specific instructions to report, and, if necessary, detain any vessel which is from any cause unsafe, and it appears to the Board of Trade scarcely advisable to issue further and special instructions in regard to the particular point mentioned in the Question, covering, as it does, only one of the many ways in which a vessel may be in an unsafe condition. Still, if the Board of Trade should have information, either from my noble Friend or otherwise, as to any cases in which vessels have left British ports so light as to be a danger to life and property, they will at once take steps to inquire thoroughly into such cases, and, upon verification, will communicate generally with their Surveyors as to this source of danger. My noble Friend has given me a new instance: the Eddystone, which left Cardiff in the state which he described. That case will be inquired into, and if the noble Lord will furnish us with a "lot of cases" they also will receive similar inquiry. I may remind my noble Friend of what I mentioned to him the other day. Cases of vessels leaving Baltimore are not of much use, because we have absolutely no power to prevent vessels from leaving ports in foreign countries.
I am very sorry to hear the answer of the noble Earl. He did not seem to think that a few lives lost would signify very much.
§ THE EARL OF DUDLEY
I beg the noble Lord's pardon if I conveyed that impression by my answer. As far as the Board of Trade knows, not a single life has ever been lost from this cause.
I should rather take my noble Friend's statistics, and anybody who knows anything about ships knows that vessels in ballast are very often in danger, and I think that the Board of Trade ought to do everything in their power, even if it is not very often the case, to prevent danger to life. As my noble Friend has said, we all know, and I think it does not take a sailor to 1512 know that, that the risks attending seafaring men are very often inevitable. I think that that being the case, it makes it more incumbent upon us to see that any risk that may be prevented should be prevented. Now, I cannot imagine what the objection to this ballast line can be. What can be the objection to an inspection by the Board of Trade agents of incoming vessels or outgoing vessels? It seems to me that it is only a little additional trouble, but I cannot help thinking that the lives of our sailors are worth that additional trouble. I do not like the reply, as I said before, of the noble Earl. He does not seem to think that the lives of the sailors are worth taking too much trouble about. I desire, of course, to exonerate the noble Earl himself, because of course he merely gave us the reasons of the Board of Trade; but I think it is a very unfeeling answer to what my noble friend has brought forward.
§ LORD NORTON
I have no doubt that the noble Lord who puts this Question has serious subjects in his mind—namely, whether ships cannot be as un-seaworthy by being too light as by being too deep in the water, but I think he must deal with this point, and with many others which he may from time to time find out, not by putting questions to the Government, asking them to cause instructions to be given to the Board of Trade to make suggestions to their surveyors; he must introduce a short Bill for the purpose of meeting the cases in his mind. The surveyors of the Board of Trade have powers to stop unseaworthy ships going out, but when you come to specific tests of particular kinds of unseaworthiness, that cannot be put into the hands of surveyors; it must be defined in an Act of Parliament. I can recollect perfectly well myself, in the Merchant Shipping Act which I had to pass 30 years ago, the difficulty with which I placed the maximum load line with the very embarrassing co-operation of Mr. Samuel Plimsoll; but if another kind of load line is required that must be dealt with in a similar manner by Act of Parliament. I can quite fancy myself that a line which should only be 1513 above water may be necessary to place at the side of a ship as a line which should only be below water, but that can hardly be a specific rule in the Board of Trade surveying without its being carefully considered. I should hardly feel myself competent to know what shipowners would say to such a proposal or what the opinion of the Board of Trade would be; but, whether right or wrong, I think specific tests of unseaworthiness must be matters of Acts of Parliament, and the general discretion of the surveyors of the Board of Trade cannot be left without any rule or guidance whatsoever. I should suggest to the noble Lord, if he would place the proposal which he has indicated in the form of a Bill we should be able to discuss it in a manner more worthy the importance of the subject, and I think that will be the right way to introduce such a Measure as he proposes.