My Lords, I beg to ask His Majesty's Government whether they have acted on opinions 187 expressed in this House that negotiations should be opened up with foreign maritime Powers with a view to the general prevention of merchant vessels carrying deck-loads in the winter time, and, if so, whether these negotiations have been of any avail in checking further loss of life at sea through deck-loads.
§ THE EARL OF GRANARD
My Lords, this subject has been before your Lordships' House for the last two years. In March, 1905, the late President of the Board of Trade, Lord Salisbury, promised to send a circular letter to the different maritime Powers asking them whether they would be disposed to consider some international arrangement by which the rules as to carrying deck-loads might be brought into line for all countries. This circular was sent out on April 18th last year, but I am sorry to say that the replies received have not been very satisfactory. The various maritime Powers were asked to co-operate, and three Powers—France, Germany, and Sweden—have not as yet answered the circular at all. The other Powers do not at present see their way to fall in with the suggestions contained in the note. I am afraid that from this it will be seen that the noble Lord can look forward to very little help from foreign Powers.
then put to His Majesty's Government the second Question standing in his name on the Paper, viz., whether it is a fact that the British steamer "Petunia" has lately crossed the Atlantic with a large deck-cargo of timber between the time limits when the carriage of such deck-loads to the United Kingdom is expressly forbidden by the Merchant Shipping Act; whether the "Petunia" was evading or intending to evade the law by carrying the deck-load to the Continent and returning to the United Kingdom to discharge the remainder of her cargo; whether the voyage of the "Petunia" was of a very protracted character, during which the deck-cargo broke adrift, and the ship sustained serious damage thereby; and what action, if any, was taken by the Board of Trade when the "Petunia" put into a port in the United Kingdom in distress.
188 The noble Lord said: The "Petunia," it appears, adopted the usual custom of evading the law by carrying to the Continent a dangerous deck-load of timber which she would not be allowed to bring to the United Kingdom. The "Petunia" met with injuries, I strongly suspect through carrying this dangerous deck-load, and was compelled to put into Falmouth. I am only going by the account which appeared in the Press at the time. I am hoping that my noble friend who represents the Board of Trade will be able to give us fuller information on the subject. When the "Petunia" got into Falmouth it was found necessary to shift the cargo in order to remedy the injury. The Marine Department of the Board of Trade, according to the Press, would not allow this, and eventually the "Petunia" with a dangerous deck-load and her injury unrepaired, had to proceed on her voyage. Last year, if I remember aright, a vessel not damaged but with a dangerous deck-load, called at Glasgow. She discharged one log of the deck cargo, and the captain was heavily fined. Now, my Lords, I think that in the case of the "Petunia" the Board of Trade should have allowed the cargo to have been shifted and discharged, and then have fined the owner, not the captain It is always the case that the unfortunate captain gets fined for what he cannot help. The captain must take a dangerous deck-load or be dismissed from his ship. I think that the action of the Board of Trade in allowing this vessel to proceed to sea in a disabled condition was very wrong indeed. I beg to put the Question.
§ THE EARL OF GRANARD
My Lords, I feel that it is necessary to give your Lordships a short history of the subject under discussion before I actually deal with the special case of the steamship "Petunia." In 1903 the noble Lord called attention in this House to the carriage of deck cargoes to ports on the Continent during winter, and pro-posed that the provisions of Section 451 of the Merchant Shipping Act, which prohibits such a practice in the case of: vessels coming to a port in the United. Kingdom should be extended to those trading to Continental ports. The noble Lord had already previously 189 raised the question in 1901, and in 1904 he introduced a Bill to give effect to his views. A similar measure which was introduced in 1905 was also not proceeded with.
The number of lives lost in timber-laden vessels belonging to the United Kingdom which foundered or were missing, or suffered deck damage or loss of deck load, during the thirty-three years and ten weeks ended March 12th, 1906, was 1,747, of which 1,291 were lost in the sixteen years ended 1888, and only 456 were lost in the seventeen years and ten weeks ended March 12th, 1906. The annual average loss in the first period of sixteen years was eighty, in the second period of seventeen years it was twenty-seven, and in the whole period of thirty-three years it was fifty-three. No loss of life in timber-laden vessels has been reported in the first ten weeks of 1906. Of the 1,747 lives lost, 1,482 were lost in sailing ships and only 265 in steamers. During the year 1905 only three casualties to vessels carrying timber were attended with loss of life, viz., s.s. "Freshfield," which left Norfolk, Virginia, for Hamburg on February 7th, 1905, with twenty-five crew and a cargo of timber, and has not since been heard of; s.s. "Castano," which lost one of her crew and part of her deck-load on April 11th, 1905, on a voyage from Newport News to Bordeaux; and s.s. "Pydna," which lost one of her crew and part of her deck-load on June 1st, 1905, on a voyage from Miramichi to Manchester. Neither of these three vessels came under the Act. The casualty to the "Pydna" is the only fatal one that has occurred to a vessel carrying timber since May, 1905, when the question of deck-loads was last debated in the House. Omitting missing vessels, the causes of whose loss are unknown, the total number of lives lost from timber-laden vessels by casualties to which deck-loads could contribute since 1899 was eight or 1–3 per annum.
I will now deal with the case of the "Petunia." It is the fact that this steamer recently crossed the Atlantic with a deck-cargo of timber between the time limits mentioned in Section 451 of the Merchant Shipping Act, when the carriage of such loads is prohibited. 190 She was on a voyage from America to Bordeaux, where the deck-cargo was landed, and she then made for Dublin, where the remainder of her cargo was discharged. As no deck-cargo was brought to this country there was no infringement or even evasion of the law prohibiting deck-cargoes. It is also true that the voyage was a protracted one and that the deck cargo broke away, the ship losing her propeller. She then put into Falmouth for repairs, where she was at once visited by a Board of Trade surveyor. Some of the cargo was discharged in order to get at the spare propeller. This cargo was re-shipped after a new propeller had been fitted, in the presence and to the satisfaction of the Board of Trade surveyor.
The noble Lord appears to wish to penalise a British ship carrying a deck-cargo to a foreign port. If this were done we could not equally penalise the foreigner, and therefore we should be forcing our own people to carry on the keen competition in which they are engaged at a severe disadvantage as compared with the foreigner. British and foreign ships coming to this country are, of course, on equal terms, and at the present moment they trade to foreign ports also on equal terms. The Board of Trade have received from the owners of the "Petunia" a full and satisfactory account of the whole voyage of this vessel, and are perfectly satisfied that no contravention or evasion of the law occurred. The Board are further satisfied that the whole question of deck-loads is receiving the careful attention of shipowners in this country and abroad. The loss of life shows a distinct tendency to diminish, and His Majesty's Government have no intention of imposing upon British shipowners without very strong reasons, which do not at present exist, any further restrictions in this matter, especially as they would have no power to impose these restrictions on their foreign competitors.