Umlazi (1)

Board of Trade Wreck Report for 'Umlazi' and 'Dabulamanzi', 1889


REPORT of the Court of Inquiry into the circumstances connected with the collision of the steamship "UMLAZI," with the steamship "DABULAMANZI," in the harbour of Port Natal, on the 2nd of April 1889, as appointed by His Excellency the Governor. From the evidence adduced it appears that on the day of the casualty the iron screw steamer "Umlazi," registered in 1888, at London, 1,140 tons nett, official No. 95,486, was at the outer anchorage waiting to cross the bar, and the "Dabulamanzi," iron screw steamer, registered in 1882, at Aberdeen, 980 tons nett, official No. 84,359, was inside the harbour for the purpose of discharging cargo at the public wharf. In the afternoon of the same day, at top of high water, the "Umlazi" was brought into port in charge of Pilot Masson. When crossing the bar she took the ground and remained there for some time. The tug "Forerunner's" rope parted in trying to get her off, which was finally done by the "Churchill," and she then proceeded up the channel dead slow with her own engines, the ebb tide being strong at the time. When nearing the berth assigned to her at the wharf, alongside the "Dabulamanzi," and at about 60 to 65 fathoms from that vessel, Masson gave orders to let go the anchor, at the same time the ship's engines to be put full speed astern. This latter order was carried out, but the anchor did not fall, and the order "to let go" was repeated two or three times. The anchor was eventually dropped when about 10 yards from the "Dabulamanzi," but too late to prevent the "Umlazi" striking her with great force, causing her to heel over towards the wharf, and doing serious injury to that vessel above and below water-line, as more particularly described in the evidence. The time of this occurrence was 6.15 p.m.

The evidence is clear on the two important points in this inquiry, viz., 1 the time when the order was given to let go the anchor; and 2 the delay in doing it. In regard to the first, the port captain states, "The " pilot carried out the usual course in dropping anchor " at a distance of 80 yards from the 'Dabulamanzi.'" Robert Herd, carpenter of that vessel, states the distance to have been 90 yards; whereas Masson states it as 65 fathoms from the wharf. But whatever the exact distance was, all the witnesses agree that if the anchor had been let go when ordered the collision would not have taken place. This is also corroborated by the entry of the occurrence in the ship's log-book (entry C), duly attested by both the mate and Captain Tillar. With regard to the second point, the delay in letting go the anchor, this is stated to have arisen from the windlass having been jammed, and it is assumed by the captain and chief officer of the "Umlazi" that the bumping on the bar had caused the windlass to get out of order.

Whether such was the case or not, we have it in evidence that the windlass was not examined after leaving the bar, nor did the supposed injury attract the attention of those concerned, for Masson states that he was not informed of anything being wrong with the windlass, but, on the contrary, that when passing the corner near the lifeboat house, and repeating his inquiry whether everything was right, the answer given was "that all was clear and ready." It will be observed that the greater portion of Cap-Tillar's evidence tends to inculpate Pilot Masson and the master of the "Forerunner." In that he asserts " that when the ebb tide had taken the ' Umlazi' on " the port bow this tug came alongside without orders, " and made fast his warp, and subsequently cast it off " again, and that this action of the tug coming along " side canted the 'Umlazi's' head still more to star- " board, and thereby contributing to the collision." Captain Tillar further states "that if the anchor had " been let dropped it would have stopped her way, but " would have canted her more to starboard, but if the " engines had been reversed at the same time it would " have stopped her way, and a collision would not have " taken place." But the evidence of the master of the "Forerunner," corroborated by that of Pilot Masson, establishes the fact that he had no orders to help the "Umlazi," nor did he know that she wanted any; that his being near the vessel was that he was going to moor alongside for the night, and that the line thrown on board with a manilla rope attached to it was for that purpose. Jewitt further says that from the position he was in he could not see that there was any danger of a collision, and this statement is corroborated by Captain Tillar himself when calling out, "For God's sake shove her in aft," clearly establishing that the "Forerunner" was then astern, which order, however, was not heard by Masson or Jewitt, nor apparently by the chief officer, nor any other officer on board the "Umlazi," and if heard would have been impracticable of execution.

The Court cannot avoid drawing attention to the grave discrepancy in the following statement. Pilot Masson declares "that he gave orders to let go the " anchor and at the same time to go full speed astern." Captain Tillar asserts, "that he did not order the " engines to be put astern, neither did they go astern." Bryan, the stevedore, states the same thing, whereas the actual fact, as recorded in the ship's engine's log book, was that the engines were turned astern at 6.12 p.m. The Court have also to draw attention to the grave irregularity in the mode of recording the particulars of the collision in the "Umlazi's" log-book. It appears that an entry of the facts was duly made on the 2nd instant, the date of the occurrence, by the chief mate and signed by the master in the usual course. On the following day a further and more detailed narrative was prepared by Captain Tillar on a loose sheet of paper, and taken to his solicitor "to see that it was all right," and on approval this narrative was entered in the log book undated, signed by the master, but not by the chief mate. It need hardly be observed that an entry of the kind, made under such circumstances, is unprecedented and utterly worthless.

Finding of the Court.

After careful consideration of the evidence taken at this inquiry the Court finds as follows:  

1. That in giving the order to let go the "Umlazi's" anchor, the pilot was carrying out the usual course in such cases.

2. That the failure to let go the anchor when ordered was the immediate cause of the "Umlazi's" fouling the "Dabulamanzi," thereby causing the damage to that vessel as described in the evidence.

3. That, as this failure to let go the anchor is attributed to an injury to the windlass, caused by the "Umlazi" striking on the bar, an examination should have been made, for which there was ample time after leaving the bar, as to its being ready and clear for anchoring.

4. That, although the tug "Forerunner" was in close proximity to the "Umlazi" at the time of colliding with the "Dabulamanzi," there were no orders to render assistance, and the master (Jewitt) states he did not know any help was required. The act of throwing a rope for the purpose of mooring, and then hauling it back again, was in no way conducive to the collision any more than the impracticability of using the "Forerunner" at the stern of the "Umlazi" in the mode suggested by Captain Tillar.

5. That it is evident from the brief space of time between the failure to let go the "Umlazi's" anchor and the contact with the "Dabulamanzi" the collision was practically inevitable.

6. That in regard to the discrepancy between the evidence of Pilot Masson and Captain Tillar as to the ?? astern, it is deemed, as proved by the ??-book, that the engine was reversed w??n ??Ered.

7. That it was injudicious on the part of Captain Tillar, and without precedent in practice, to submit a statement as to the facts and circumstances of the collision to his agents and solicitor before entry of the same in the ship's log-book.

8. That the Court further finds that although no actual default is proved in this case, the want of preparedness to let go the anchor should have been observed by the chief officer of the "Umlazi," and that the neglect to do so is deemed by the Court to be censurable, and this expression of its opinion is hereby recorded.

Resident Magistrate's Office, Durban, this 9th day of May 1889.


G. A. LUCAS, R.M., President.




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