THE MERCHANT SHIPPING ACT, 1894
REPORT OF COURT
s.t. "Pintail" O.N. 124830
In the matter of a Formal Investigation held at The Town Hall, Fleetwood, on the 23rd day of August, 1949, before R. F. Hayward, Esq., M.C., K.C., assisted by Captain J. W. Grimston, Captain C. V. Groves and F. Bee, Esq., into the circumstances attending the stranding of the s.t. "Pintail", on Rathlin Island, on the 26th February, 1949.
The Court, having carefully inquired into the circumstances attending the above-mentioned shipping casualty, finds, for the reasons stated in the Annex hereto, that the certificate of the skipper, Robert Stafford, be suspended for six months from the 23rd August, 1949, and that he be ordered to pay the sum of £100 towards the costs of the Inquiry.
Dated this 24th day of August, 1949.
R. F. HAYWARD, Judge
We concur in the above Report,
CHARLES V. GROVES
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
The Court's answers to the questions submitted by the Ministry of Transport are as follows:
Q. 1. By whom was the s.t. "Pintail" owned?
ANNEX TO THE REPORT
The "Pintail", a steel single screw, single deck, fishing vessel, with open floors, was built in 1908 at Goole, and engined by Earle's Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, Limited, of Hull. She was of 198 tons gross, 110 feet in length, and 21.6 feet beam, and 11.67 feet in depth. She was owned by the Brixham Trawlers, Limited, of Fleetwood. The "Pintail" was a flush deck type with deck house containing the skipper's berth and wheelhouse, and aft a small engine casing and galley. She was fitted with four watertight bulkheads, and hand operated steering gear. Her compasses were an overhead wheelhouse compass and a hanging compass in the skipper's berth. These were last adjusted in Fleetwood on the 15th October, 1948, and were practically without deviation. The ship was fitted with a Marconi echometer, Type 424, which had been serviced on the 12th January, 1949, but which went out of order some few days before the casualty. She was fitted with the usual leads and lines, and her life-saving appliances were up to Ministry standard.
The "Pintail" left Fleetwood for a fishing trip in Donegal Bay on the 15th February, 1949, manned by a crew of 12 hands all told.
On the 25th February, at about 1.30 p.m., her trawling winch having broken down, she made for home. At between 8 and 9 p.m. she passed Tory Island Light at a distance estimated to be 5 miles, and steered a course of East magnetic passing Garvan Islands at an estimated distance of about 1 to 2 miles.
At this time the tide was beginning to flood. When about 2 miles West South West of Inistrahull Light at 1.10 a.m., on the 26th February, the course was altered to East South East, the log was set, and the skipper marked his position on the chart. At this time there was a West South West gale and heavy sea with rain and hail squalls of varying duration. At about 1.45 a.m. the skipper went below leaving orders with the mate in charge that he was to be called at 4.30 a.m. At 2.30 a.m., the mate was relieved by the bosun who duly called the skipper at 4.30 a.m., informing him that he had sighted Bull Point Light about a point and a half on the starboard bow. The skipper immediately came on the bridge and saw the light. The bosun relieved the deck-hand at the wheel and thereafter the deck-hand and the skipper kept the look out. The skipper estimated the distance of Bull Point Light to be about 7 miles, and the bosun agreed with this estimate.
The skipper sent the bosun aft to read the log, and it was discovered that the log line had parted. The ship's course was altered to S.E. Southerly to make for Rathlin Sound, with a view to avoiding the heavy race anticipated off Altacarry Head, and the speed was maintained as estimated at 7 knots through the water and 7.6 knots over the ground.
According to the skipper, Bull Point Light dimmed during the first squall after he came on to the bridge, and in the second squall was wholly obscured at about 5 o'clock and was not seen again. He stated that the light had broadened about half-a-point in half-an-hour on to a bearing of about E.S.E. The skipper eased the speed to an estimate of 3 to 3½ knots and went below and consulted his chart. He did not, however, lay off the bearing of the light, nor his estimated course line; had he done so, he would have seen that it crossed that line at very much less than his estimated 7 miles from the light, and that, if this estimate was approximately correct, he must have been well to the northward of that assumed track, and if the "Pintail" continued to be set to the northward as she apparently had been she would certainly strand on the west side of Rathlin Island even on her new course of S.E.½S.
Navigating purely by guesswork or "estimate based on experience", the skipper set a course of South East half South in order to make a middle course through Rathlin Sound. Thereafter, nothing was seen or heard until the ship stranded about 300 yards to the southward of Bull Point Light at about 5.30 a.m. on the 26th February. On stranding, the engines were put full speed astern for a few minutes without result, and as the engine room was rapidly making water the engineers were ordered on deck. Rockets were fired and the trawler's whistle was blown so long as steam remained. At dawn two men from the lighthouse were seen on shore, and a line was passed to them by Schermuly rocket pistol. They hauled ashore the end of a 3 inch line which they secured to a rock, and one of the trawler hands very dangerously reached the shore along this line. Portrush Lifeboat came out, but could do nothing, and finally, at about 10.30 a.m., the remaining eleven members of the crew were safely landed by the Rathlin Island Life-Saving Company.
The ship at all the material times before stranding was under control of her helm and engines, the skipper saw and recognised the light from Bull Point Lighthouse, which remained in view for about half-an-hour, but within about half-an-hour of its obscuration the "Pintail" stranded within a few hundred yards of it. These facts manifestly call for an explanation by the person concerned. In the course of his evidence the skipper's only explanation of the cause of the stranding was bad weather and bad visibility, and no better explanation was submitted on his behalf.
The Court is of opinion that the skipper was lacking in proper seamanlike care in failing (a) to take further and better measures to ascertain the trawler's position, in particular by laying off bearings on the chart, or (b) by hauling his ship further away from the danger which he last sighted only half-an-hour before stranding.
Having regard to the good record of the skipper, but also having regard to the fact that he lost no employment by reason of the casualty, the Court recommends that his certificate be suspended for a period of six months from this date, and that he be ordered to pay towards the cost of the Inquiry the sum of £100.
The Court would add that in its opinion it would be of considerable advantage for trawlers to be provided with Admiralty charts, and their skippers advised to use them.
R. F. HAYWARD, Judge.