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Quebra - Wreck Report

The following Board of Trade Wreck Report is from the PortCities Southanpton website:

(No. 7724.)

"QUEBRA" (S.S.).


In the matter of a Formal Investigation held at the Central Buildings, Westminster, and the Caxton Hall, Westminster, on the 11th, 12th, 20th, and 25th days of October, 1916, before W. H. LEYCESTER, Esq., assisted by Captain J. H. WALKER, and Commander W. A. FAUSSET, into the circumstances attending the loss of the British ship" QUEBRA," off Great Blasket Island, West coast of Ireland, on the 23rd of August, 1916.

Report of Court.

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 British ship "Quebra" struck the rocks, probably in the neighbourhood of the north end of Great Blasket Island, between 1 and 1.30 a.m. on the 23rd of August, 1916. She probably afterwards drifted southwards, and she finally settled down between one and two cables' lengths off the island, at a spot about north of a point shown on the chart as 937 feet high, and about west of a ruined tower also marked on the chart.

Her stranding was due to the master's error of judgment in not sufficiently allowing for the northerly set due to wind and sea, and to his default in not taking soundings. He was further guilty of a wrongful act in prematurely abandoning her. The Court regrets that it is compelled upon these grounds to suspend his certificate of competency for six months.

The Court desires to take this opportunity of once more emphasizing the danger of blind confidence in dead reckoning, the results of which are liable to be vitiated by a number of variable factors for which no certain allowance can be made. Heaving the lead is sometimes, as in the present case, the one safeguard against the effects of an error in dead reckoning, and to neglect this safeguard is one of the most serious omissions of which a shipmaster can be guilty.

The Court wishes to add a few words upon what it considers a matter of public importance. A theory was offered by the master to explain the ship's striking at a spot about forty-four miles north of her supposed position. It was that some enemy agent had tampered with the compass, by placing a magnet or a piece of steel in such a position as to deflect the needle. The Court has made a careful investigation into this matter, and is satisfied that no such act took place. It is unfortunate that, at the present time, when to ordinary marine risks are added the special dangers of war, some more or less preposterous theory should be put forward in explanation of casualties which patently require no explanation not valid for times of peace. The present Court has had before it two recent instances of these attempts to confuse a simple issue. In one a donkey boiler was used on a petroleum ship in circumstances which made fire almost inevitable, and a'theory of infernal machines was tendered in explanation. In the second, the present case, a master loses his ship through careless navigation, and, rather than believe in his own fallibility, introduces an enemy plot as the explanation of the casualty. The danger of foul play may be real enough. But responsible people ought not to unsettle the minds and increase the anxieties of seafaring men by propagating rumours which have no foundation.

Dated this 25th day of October, 1916.

We concur in the above report: J. H. WALKER, W. A. FAUSSET, Assessors.


The parties to this Inquiry in the first place were the Board of Trade, represented by Dr. Ginsberg; the master, represented by Mr. Noad; and the second officer, by Mr. Higgs. Mr. Balloch appeared for the owners, and at his request they were also admitted as parties. After the second day's hearing the second officer was relieved from further appearance as it had become clear that he was in no way to blame.

The "Quebra," official number 132673, was a British screw steamship, built at West Hartlepool in 1912 by William Gray and Company. Her length was 377·5 feet, breadth 53·55 feet, and depth in hold from tonnage deck to ceiling at midships 25·4 feet. She was constructed of steel, had six watertight bulkheads, and eight water ballast tanks with a joint capacity of 1435 tons. Her gross tonnage was 4538·32 tons, and her net tonnage 2801·01 tons.

She was fitted with one set of inverted, direct acting triple expansion engines, and three steel boilers with a working pressure of 180 lbs. The engines were by William Gray and Company, and the boilers by the Central Engine Works of West Hartlepool.

She carried two lifeboats, one on the port side and one on the starboard side, together capable of carrying all hands, and also two jolly boats. She was provided with thirty-six life jackets, and six life-buoys, two of which were on the poop and four on the bridge. She had the regulation distress signals, blue lights, rockets, and socket signals. She was further equipped with a Walker's patent log, a Bliss patent log, Wigsell's sounding machine, and the usual hand line and lead. The owners provided charts and sailing directions. Her master used on the voyage under enquiry the Admiralty North Atlantic Route chart, the Admiralty West Coast of Ireland chart, with the Irish Pilot and supplements to date.

The "Quebra" was owned by the Mercantile Steamship Company, Limited. Particulars of value and insurances are given in the answer to the Board of Trade's first question.

The ship left New York on the 11th of August, 1916, with a crew of thirty-four all told, and loaded with a general cargo of about 7,000 tons, for Liverpool. She was making for a point off the Irish coast fixed by Admiralty instructions conveyed to the master before he left New York.

On the 20th of August a good noon observation was obtained, and the ship's position was fixed by the master as 51° 11' North, 24° 10' west. The chief officer and the second officer, both working independently, confirmed the accuracy of this observation. The course was altered to N 87° E true.

From this point the master had to rely on dead reckoning until the casualty occurred. He made his position at noon on the 21st August to be 51° 22' N, 18° 30' W; at noon on the 22nd, 51° 25' N, 13° 34' W. At 8.40 a.m. on the 22nd the course was altered from N 87° E to S 89° E, and the master considered he was making good this course. He allowed 3° for northerly set, and allowed also for continually decreasing easterly deviation of his compass. The latter allowance seems to have been accurately made, and was efficiently checked on the 22nd August by a bearing of the sun obtained at 7 p.m.

At noon on that date the course was altered to S 88° E true, and the master reckoned that on that course he would sight the Bull light about 1.30 a.m. on the 23rd of August.

The Court, in its answers to the Board of Trade questions, has dealt fully with the question of the allowances for northerly set, and has animadverted upon the failure to use the lead. The sounding machine seems to have been left untouched for voyage after voyage. There is positive testimony that it was not in use on the last two voyages, even when approaching harbour, and there is only too much reason to suspect that it lay month after month neglected in its canvas cover. It is indicative of this neglect that, after the stranding, when it was desired to ascertain the depth of water in which the damaged ship was drifting, no one appears to have thought of the sounding machine. All concerned were satisfied with a cast of the hand lead, which gave no bottom at twenty fathoms. That sounding was the only sounding taken on this ship during the whole voyage. The Court fears that some masters consider the frequent use of the lead throws doubts upon their skill as navigators. There is no doubt great satisfaction in the accuracy of dead reckoning being justified by events, but the science of navigation has such a number of variable factors to take account of that it can be derogatory of no one's skill to use all the means possible to check his calculations in any practicable way. That anyone should think otherwise argues a dangerous absence of good sense which sometimes has unfortunate results.

To continue the history of the voyage. At 4 p.m. on the 22nd of August boats were swung out in accordance with Admiralty instructions for ships approaching home ports during war time. During the evening two steamers,-one on either side of the ship, were observed proceeding westwards. The third officer was on the bridge until midnight, the weather being hazy and the sky overcast. At midnight he suggested to the master that the navigation lights should be put out, and this was done. At midnight the second officer took charge. The weather continued hazy. At 1.10 a.m. he noticed what he took to be a fog bank on the starboard bow. The Court is of opinion that what he really saw was the loom of Blasket Island. He at once whistled down the tube to the master. He got no answer, and was in the act of whistling again, when, looking over the bridge dodger, he saw broken water, which he took to be surf on rocks. He at once dropped the whistle, ordered the helm hard a starboard, himself going to the wheel to get it jammed over quickly, stopped the engines, and sounded the steam whistle. The only comment the Court has to make upon the second officer's action is, that he might have ordered the engines full speed astern, but this would probably have made little if any difference to what happened. Almost immediately the ship struck what appears to have been a glancing blow on the turn of the starboard bilge. That it did considerable damage is shown by soundings in the starboard bilge of No. 2 hold, the first sounding showing 4 feet 6 inches of water, and a second, almost directly after, 7 feet. Water was also seen in the stokehold, and over the top of the engine room tank. The master also says that, very little later, he saw part of the after hatch adrift, as if it had been forced off by air compressed through the entry of water into that hold. The force of the blow caused the ship to heel to port. She recovered, and listed to starboard. This list increased with some rapidity.

In the master's opinion she struck the rocks off the north west end of Blasket Island and drifted south to the spot where she ultimately sank as indicated in the Court's judgment.

The master, who had apparently answered the second officer's whistle without the latter hearing it, came on the bridge. All hands were called, the boats were lowered, and the crew and the master left the ship. No attempt was made to get the pumps to work, although the furnaces were known to be still burning. She remained afloat, slowly sinking, until about 4.30 a.m. No effort was made to board her again, when it was found that, contrary to the expectation at first formed, she remained afloat. The master considered it useless to go on board again as he had failed to discover any spot at which he could beach her.

The only reason given for abandoning the ship was the strong opinion hastily formed by the master and others that the ship was bound to sink within a very short time. The Court considers that she was prematurely abandoned.

The Court has dealt in its judgement with the master's suggestion that the compass might, by the instigation of the enemy, have been tampered with. Such tampering would have been almost impossible to carry out without the culprit being taken in the act. If he succeeded he was necessarily imperilling his own life. But the most conclusive argument against the tampering having occurred is that it could not have taken place earlier than 7 p.m. on the 22nd of August, when the compass was checked by a bearing of the sun, and that it would have resulted in a sudden change of the course actually being steered, and equally sudden changes in the apparent direction of wind and sea, none of which could have escaped the notice of the officer on watch.

All the crew safely reached land during the morning of the 23rd of August. It is not necessary to deal with their experiences in detail.

It was during the enquiry a matter of discussion that the Innishtcaraght light was not sighted by the second officer or the look-out forward, but the Court thinks this sufficiently explained by the fog which was no doubt thick in the immediate neighbourhood of land.

The questions of the Board of Trade and the answers thereto follow.



1. What was the cost of the vessel to her owners? What was her value at the time she left on her last voyage? What insurances were effected upon and in connection with the vessel?

2. What number of compasses had the vessel, were they in good order and sufficient for the safe navigation of the vessel, and when and by whom were they last adjusted?

3. Did the master ascertain the deviation of his compasses by observation from time to time, were the errors correctly ascertained and the proper corrections to the courses applied?

4. Were proper measures taken at or about noon of the 20th August last to ascertain and verify the position of the vessel? Was a safe and proper course then set and thereafter steered and was due and proper allowance made for the effect on the vessel of beam wind and sea and northerly current?

5. Was a safe and proper alteration made in the course at or about 8.45 a.m. of the 22nd August and thereafter steered and was due and proper allowance made for the effect on the vessel of beam wind and sea and northerly current?

6. Were proper measures taken at or about noon of the 22nd August last to ascertain and verify the position of the vessel? Was a safe and proper alteration then made in the course and thereafter steered and was due and proper allowance made for the effect on the vessel of beam wind and sea and northerly current?

7. Were proper measures taken after noon of the 22nd August last to ascertain and verify the position of the vessel? Were soundings taken, and if not, should they have been taken?

8. Having regard to the fact that the vessel was approaching the Irish Coast and that no observations had been obtained on the two previous days did the safety of the ship require the personal supervision of the master on deck after midnight of the 22nd–23rd August last Was the master on deck on the morning of the 23rd August last before the vessel struck?

9. What was the condition of the weather between midnight and 1.10 a.m. of the 23rd August last and should the second officer have called the master before the latter hour?

10. Was a good and proper look-out kept?

11. Where and upon what did the vessel strike at or about 1.10 or 1.15 a.m. of the 23rd August last, and was she materially damaged thereby? Where did the vessel finally strand?

12. Was the vessel prematurely abandoned

13. What was the cause of the stranding and loss of the ship?

14. Was the vessel navigated with proper and seamanlike care?

15. Was the damage sustained by and the stranding and loss of the S.S. "Quebra" caused by the wrongful act or default of the master and second officer or either of them?


1. The ship, when new, in 1912, cost her owners £46,745, and they have since spent on repairs to her £4,558. They estimated her value at the time of her loss at £150,000. They held policies of insurance

(a) against marine risks : hull and machinery £70,000; disbursements £15,000; hire £19,000 

(b) against war risks : hull and machinery £105,000; hire £17,000

There was no evidence as to any other insurance in connection with the ship, though doubtless many such insurances existed. They are not material to this enquiry.

2. The ship had two compasses, a standard, Lord Kelvin, on the bridge, and a spirit compass on the poop. They were in good order and sufficient for the safe navigation of the ship. They were last adjusted on the 17th of February, 1912, by Willings of Hartlepool.

3. The master frequently ascertained the deviation of his compasses and checked his observations by independent observations made by his officers. The errors appear to have been correctly ascertained, and proper corrections were applied to the courses.

4. Proper measures were taken at noon on the 20th August last to ascertain and verify the ship's position. It was found to be 51° 11' N, 24° 10' W. The Court accepts this position as approximately accurate. The course which was then set and thereafter steered was safe and proper, inasmuch as it led to no immediate danger. No allowance was made for the effect on the vessel of wind and sea and possible northerly set, nor was such allowance then necessary.

5. The alteration made in the course at 8.40 a.m. on the 22nd of August was not sufficient. Due and proper allowance was not made for the effect on the ship of wind and sea, and the northerly set which must necessarily have been caused by the south-easterly gale which had prevailed for many hours.

6. The position at noon on the 22nd of August was found by dead reckoning, the only method available in the weather conditions. When fixing this position sufficient allowance was not made for the northerly set and the effect of wind and sea, and there was again a failure sufficiently to allow for this set and for the effect of wind and sea when it was decided to keep on upon the course then being steered.

In dealing with the question whether the master made sufficient allowance for northerly set the Court has had to consider two separate and distinct influences which caused or may have caused the ship to make leeway. The first was the northerly set due to the wind and sea, for which the Court has found the master made insufficient allowance, and has censured him accordingly. The second was the possible northerly outset from the Bay of Biscay which has received the name of Rennell's current, and which seems intermittently to flow obliquely across the fairway to the English Channel, and the set of which is also said sometimes to be experienced westward of the Irish Coast. In view of the discussion upon this point during the enquiry the Court wishes to make it clear that it does not find fault with the master for not making allowance for this problematical drift. But it should have been present to his mind as a possible cause of failure to make good his dead reckoning, and as a good reason for acting upon the advice in the Admiralty sailing directions that when "knowledge of a ship's position is dependent on dead reckoning, the lead becomes of primary importance, and its constant use indispensable to safe navigation."

7. No measures were taken after noon on the 22nd August to ascertain and verify the ship's position. Soundings offered the only means of doing so, and the lead was not hove. The Court is emphatically of opinion that it should have been.

8. In the Court's opinion the master should have been on the bridge from not later than midnight of the 22nd August. He was not on the bridge when the ship struck at between 1 and 1.30 a.m. on the 23rd August.

9. The weather was hazy between midnight and 1.10 a.m. on the 23rd of August last, thickening into fog in the immediate neighbourhood of land. In view of his not receiving any special instructions the second officer could not reasonably be expected to call the master earlier than he did.

10. The evidence as to the look-out is not complete, but there is no reason to suspect it was anything but good and proper.

11. The vessel struck a rock at about 1.10 or 1.15 a.m. on the 23rd of August. The blow seems to have been a glancing one, which did material damage for a considerable part of her length at the turn of the bilge on the starboard side.

She finally sank and touched bottom at from one to two cables lengths from Great Blasket Island, at a point bearing about north of the hill on that island marked 937 feet on the large scale Admiralty chart No. 2790, and about west of the ruined tower.

12. The ship was prematurely abandoned.

13. The vessel stranded and was lost through the master's error of judgement in not making sufficient allowance for the set due to the wind and sea, and his default in not taking soundings when approaching a dangerous coast upon a course based entirely upon dead reckoning.

14. The ship was not navigated with proper and seamanlike care.

15. The damage sustained by and the stranding and loss of the "Quebra" were due to the default of the master, but not to any wrongful act or default of the second officer.

We concur in the above report: J. H. WALKER, W. A. FAUSSET, Assessors.
London, 25th October, 1916.

(Issued in London by the Board of Trade on the 14th day of November, 1916.)

(4820) Wt.56/56. 190. 11.16. B.&F.,Ltd. Gp.13/12. 

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