TITANIC-TITANIC.com | Loss Of The SS Titanic By Lawrence Beesley
CHAPTER VIII - THE LESSONS TAUGHT BY THE LOSS OF THE Titanic
One of the most pitiful things in the relations of human beings to each other--the action and reaction of events that is called concretely "human life"--is that every now and then some of them should be called upon to lay down their lives from no sense of imperative, calculated duty such as inspires the soldier or the sailor, but suddenly, without any previous knowledge or warning of danger, without any opportunity of escape, and without any desire to risk such conditions of danger of their own free will. It is a blot on our civilization that these things are necessary from time to time, to arouse those responsible for the safety of human life from the lethargic selfishness which has governed them. The Titanic's two thousand odd passengers went aboard thinking they were on an absolutely safe ship, and all the time there were many people--designers, builders, experts, government officials--who knew there were insufficient boats on board, that the Titanic had no right to go fast in iceberg regions,--who knew these things and took no steps and enacted no laws to prevent their happening. Not that they omitted to do these things deliberately, but were lulled into a state of selfish inaction from which it needed such a tragedy as this to arouse them. It was a cruel necessity which demanded that a few should die to arouse many millions to a sense of their own insecurity, to the fact that for years the possibility of such a disaster has been imminent. Passengers have known none of these things, and while no good end would have been served by relating to them needless tales of danger on the high seas, one thing is certain--that, had they known them, many would not have travelled in such conditions and thereby safeguards would soon have been forced on the builders, the companies, and the Government. But there were people who knew and did not fail to call attention to the dangers: in the House of Commons the matter has been frequently brought up privately, and an American naval officer, Captain E. K. Boden, in an article that has since been widely reproduced, called attention to the defects of this very ship, the Titanic -- taking her as an example of all other liners--and pointed out that she was not unsinkable and had not proper boat accommodation.
The question, then, of responsibility for the loss of the Titanic must be considered: not from any idea that blame should be laid here or there and a scapegoat provided--that is a waste of time. But if a fixing of responsibility leads to quick and efficient remedy, then it should be done relentlessly: our simple duty to those whom the Titanic carried down with her demands no less. Dealing first with the precautions for the safety of the ship as apart from safety appliances, there can be no question, I suppose, that the direct responsibility for the loss of the Titanic and so many lives must be laid on her captain. He was responsible for setting the course, day by day and hour by hour, for the speed she was traveling; and he alone would have the power to decide whether or not speed must be slackened with icebergs ahead. No officer would have any right to interfere in the navigation, although they would no doubt be consulted. Nor would any official connected with the management of the line--Mr. Ismay, for example--be allowed to direct the captain in these matters, and there is no evidence that he ever tried to do so. The very fact that the captain of a ship has such absolute authority increases his responsibility enormously. Even supposing the White Star Line and Mr. Ismay had urged him before sailing to make a record,--again an assumption,--they cannot be held directly responsible for the collision: he was in charge of the lives of everyone on board and no one but he was supposed to estimate the risk of traveling at the speed he did, when ice was reported ahead of him. His action cannot be justified on the ground of prudent seamanship.
But the question of indirect responsibility raises at once many issues and, I think, removes from Captain Smith a good deal of personal responsibility for the loss of his ship. Some of these issues it will be well to consider.
In the first place, disabusing our minds again of the knowledge that the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank, let us estimate the probabilities of such a thing happening. An iceberg is small and occupies little room by comparison with the broad ocean on which it floats; and the chances of another small object like a ship colliding with it and being sunk are very small: the chances are, as a matter of fact, one in a million. This is not a figure of speech: that is the actual risk for total loss by collision with an iceberg as accepted by insurance companies. The one-in-a-million accident was what sunk the Titanic.
Even so, had Captain Smith been alone in taking that risk, he would have had to bear all the blame for the resulting disaster. But it seems he is not alone: the same risk has been taken over and over again by fast mail-passenger liners, in fog and in iceberg regions. Their captains have taken the long--very long--chance many times and won every time; he took it as he had done many times before, and lost. Of course, the chances that night of striking an iceberg were much greater than one in a million: they had been enormously increased by the extreme southerly position of icebergs and field ice and by the unusual number of the former. Thinking over the scene that met our eyes from the deck of the Carpathia after we boarded her,--the great number of icebergs wherever the eye could reach,--the chances of _not_ hitting one in the darkness of the night seemed small. Indeed, the more one thinks about the Carpathia coming at full speed through all those icebergs in the darkness, the more inexplicable does it seem. True, the captain had an extra lookout watch and every sense of every man on the bridge alert to detect the least sign of danger, and again he was not going so fast as the Titanic and would have his ship under more control; but granted all that, he appears to have taken a great risk as he dogged and twisted round the awful two-hundred-foot monsters in the dark night. Does it mean that the risk is not so great as we who have seen the abnormal and not the normal side of taking risks with icebergs might suppose? He had his own ship and passengers to consider, and he had no right to take too great a risk.
But Captain Smith could not know icebergs were there in such numbers: what warnings he had of them is not yet thoroughly established,--there were probably three,--but it is in the highest degree unlikely that he knew that any vessel had seen them in such quantities as we saw them Monday morning; in fact, it is unthinkable. He thought, no doubt, he was taking an ordinary risk, and it turned out to be an extraordinary one. To read some criticisms it would seem as if he deliberately ran his ship in defiance of all custom through a region infested with icebergs, and did a thing which no one has ever done before; that he outraged all precedent by not slowing down. But it is plain that he did not. Every captain who has run full speed through fog and iceberg regions is to blame for the disaster as much as he is: they got through and he did not. Other liners can go faster than the Titanic could possibly do; had they struck ice they would have been injured even more deeply than she was, for it must not be forgotten that the force of impact varies as the _square_ of the velocity--i.e., it is four times as much at sixteen knots as at eight knots, nine times as much at twenty-four, and so on. And with not much margin of time left for these fast boats, they must go full speed ahead nearly all the time. Remember how they advertise to "Leave New York Wednesday, dine in London the following Monday,"--and it is done regularly, much as an express train is run to time. Their officers, too, would have been less able to avoid a collision than Murdoch of the Titanic was, for at the greater speed, they would be on the iceberg in shorter time. Many passengers can tell of crossing with fog a good deal of the way, sometimes almost all the way, and they have been only a few hours late at the end of the journey.
So that it is the custom that is at fault, not one particular captain. Custom is established largely by demand, and supply too is the answer to demand. What the public demanded the White Star Line supplied, and so both the public and the Line are concerned with the question of indirect responsibility.
The public has demanded, more and more every year, greater speed as well as greater comfort, and by ceasing to patronize the low-speed boats has gradually forced the pace to what it is at present. Not that speed in itself is a dangerous thing,--it is sometimes much safer to go quickly than slowly,--but that, given the facilities for speed and the stimulus exerted by the constant public demand for it, occasions arise when the judgment of those in command of a ship becomes swayed--largely unconsciously, no doubt--in favour of taking risks which the smaller liners would never take. The demand on the skipper of a boat like the Californian, for example, which lay hove-to nineteen miles away with her engines stopped, is infinitesimal compared with that on Captain Smith. An old traveller told me on the Carpathia that he has often grumbled to the officers for what he called absurd precautions in lying to and wasting his time, which he regarded as very valuable; but after hearing of the Titanic's loss he recognized that he was to some extent responsible for the speed at which she had travelled, and would never be so again. He had been one of the traveling public who had constantly demanded to be taken to his journey's end in the shortest possible time, and had "made a row" about it if he was likely to be late. There are some business men to whom the five or six days on board are exceedingly irksome and represent a waste of time; even an hour saved at the journey's end is a consideration to them. And if the demand is not always a conscious one, it is there as an unconscious factor always urging the highest speed of which the ship is capable. The man who demands fast travel unreasonably must undoubtedly take his share in the responsibility. He asks to be taken over at a speed which will land him in something over four days; he forgets perhaps that Columbus took ninety days in a forty-ton boat, and that only fifty years ago paddle steamers took six weeks, and all the time the demand is greater and the strain is more: the public demand speed and luxury; the lines supply it, until presently the safety limit is reached, the undue risk is taken--and the Titanic goes down. All of us who have cried for greater speed must take our share in the responsibility. The expression of such a desire and the discontent with so-called slow travel are the seed sown in the minds of men, to bear fruit presently in an insistence on greater speed. We may not have done so directly, but we may perhaps have talked about it and thought about it, and we know no action begins without thought.
The White Star Line has received very rough handling from some of the press, but the greater part of this criticism seems to be unwarranted and to arise from the desire to find a scapegoat. After all they had made better provision for the passengers the Titanic carried than any other line has done, for they had built what they believed to be a huge lifeboat, unsinkable in all ordinary conditions. Those who embarked in her were almost certainly in the safest ship (along with the Olympic) afloat: she was probably quite immune from the ordinary effects of wind, waves and collisions at sea, and needed to fear nothing but running on a rock or, what was worse, a floating iceberg; for the effects of collision were, so far as damage was concerned, the same as if it had been a rock, and the danger greater, for one is charted and the other is not. Then, too, while the theory of the unsinkable boat has been destroyed at the same time as the boat itself, we should not forget that it served a useful purpose on deck that night--it eliminated largely the possibility of panic, and those rushes for the boats which might have swamped some of them. I do not wish for a moment to suggest that such things would have happened, because the more information that comes to hand of the conduct of the people on board, the more wonderful seems the complete self-control of all, even when the last boats had gone and nothing but the rising waters met their eyes--only that the generally entertained theory rendered such things less probable. The theory, indeed, was really a safeguard, though built on a false premise.
There is no evidence that the White Star Line instructed the captain to push the boat or to make any records: the probabilities are that no such attempt would be made on the first trip. The general instructions to their commanders bear quite the other interpretation: it will be well to quote them in full as issued to the press during the sittings of the United States Senate Committee.
Instructions to commanders
Commanders must distinctly understand that the issue of regulations does not in any way relieve them from responsibility for the safe and efficient navigation of their respective vessels, and they are also enjoined to remember that they must run no risks which might by any possibility result in accident to their ships. It is to be hoped that they will ever bear in mind that the safety of the lives and property entrusted to their care is the ruling principle that should govern them in the navigation of their vessels, and that no supposed gain in expedition or saving of time on the voyage is to be purchased at the risk of accident.
Commanders are reminded that the steamers are to a great extent uninsured, and that their own livelihood, as well as the company's success, depends upon immunity from accident; no precaution which ensures safe navigation is to be considered excessive.
Nothing could be plainer than these instructions, and had they been obeyed, the disaster would never have happened: they warn commanders against the only thing left as a menace to their unsinkable boat--the lack of "precaution which ensures safe navigation."
In addition, the White Star Line had complied to the full extent with the requirements of the British Government: their ship had been subjected to an inspection so rigid that, as one officer remarked in evidence, it became a nuisance. The Board of Trade employs the best experts, and knows the dangers that attend ocean travel and the precautions that should be taken by every commander. If these precautions are not taken, it will be necessary to legislate until they are. No motorist is allowed to career at full speed along a public highway in dangerous conditions, and it should be an offence for a captain to do the same on the high seas with a ship full of unsuspecting passengers. They have entrusted their lives to the government of their country--through its regulations--and they are entitled to the same protection in mid-Atlantic as they are in Oxford Street or Broadway. The open sea should no longer be regarded as a neutral zone where no country's police laws are operative.
Of course there are difficulties in the way of drafting international regulations: many governments would have to be consulted and many difficulties that seem insuperable overcome; but that is the purpose for which governments are employed, that is why experts and ministers of governments are appointed and paid--to overcome difficulties for the people who appoint them and who expect them, among other things, to protect their lives.
The American Government must share the same responsibility: it is useless to attempt to fix it on the British Board of Trade for the reason that the boats were built in England and inspected there by British officials. They carried American citizens largely, and entered American ports. It would have been the simplest matter for the United States Government to veto the entry of any ship which did not conform to its laws of regulating speed in conditions of fog and icebergs--had they provided such laws. The fact is that the American nation has practically no mercantile marine, and in time of a disaster such as this it forgets, perhaps, that it has exactly the same right--and therefore the same responsibility--as the British Government to inspect, and to legislate: the right that is easily enforced by refusal to allow entry. The regulation of speed in dangerous regions could well be undertaken by some fleet of international police patrol vessels, with power to stop if necessary any boat found guilty of reckless racing. The additional duty of warning ships of the exact locality of icebergs could be performed by these boats. It would not of course be possible or advisable to fix a "speed limit," because the region of icebergs varies in position as the icebergs float south, varies in point of danger as they melt and disappear, and the whole question has to be left largely to the judgment of the captain on the spot; but it would be possible to make it an offence against the law to go beyond a certain speed in known conditions of danger.
So much for the question of regulating speed on the high seas. The secondary question of safety appliances is governed by the same principle--that, in the last analysis, it is not the captain, not the passenger, not the builders and owners, but the governments through their experts, who are to be held responsible for the provision of lifesaving devices. Morally, of course, the owners and builders are responsible, but at present moral responsibility is too weak an incentive in human affairs--that is the miserable part of the whole wretched business--to induce owners generally to make every possible provision for the lives of those in their charge; to place human safety so far above every other consideration that no plan shall be left unconsidered, no device left untested, by which passengers can escape from a sinking ship. But it is not correct to say, as has been said frequently, that it is greed and dividend-hunting that have characterized the policy of the steamship companies in their failure to provide safety appliances: these things in themselves are not expensive. They have vied with each other in making their lines attractive in point of speed, size and comfort, and they have been quite justified in doing so: such things are the product of ordinary competition between commercial houses.
Where they have all failed morally is to extend to their passengers the consideration that places their lives as of more interest to them than any other conceivable thing. They are not alone in this: thousands of other people have done the same thing and would do it to-day--in factories, in workshops, in mines, did not the government intervene and insist on safety precautions. The thing is a defect in human life of to-day--thoughtlessness for the well-being of our fellow-men; and we are all guilty of it in some degree. It is folly for the public to rise up now and condemn the steamship companies: their failing is the common failing of the immorality of indifference.
The remedy is the law, and it is the only remedy at present that will really accomplish anything. The British law on the subject dates from 1894, and requires only twenty boats for a ship the size of the Titanic: the owners and builders have obeyed this law and fulfilled their legal responsibility. Increase this responsibility and they will fulfil it again--and the matter is ended so far as appliances are concerned. It should perhaps be mentioned that in a period of ten years only nine passengers were lost on British ships: the law seemed to be sufficient in fact.
The position of the American Government, however, is worse than that of the British Government. Its regulations require more than double the boat accommodation which the British regulations do, and yet it has allowed hundreds of thousands of its subjects to enter its ports on boats that defied its own laws. Had their government not been guilty of the same indifference, passengers would not have been allowed aboard any British ship lacking in boat-accommodation--the simple expedient again of refusing entry. The reply of the British Government to the Senate Committee, accusing the Board of Trade of "insufficient requirements and lax inspection," might well be--"Ye have a law: see to it yourselves!"
It will be well now to consider briefly the various appliances that have been suggested to ensure the safety of passengers and crew, and in doing so it may be remembered that the average man and woman has the same right as the expert to consider and discuss these things: they are not so technical as to prevent anyone of ordinary intelligence from understanding their construction. Using the term in its widest sense, we come first to:--
It is impossible to attempt a discussion here of the exact constructional details of these parts of a ship; but in order to illustrate briefly what is the purpose of having bulkheads, we may take the Titanic as an example. She was divided into sixteen compartments by fifteen transverse steel walls called bulkheads. If a hole is made in the side of the ship in any one compartment, steel water-tight doors seal off the only openings in that compartment and separate it as a damaged unit from the rest of the ship and the vessel is brought to land in safety. Ships have even put into the nearest port for inspection after collision, and finding only one compartment full of water and no other damage, have left again, for their home port without troubling to disembark passengers and effect repairs.
The design of the Titanic's bulkheads calls for some attention. The "Scientific American," in an excellent article on the comparative safety of the Titanic's and other types of water-tight compartments, draws attention to the following weaknesses in the former--from the point of view of possible collision with an iceberg. She had no longitudinal bulkheads, which would subdivide her into smaller compartments and prevent the water filling the whole of a large compartment. Probably, too, the length of a large compartment was in any case too great--fifty-three feet.
The Mauretania, on the other hand, in addition to transverse bulkheads, is fitted with longitudinal torpedo bulkheads, and the space between them and the side of the ship is utilised as a coal bunker. Then, too, in the Mauretania all bulkheads are carried up to the top deck, whereas in the case of the Titanic they reached in some parts only to the saloon deck and in others to a lower deck still,--the weakness of this being that, when the water reached to the top of a bulkhead as the ship sank by the head, it flowed over and filled the next compartment. The British Admiralty, which subsidizes the Mauretania and Lusitania as fast cruisers in time of war, insisted on this type of construction, and it is considered vastly better than that used in the Titanic. The writer of the article thinks it possible that these ships might not have sunk as the result of a similar collision. But the ideal ship from the point of bulkhead construction, he considers to have been the Great Eastern, constructed many years ago by the famous engineer Brunel. So thorough was her system of compartments divided and subdivided by many transverse and longitudinal bulkheads that when she tore a hole eighty feet long in her side by striking a rock, she reached port in safety. Unfortunately the weight and cost of this method was so great that his plan was subsequently abandoned.
But it would not be just to say that the construction of the Titanic was a serious mistake on the part of the White Star Line or her builders, on the ground that her bulkheads were not so well constructed as those of the Lusitania and Mauretania, which were built to fulfil British Admiralty regulations for time of war--an extraordinary risk which no builder of a passenger steamer--as such--would be expected to take into consideration when designing the vessel. It should be constantly borne in mind that the Titanic met extraordinary conditions on the night of the collision: she was probably the safest ship afloat in all ordinary conditions. Collision with an iceberg is not an ordinary risk; but this disaster will probably result in altering the whole construction of bulkheads and compartments to the Great Eastern type, in order to include the one-in-a-million risk of iceberg collision and loss.
Here comes in the question of increased cost of construction, and in addition the great loss of cargo-carrying space with decreased earning capacity, both of which will mean an increase in the passenger rates. This the traveling public will have to face and undoubtedly will be willing to face for the satisfaction of knowing that what was so confidently affirmed by passengers on the Titanic's deck that night of the collision will then be really true,--that "we are on an unsinkable boat,"--so far as human forethought can devise. After all, this _must_ be the solution to the problem how best to ensure safety at sea. Other safety appliances are useful and necessary, but not useable in certain conditions of weather. The ship itself must always be the "safety appliance" that is really trustworthy, and nothing must be left undone to ensure this.
Wireless apparatus and operators
The range of the apparatus might well be extended, but the principal defect is the lack of an operator for night duty on some ships. The awful fact that the Californian lay a few miles away, able to save every soul on board, and could not catch the message because the operator was asleep, seems too cruel to dwell upon. Even on the Carpathia, the operator was on the point of retiring when the message arrived, and we should have been much longer afloat--and some boats possibly swamped--had he not caught the message when he did. It has been suggested that officers should have a working knowledge of wireless telegraphy, and this is no doubt a wise provision. It would enable them to supervise the work of the operators more closely and from all the evidence, this seems a necessity. The exchange of vitally important messages between a sinking ship and those rushing to her rescue should be under the control of an experienced officer. To take but one example--Harold Sydney Bride testified that after giving the Birma the "C.Q.D." message and the position (incidentally Signer Marconi has stated that this has been abandoned in favour of "S.O.S.") and getting a reply, they got into touch with the Carpathia, and while talking with her were interrupted by the Birma asking what was the matter. No doubt it was the duty of the Birma to come at once without asking any questions, but the reply from the Titanic, telling the Birma's operator not to be a "fool" by interrupting, seems to have been a needless waste of precious moments: to reply, "We are sinking" would have taken no longer, especially when in their own estimation of the strength of the signals they thought the Birma was the nearer ship. It is well to notice that some large liners have already a staff of three operators.
Submarine signalling apparatus
There are occasions when wireless apparatus is useless as a means of saving life at sea promptly.
One of its weaknesses is that when the ships' engines are stopped, messages can no longer be sent out, that is, with the system at present adopted. It will be remembered that the Titanic's messages got gradually fainter and then ceased altogether as she came to rest with her engines shut down.
Again, in fogs,--and most accidents occur in fogs,--while wireless informs of the accident, it does not enable one ship to locate another closely enough to take off her passengers at once. There is as yet no method known by which wireless telegraphy will fix the direction of a message; and after a ship has been in fog for any considerable length of time it is more difficult to give the exact position to another vessel bringing help.
Nothing could illustrate these two points better than the story of how the Baltic found the Republic in the year 1909, in a dense fog off Nantucket Lightship, when the latter was drifting helplessly after collision with the Florida. The Baltic received a wireless message stating the Republic's condition and the information that she was in touch with Nantucket through a submarine bell which she could hear ringing. The Baltic turned and went towards the position in the fog, picked up the submarine bell-signal from Nantucket, and then began searching near this position for the Republic. It took her twelve hours to find the damaged ship, zigzagging across a circle within which she thought the Republic might lie. In a rough sea it is doubtful whether the Republic would have remained afloat long enough for the Baltic to find her and take off all her passengers.
Now on these two occasions when wireless telegraphy was found to be unreliable, the usefulness of the submarine bell at once becomes apparent. The Baltic could have gone unerringly to the Republic in the dense fog had the latter been fitted with a submarine emergency bell. It will perhaps be well to spend a little time describing the submarine signalling apparatus to see how this result could have been obtained: twelve anxious hours in a dense fog on a ship which was injured so badly that she subsequently foundered, is an experience which every appliance known to human invention should be enlisted to prevent.
Submarine signalling has never received that public notice which wireless telegraphy has, for the reason that it does not appeal so readily to the popular mind. That it is an absolute necessity to every ship carrying passengers--or carrying anything, for that matter--is beyond question. It is an additional safeguard that no ship can afford to be without.
There are many occasions when the atmosphere fails lamentably as a medium for carrying messages. When fog falls down, as it does sometimes in a moment, on the hundreds of ships coasting down the traffic ways round our shores--ways which are defined so easily in clear weather and with such difficulty in fogs--the hundreds of lighthouses and lightships which serve as warning beacons, and on which many millions of money have been spent, are for all practical purposes as useless to the navigator as if they had never been built: he is just as helpless as if he were back in the years before 1514, when Trinity House was granted a charter by Henry VIII "for the relief...of the shipping of this realm of England," and began a system of lights on the shores, of which the present chain of lighthouses and lightships is the outcome.
Nor is the foghorn much better: the presence of different layers of fog and air, and their varying densities, which cause both reflection and refraction of sound, prevent the air from being a reliable medium for carrying it. Now, submarine signalling has none of these defects, for the medium is water, subject to no such variable conditions as the air. Its density is practically non variable, and sound travels through it at the rate of 4400 feet per second, without deviation or reflection.
The apparatus consists of a bell designed to ring either pneumatically from a lightship, electrically from the shore (the bell itself being a tripod at the bottom of the sea), automatically from a floating bell-buoy, or by hand from a ship or boat. The sound travels from the bell in every direction, like waves in a pond, and falls, it may be, on the side of a ship. The receiving apparatus is fixed inside the skin of the ship and consists of a small iron tank, 16 inches square and 18 inches deep. The front of the tank facing the ship's iron skin is missing and the tank, being filled with water, is bolted to the framework and sealed firmly to the ship's side by rubber facing. In this way a portion of the ship's iron hull is washed by the sea on one side and water in the tank on the other. Vibrations from a bell ringing at a distance fall on the iron side, travel through, and strike on two microphones hanging in the tank. These microphones transmit the sound along wires to the chart room, where telephones convey the message to the officer on duty.
There are two of these tanks or "receivers" fitted against the ship's side, one on the port and one on the starboard side, near the bows, and as far down below the water level as is possible. The direction of sounds coming to the microphones hanging in these tanks can be estimated by switching alternately to the port and starboard tanks. If the sound is of greater intensity on the port side, then the bell signalling is off the port bows; and similarly on the starboard side.
The ship is turned towards the sound until the same volume of sound is heard from both receivers, when the bell is known to be dead ahead. So accurate is this in practice that a trained operator can steer his ship in the densest fog directly to a lightship or any other point where a submarine bell is sending its warning beneath the sea. It must be repeated that the medium in which these signals are transmitted is a constant one, not subject to any of the limitations and variations imposed on the atmosphere and the ether as media for the transmission of light, blasts of a foghorn, and wireless vibrations. At present the chief use of submarine signalling is from the shore or a lightship to ships at sea, and not from ship to ship or from ship to the shore: in other words ships carry only receiving apparatus, and lighthouses and lightships use only signalling apparatus. Some of the lighthouses and lightships on our coasts already have these submarine bells in addition to their lights, and in bad weather the bells send out their messages to warn ships of their proximity to a danger point. This invention enables ships to pick up the sound of bell after bell on a coast and run along it in the densest fog almost as well as in daylight; passenger steamers coming into port do not have to wander about in the fog, groping their way blindly into harbour. By having a code of rings, and judging by the intensity of the sound, it is possible to tell almost exactly where a ship is in relation to the coast or to some lightship. The British Admiralty report in 1906 said: "If the lightships round the coast were fitted with submarine bells, it would be possible for ships fitted with receiving apparatus to navigate in fog with almost as great certainty as in clear weather." And the following remark of a captain engaged in coast service is instructive. He had been asked to cut down expenses by omitting the submarine signalling apparatus, but replied: "I would rather take out the wireless. That only enables me to tell other people where I am. The submarine signal enables me to find out where I am myself."
The range of the apparatus is not so wide as that of wireless telegraphy, varying from 10 to 15 miles for a large ship (although instances of 20 to 30 are on record), and from 3 to 8 miles for a small ship.
At present the receiving apparatus is fixed on only some 650 steamers of the merchant marine, these being mostly the first-class passenger liners. There is no question that it should be installed, along with wireless apparatus, on every ship of over 1000 tons gross tonnage. Equally important is the provision of signalling apparatus on board ships: it is obviously just as necessary to transmit a signal as to receive one; but at present the sending of signals from ships has not been perfected. The invention of signal-transmitting apparatus to be used while the ship is under way is as yet in the experimental stage; but while she is at rest a bell similar to those used by lighthouses can be sunk over her side and rung by hand with exactly the same effect. But liners are not provided with them (they cost only 60 Pounds!). As mentioned before, with another 60 Pounds spent on the Republic's equipment, the Baltic could have picked up her bell and steered direct to her--just as they both heard the bell of Nantucket Lightship. Again, if the Titanic had been provided with a bell and the Californian with receiving apparatus,--neither of them was,--the officer on the bridge could have heard the signals from the telephones near.
A smaller size for use in lifeboats is provided, and would be heard by receiving apparatus for approximately five miles. If we had hung one of these bells over the side of the lifeboats afloat that night we should have been free from the anxiety of being run down as we lay across the Carpathia's path, without a light. Or if we had gone adrift in a dense fog and wandered miles apart from each other on the sea (as we inevitably should have done), the Carpathia could still have picked up each boat individually by means of the bell signal.
In those ships fitted with receiving apparatus, at least one officer is obliged to understand the working of the apparatus: a very wise precaution, and, as suggested above, one that should be taken with respect to wireless apparatus also.
It was a very great pleasure to me to see all this apparatus in manufacture and in use at one of the principal submarine signalling works in America and to hear some of the remarkable stories of its value in actual practice. I was struck by the aptness of the motto adopted by them--"De profundis clamavi"--in relation to the Titanic's end and the calls of our passengers from the sea when she sank. "Out of the deep have I called unto Thee" is indeed a suitable motto for those who are doing all they can to prevent such calls arising from their fellow men and women "out of the deep."
Fixing of steamship routes
The "lanes" along which the liners travel are fixed by agreement among the steamship companies in consultation with the Hydrographic departments of the different countries. These routes are arranged so that east-bound steamers are always a number of miles away from those going west, and thus the danger of collision between east and west-bound vessels is entirely eliminated. The "lanes" can be moved farther south if icebergs threaten, and north again when the danger is removed. Of course the farther south they are placed, the longer the journey to be made, and the longer the time spent on board, with consequent grumbling by some passengers. For example, the lanes since the disaster to the Titanic have been moved one hundred miles farther south, which means one hundred and eighty miles longer journey, taking eight hours.
The only real precaution against colliding with icebergs is to go south of the place where they are likely to be: there is no other way.
The provision was of course woefully inadequate. The only humane plan is to have a numbered seat in a boat assigned to each passenger and member of the crew. It would seem well to have this number pointed out at the time of booking a berth, and to have a plan in each cabin showing where the boat is and how to get to it the most direct way--a most important consideration with a ship like the Titanic with over two miles of deck space. Boat-drills of the passengers and crew of each boat should be held, under compulsion, as soon as possible after leaving port. I asked an officer as to the possibility of having such a drill immediately after the gangways are withdrawn and before the tugs are allowed to haul the ship out of dock, but he says the difficulties are almost insuperable at such a time. If so, the drill should be conducted in sections as soon as possible after sailing, and should be conducted in a thorough manner. Children in school are called upon suddenly to go through fire-drill, and there is no reason why passengers on board ship should not be similarly trained. So much depends on order and readiness in time of danger. Undoubtedly, the whole subject of manning, provisioning, loading and lowering of lifeboats should be in the hands of an expert officer, who should have no other duties. The modern liner has become far too big to permit the captain to exercise control over the whole ship, and all vitally important subdivisions should be controlled by a separate authority. It seems a piece of bitter irony to remember that on the Titanic a special chef was engaged at a large salary,--larger perhaps than that of any officer,--and no boatmaster (or some such officer) was considered necessary. The general system again--not criminal neglect, as some hasty criticisms would say, but lack of consideration for our fellow-man, the placing of luxurious attractions above that kindly forethought that allows no precaution to be neglected for even the humblest passenger. But it must not be overlooked that the provision of sufficient lifeboats on deck is not evidence they will all be launched easily or all the passengers taken off safely. It must be remembered that ideal conditions prevailed that night for launching boats from the decks of the Titanic: there was no list that prevented the boats getting away, they could be launched on both sides, and when they were lowered the sea was so calm that they pulled away without any of the smashing against the side that is possible in rough seas. Sometimes it would mean that only those boats on the side sheltered from a heavy sea could ever get away, and this would at once halve the boat accommodation. And when launched, there would be the danger of swamping in such a heavy sea. All things considered, lifeboats might be the poorest sort of safeguard in certain conditions.
Life-rafts are said to be much inferior to lifeboats in a rough sea, and collapsible boats made of canvas and thin wood soon decay under exposure to weather and are danger-traps at a critical moment.
Some of the lifeboats should be provided with motors, to keep the boats together and to tow if necessary. The launching is an important matter: the Titanic's davits worked excellently and no doubt were largely responsible for all the boats getting away safely: they were far superior to those on most liners.
After the sinking of the Bourgogne, when two Americans lost their lives, a prize of 4000 Pounds was offered by their heirs for the best life-saving device applicable to ships at sea. A board sat to consider the various appliances sent in by competitors, and finally awarded the prize to an Englishman, whose design provided for a flat structure the width of the ship, which could be floated off when required and would accommodate several hundred passengers. It has never been adopted by any steamship line. Other similar designs are known, by which the whole of the after deck can be pushed over from the stern by a ratchet arrangement, with air-tanks below to buoy it up: it seems to be a practical suggestion.
One point where the Titanic management failed lamentably was to provide a properly trained crew to each lifeboat. The rowing was in most cases execrable. There is no more reason why a steward should be able to row than a passenger--less so than some of the passengers who were lost; men of leisure accustomed to all kinds of sport (including rowing), and in addition probably more fit physically than a steward to row for hours on the open sea. And if a steward cannot row, he has no right to be at an oar; so that, under the unwritten rule that passengers take precedence of the crew when there is not sufficient accommodation for all (a situation that should never be allowed to arise again, for a member of the crew should have an equal opportunity with a passenger to save his life), the majority of stewards and cooks should have stayed behind and passengers have come instead: they could not have been of less use, and they might have been of more. It will be remembered that the proportion of crew saved to passengers was 210 to 495, a high proportion.
Another point arises out of these figures--deduct 21 members of the crew who were stewardesses, and 189 men of the crew are left as against the 495 passengers. Of these some got on the overturned collapsible boat after the Titanic sank, and a few were picked up by the lifeboats, but these were not many in all. Now with the 17 boats brought to the Carpathia and an average of six of the crew to man each boat,--probably a higher average than was realized,--we get a total of 102 who should have been saved as against 189 who actually were. There were, as is known, stokers and stewards in the boats who were not members of the lifeboats' crews. It may seem heartless to analyze figures in this way, and suggest that some of the crew who got to the Carpathia never should have done so; but, after all, passengers took their passage under certain rules,--written and unwritten,--and one is that in times of danger the servants of the company in whose boats they sail shall first of all see to the safety of the passengers before thinking of their own. There were only 126 men passengers saved as against 189 of the crew, and 661 men lost as against 686 of the crew, so that actually the crew had a greater percentage saved than the men passengers--22 per cent against 16.
But steamship companies are faced with real difficulties in this matter. The crews are never the same for two voyages together: they sign on for the one trip, then perhaps take a berth on shore as waiters, stokers in hotel furnace-rooms, etc.,--to resume life on board any other ship that is handy when the desire comes to go to sea again. They can in no sense be regarded as part of a homogeneous crew, subject to regular discipline and educated to appreciate the morale of a particular liner, as a man of war's crew is.
These seem an absolute necessity, and the wonder is that they have not been fitted before to all ocean liners. Not only are they of use in lighting up the sea a long distance ahead, but as flashlight signals they permit of communication with other ships. As I write, through the window can be seen the flashes from river steamers plying up the Hudson in New York, each with its searchlight, examining the river, lighting up the bank for hundreds of yards ahead, and bringing every object within its reach into prominence. They are regularly used too in the Suez Canal.
I suppose there is no question that the collision would have been avoided had a searchlight been fitted to the Titanic's masthead: the climatic conditions for its use must have been ideal that night. There are other things besides icebergs: derelicts are reported from time to time, and fishermen lie in the lanes without lights. They would not always be of practical use, however. They would be of no service in heavy rain, in fog, in snow, or in flying spray, and the effect is sometimes to dazzle the eyes of the lookout.
While writing of the lookout, much has been made of the omission to provide the lookout on the Titanic with glasses. The general opinion of officers seems to be that it is better not to provide them, but to rely on good eyesight and wide-awake men. After all, in a question of actual practice, the opinion of officers should be accepted as final, even if it seems to the landsman the better thing to provide glasses.
One or two internationally owned and controlled lightships, fitted
with every known device for signalling and communication, would rob
those regions of most of their terrors. They could watch and chart the
icebergs, report their exact position, the amount and direction of
daily drift in the changing currents that are found there. To them,
too, might be entrusted the duty of police patrol.