Senate Committee Also Scores Captain of the Steamer Californian. COULD HAVE SAVED ALL. Praise for Carpathia Crew and Gold Medal for her Captain.
San Francisco Chronicle, May 29, 1912
Provided by The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco
WASHINGTON. May 28
The Titanic disaster of April 15th, in which 1517 souls went down amid icebergs off the Banks of Newfoundland, was the theme of speech, report and proposed legislation in the Senate today.
Senator William Alden Smith of Michigan submitted the report of the investigation by the Senate Commerce Committee, a feature of which was the condemnation of the captain of the steamer Californian for not going to the aid of the sinking vessel, and delivered a speech in which he personally took much stronger ground in reviewing the disaster and introduced measures designed to safeguard life in ocean traffic.
One of the most important recommendations was for stricter inspection of vessels by the Federal steamboat inspection service and the meeting of all requirements of American navigation laws by every vessel clearing from an American port.
It was one of the noteworthy days of the present session of Congress. Almost all of the Senators were in their seats. The galleries were crowded.
The Senate passed a joint resolution extending the thanks of Congress and appropriating $1000 for a medal to Captain Arthur H. Rostron of the Carpathia and also a vote of thanks to the Carpathia crew.
The resolution was introduced by Senator Smith. It was adopted immediately.
ICE WARNING IGNORED.
The report is largely a review of the evidence and contains recommendations for legislation. No particular person is named as being responsible, though attention is called to the fact that on the day of the disaster three distinct warnings of ice were sent to Captain Smith. J. Bruce Ismay, managing director of the White Star Line, is not held responsible for the ship’s high speed. In fact, he is barely mentioned in the report.
On the whole, the report is impassive and Senator Smith in his speech went more fully into a discussion of the causes of the disaster than does the committee.
The committee agreed upon these principal conclusions.
The supposedly water-tight compartments of the Titanic were not water tight because of the non-water-tight condition of the decks where the transverse bulkheads ended.
The Californian, controlled by the same concern as the Titanic, was nearer the Titanic than the nineteen miles reported by her captain, and her officers and crew “saw the distress signals of the Titanic and failed to respond in accordance with the dictates of humanity, international usage and the requirements of laws.
The committee concludes that the Californian might have saved all the lost passengers and crew from the ship that went down.
Eight ships, all equipped with wireless, were in the vicinity of the Titanic, the Olympic farthest away, 512.
The mysterious lights on an unknown ship, seen by the passengers on the Titanic, undoubtedly were on the Californian, less than nineteen miles away.
The full capacity of the Titanic’s lifeboats was not utilized, because while only 706 persons were saved, the ship’s boats could have carried 1176.
No general alarm was sounded, no whistle blown and no systematic warning was given to the endangered passengers, and it was fifteen or twenty minutes after the collision before Captain Smith ordered the Titanic’s wireless operator to send out a distress message.
The Titanic’s crew was only meagerly acquainted with its positions and duties in case of accident, and only one drill was held before the maiden trip. Many of the crew joined the ship only a few hours before she sailed, and were in ignorance of their positions until the following Friday.
“Ice positions so definitely reported to the Titanic,” says the report, “just preceding the accident located ice on both sides of the lane in which she was traveling. No discussion took place among the officers; no conference was called to consider these warnings; no heed was given to them. The speed of the vessel was not relaxed, the lookout was not increased.”
The committee concludes that the Titanic’s lights were visible to the Californian before she struck the iceberg, and that the Californian must have seen the distress rockets fired from the bridge of the Titanic. The report says:
DISTRESS SIGNALS IGNORED.
“The committee is forced to the inevitable conclusion that the Californian, controlled by the same company, was nearer the Titanic than the nineteen miles reported by her captain, and that her officers and crew saw the distress signals of the Titanic and failed to respond to them in accordance with the dictates of humanity, international usage and the requirements of law. The only reply to the distress signals was a counter signal from a large white light, which was flashed for nearly two hours from the mast of the Californian. In our opinion such conduct, whether arising from indifference or gross carelessness, is most reprehensible and places on the commander of the Californian a grave responsibility.
“The wireless operator of the Californian was not aroused until 3:30 a.m., [April] 15th, after considerable conversation between officers and members of the crew had taken place aboard the ship regarding these distress signals or rockets, and was directed by the chief officer to see if there was anything the matter, as a ship had been firing rockets during the night. The inquiry thus set on foot at once disclosed the fact that the Titanic had sunk. Had assistance been properly proffered or had the wireless operator of the Californian remained a few minutes longer at his post on Sunday evening, the ship might have had the proud distinction of saving the lives of the passengers and crew of the Titanic.”
The committee believes many more lives could have been saved had the survivors been concentrated in a few lifeboats and had the boats thus released returned to the wreckage for others.
The only mention of J. Bruce Ismay occurs in a review of the messages to the White Star offices in New York reporting the disaster. The first official information, the committee says, was the message from Captain Haddock of the Olympic, received from the White Star line at 6:16 p.m., Monday, April 15th. Attention is called to the fact that in the face of this information a message reporting the Titanic being towed to Halifax was sent to Representative J.A. Hughes at Huntington, W. Va., at 7:51 p.m. that day. The message was delivered to the Western Union office in the same building as the White Star line offices.
“Whoever sent this message,” says the report, “under the circumstances is guilty of the most reprehensible conduct.”
The committee does not believe the wireless operator on the Carpathia was duly vigilant in handling his messages after the accident, and declared the practice of allowing wireless operators to sell their stories should be stopped.
It is commended that all ships carrying more than 100 passengers have two searchlights; that a revision be made of steamship inspection laws of foreign countries to the standard proposed in the United States; that every ship be required to carry sufficient lifeboats for all passengers and crews; that the use of wireless be regulated to prevent its use by amateurs, and that all ships have a wireless operator on duty constantly.
Detailed recommendations are made as to water-tight bulkhead construction on ocean-going ships. Bulkheads should be so spaced that any two adjacent compartments of a ship might be flooded without sinking. Transverse bulkheads forward and abaft the machinery should be continued watertight to the uppermost continuous structural deck, and this deck should be fitted water-tight, the report says.
The committee deems the course followed by Captain Rostron of the Carpathia as deserving of the highest praise and worthy of special recognition. His detailed instructions, issued in anticipation of the rescue of the Titanic, were “a marvel of systemic preparation and completeness evincing such solicitude as calls for the highest commendation.”
San Francisco Chronicle
May 29, 1912