1a["The Koombana Mishap", The West Australian, Saturday 07 August 1909, page 12]

THE KOOMBANA MISHAP.

INVESTIGATION BY MARINE COURT.

CAPTAIN REES CHARGED WITH LAXITY IN NAVIGATION

ALLEGED UNRELIABILITY OF CHARTS.

Following on the preliminary inquiry held by the Chief Harbourmaster (Capt. Irvine) on Thursday into the circumstances surrounding the mishap to the s.s Koombana outside Broome on April 28 last, a Marine Court, consisting of Mr. E. P. Dowley, R.M., and Captains Cutler and Foxworthy, sat yesterday afternoon to investigate a charge preferred against Captain Rees, the master of the vessel, of laxity in navigation, when leaving Broome.

The Crown Solicitor (Mr. A. E. Barker) appeared on behalf of the Harbour Department to conduct the inquiry, and Mr. M. L. Moss, K.C., represented Captain Rees.

Mr. Barker, in opening the inquiry, cited the legislative enactments governing the proceedings, and briefly indicated the general trend of the charges preferred against the master of the Koombana, following upon which evidence was called.

Captain John Rees said on April 28 last he was in charge of the ship at Broome, and her next port of call was to be Derby. On leaving Broome at night and passing through the Roebuck deep, his course N 46 W, and when Entrance Point was lying to the south-east it was altered to N 10 W. That course was not altered until the vessel struck a rock, as he was confident of his position, having used the channel several times. The night was clear but dark, and he had a clear view of Entrance Point, by which he knew his position. He had taken the ship, which was a new one, through the channel once before, but only by day. He did not take any bearings, as it would have been useless. He could not make allowance for the tide in taking bearings, as it varied; sometimes it might run at 10 miles an hour or eight miles an hour. The after part of the ship did not strike, it being his opinion that the obstruction was knocked away, so that the after end was not damaged. The vessel was not stopped, but continued on her course, and as soon as possible he took his bearings from the lighthouse. She was bearing three-quarters east on the course he was steering. He did not take a 4-point bearing at the time, and would place very little reliance on such a bearing under the circumstances of the tides, which at the time of the casualty were running three-quarter ebb dead neap. He had never noticed a tendency of the tides to sweep the ship inshore at that point. At the time of impact he thought some 14ft. 6in. of water was covering the rock which the vessel struck. It would not have been better had he taken his bearings in the first place from the lighthouse instead of Entrance Point. In the extreme low spring tide the rock would probably be nearly awash if in the neap tides the rock as 14ft. below the surface. In the course he set he passed well away from the Nab Rook, and did not nearly "shave it." The compasses on the Koombana did not show any appreciable deviation.

To Mr. Moss: He had been in and out of port scores of times with other vessels without accident. Had he steered the course suggested by Mr. Barker he must have gone aground or struck Nab Rock before the Koomhana struck the hidden rock. The chart produced, which was the one used by him, was drawn up in 1883, and within the last two mouths H.M.S. Fantome had discovered an additional rock near Gantheaume Point, which was not marked on the chart. The charts used by mariners on the Nor'-West coast were not reliable, and masters of vessels had to rely greatly on their own experience. The for'ard part of the vessel was drawing about 14ft. and the stern 16ft. He suggested that the ship struck a coral pinnacle, which was snapped off, leaving the stern clear to pass over it. He had been on board a ship in the Nor'-West when an uncharted rock was struck, and it was subsequently discovered that the top of it had been snapped off, an experience on all-fours with the present. The injury to the steamer was on the port side, and if he had steered the course suggested by Mr. Barker it would be reasonable to suppose that the injury would be on the starboard side, where the shallower water was situated.

Re-examined by Mr. Barker: It would have been possible to strike the obstacle encountered either on the port or the starboard side.

William Menzies, third officer on the s.s. Koombana, said that he held a master's certificate, and was the officer on watch at the time the rock was struck. Griffiths was the quarter-master at the helm, while witness attended to the telegraph. Witness made the entries of the bearings in the bridge-book from the commands of the master at the end of the watch.

Mr. Barker: So that no entry of the bearings was made till nearly three hours after the occurrence.

Witness: I cannot say; it may have been earlier. It is so long ago that I cannot remember exactly. It is always my practice to make the entries at the end of the watch.

Witness, continuing, said that from the time he took the four-point bearing until the lighthouse was abeam the ship travelled about three-quarters of a mile. It was true that no records were taken of the speed of the ship, the bearings, or the times of the bearings being taken, except those entered some hours afterwards.

To Mr. Moss: Witness had nothing to do with the navigation of the ship, which was in the hands of the master, who was the only other officer on the bridge.

To the Bench: He took rough notes of the orders when given by the master, and at the end of the watch entered them in the bridge-book. The course set would not be altered unless he was told, and in turn passed the order on to the quarter-master at the helm.

Captain Irvine, Chief Harbourmaster, said that he knew the Nor'-West coast well. He had heard Captain Rees tell how he had steamed out of Broome, but he did not think that the course set by him was a suitable one for departure. He thought it would have been more prudent to take his departure by bearings from the light, which was a known fixed point, rather than by the land. On receiving a report of the occurrence from Captain Rees he communicated with the captain of H.M.S. Fantome, the Admiralty survey ship in the Nor'-West, to examine the locality refered to by the master of the Koombana. Witness had received reports from the survey ship which had discovered a rock in a different position. He did not think that if a rock was so nearly awash as Captain Rees had estimated the one he had struck would be at spring tide, it would have escaped notice for so long, seeing that it was within three quarters of a mile of the lighthouse. The fact that the injury to the Koombana was near the keel indicated that the obstruction was so low in the water that the ship was just able to scrape over it.

To. Mr. Moss: He would not like to say that the Admiralty charts for the Nor' West coast were unreliable, but it was quite possible that there were patches of rock uncharted. Master mariners had to rely on their experience to a great extent for assistance in the navigation of those waters. If the Koombana went on her course towards the patch of rocks discovered by the Fantome she must have struck other rocks first. The statement of Captain Rees that he struck a pinnacle of rock was not regarded by witness with ridicule, as it was possible.

Mr. Moss: Admitting that, can you still say there was a laxity in navigation?

Captain Irvine: I think a more prudent man would have steered a safer course through the deep, which is a mile wide. There is room, of course; for a divergence of opinion on several of these matters.

Mr. Dowley: Supposing there was no rock where Captain Rees says he struck one, and he steered a course such as he described, would it have taken him clear of all points of danger?

Captain Irvine: Yes; that is so.

Mr. Dowley: Then if he had not struck the rock, there could have been no negligence?

Captain Irvine: But the contention is that there was an obstacle, and, besides, a safer, more prudent course could have been steered through the deep.

Mr. Dowley: But he must have struck something?

Captain Irvine: The whole thing hinges on the obstruction that was struck.

Mr. Dowley: What is the negligence that you allege in the striking of that rock?

Captain Irvine: There was no proper four-point bearing made to take the distance the ship was making from the light. Then it is suggested that there was no obstruction in the position Captain Rees says it existed. The inference is that the rock struck was the one found a quarter of a mile further in-shore.

Before leaving the witness-box Captain Irvine explained that the reason that the inquiry was held so long after the incident was because the ship had to go to the Eastern States for repairs.

At this stage the hearing was adjourned until 10 o'clock this morning.

1b["Grounding of the Koombana", Daily News (Perth, WA), Saturday 07 August 1909, page 7]

GROUNDING OF THE KOOMBANA.

MARINE BOARD INQUIRY.

CHARGE AGAINST CAPTAIN REES.

"LAXITY IN NAVIGATION."

CAPTAIN EXONERATED.

In the Fremantle Courthouse on Friday the Marine Board, consisting of Captains Foxworthy and Cutler and Mr. E. P. Dowley, R.M., continued the inquiry into the grounding recently of the. s.s. Koombana on the Nor'-West

coast. At the preliminary Inquiry evidence was tendered in camera by the Chief Harbormaster (Captain C. J. Irvine), who now charged Captain Rees--

"With laxity in the navigation of the ship after rounding Entrance Point on the night of April 28."

Mr. A. E. Barker conducted the inquiry on behalf of the Harbor Department, and Mr. M. L. Moss, K.C., watched the interests of Captain Rees.

John Rees, master of the Koombana, in his statement to the board, said that on April 28 last he was in charge of the ship at Broome. The next port of call was Derby. The vessel sailed from Roebuck Bay (Broome) at eight o'clock on the night of April 28, with passengers and general cargo aboard, for Derby. When off Entrance Point the Koombana bore north 10 degrees west, magnetic, and the course was next altered to north 46 degrees west, magnetic, The latter course was steered until the ship struck some thing. The subsequent survey of the steamer showed that the ship had been injured on the port side through striking something, and several plates had in consequence been damaged, He was confident of his position, having used the channel several times. He did not take any bearings, as it would have been useless. He could not make allowance for the tide in taking bearings, as it varied. Sometimes it might run at ten miles an hour, or eight miles an hour. The after part of the ship did not strike, it being his opinion that the obstruction was knocked away, so that the after end was not damaged, The vessel was not stopped, but continued on her course, and as soon as possible he took his bearings from the lighthouse. He had never noticed a tendency of the tides to sweep the ship in shore at that point. At the time of the impact he thought some 14ft. 6in. of water was covering the rock which the vessel struck. It would not have been better if he had taken his bearings in the first place from the lighthouse, instead of Entrance Point. In the extreme low spring tide the rock would probably be nearly awash if in the neap tides the rock was 14ft. be-low the surface. In the course he set he passed well away fom the Nab Rock, and did not nearly 'shave it,' The compasses on the Koombana did not show any appreciable deviation.

To Mr. Moss: He had been in and out of port scores of times with other vessels without accident. The chart produced, which was the one used by him, was drawn up in 1883, and within the last two months the H.M.S, Fantome had discovered an additional rock near Gantheaume Point, which was not marked on the chart. He suggested that the ship struck a coral pinnacle, which was snapped off, leaving the stern clear to pass over it. He had been on a ship in the Nor'-West when an uncharted rock was struck, and it was subsequently discovered that the top of it had been struck off, an experience on all-fours with the present. The officer of the watch at the time of the mishap, William Menzies (third officer) stated that he made the entries of the bearings in the bridge book on the commands of the master at the end of the watch.

Henry John Clarke, chief officer of the Koombana, said he remembered April 28 last. He made a certain entry on the deck log. He saw the ship's bottom at Sydney, and the injuries seem to extend about 60 to 80 ft.

Horace Willis, quartermaster on the s.s. Koombana, said he took the wheel when the vessel left Broome on April 28. He had brought vessels out of Broome several times. He did not know what course he was on when the vessel struck. He could see nothing from the wheel-house, and had no idea how far off shore they were.

Mr. Moss said that he did not intend to call any witnesses, but he claimed the counsel's reply. It was a fortunate thing that Mr. Dowley was assisted in his deliberations by two master mariners as assessors. He would like to draw tho attention of the court to the difference in some of the evidence given. There was a big demarcation line between some of the testimonies. What did Captain Rees not do? In what respect was he negligent? He had done every reasonable thing that a master mariner could do. When leaving Broome the proper course had been given, and there was no doubt that the course had not been given. The evidence of the first officer and quartermaster was clear enough to the point. There was no doubt also that the Koombana when leaving Broome passed three quarters of a mile westward of the Gantheaume Point light. He had now come to an important point. Was the chart before them reliable? He found that the chart was published in 1883, and yet during the interval of 26 years a patch, of rock recently discovered by H.M.S. Fantome, near where the Koombana had struck, but the chart did not show it. Was it not then possible that the chart was so unreliable as to make it dangerous to navigation? He would like to remind the court that an adverse finding would affect the bread and butter of Capt. Rees, and he confidently left his fate In the hands of the court.

Mr. Barker said that this learned friend was in the wrong in alleging that the inquiry was in the form of persecution of Capt. Rees. It was only held in conformithy with the Board of Trade regulations. The court carried out a double function. In the first place it was practically an inquest on the ship, and in the second place it was held in order to determine how the accident had occurred. Mr. Moss had made much of the fact that a patch of rock had recently been made by H.M.S. Fantome, which was not shown on the chart. As a matter of fact the position in which Capt Rees found himself when the vessel struck, was some distance out from this point. After carefully considering the evidence, Mr. Dowley said the board had decided to exonerate Captain Rees from all blame In connection with the unfortunate mishap.