23["Koombana Inquiry", The West Australian, Saturday 04 May 1912, page 12]




At Fremantle yesterday afternoon the Court of Marine Inquiry into the "total loss at sea of the s.s. Koombana on or about Marth 20, 1912, between Port Hedland and Broome," was resumed. Mr. E. P, Dowley, R.M., was President of the Court, and assisting him were Captains F. L. Parkes and J. W. W. Yates, assessors. The Crown Prosecutor (Mr. Frank Parker) appeared on behalf of the Chief Harbourmaster to conduct the inquiry, and Mr. M. L. Moss, K.C. watched the proceedings on behalf of the Adelaide Steamship Company, the owners of the vessel. Mr. Parker intimated that he did not intend to call further evidence. Telegrams had been sent to residents at Port Hedland and two witnesses were prepared to come along, but after consultation with Captain irvine he had decided to ask for no further adjournment to allow of their being present. The evidence that the witnesses referred to would give would be nothing more than substantiation of that tendered by Captain Irvine himself. He therefore had no further evidence to call and did not propose to address the Court. Mr. M. L. Moss, K.C., in the course of his address said that there had been a preliminary inquiry held before Captain Irvine, and he thought that as a result of that inquiry the Captain would have been justified in preventing any further inquiry, but he was to be commended on his action in bringing about a public investigation. There had been a tremendous loss of life and a tremendous loss of valuable property, and it was in the interests of the whole community that the greatest possible light shold be shed on the inquiry. The. Adelaide Steamship Company he might mention was just as anxious as anyone that the strongest searchlight should be thrown on loss of the Koombana, in view of the scandalous remarks that had been made concerning the stability of the vessel by irresponsible persons. The two ships, Bullarra and Koombana, were together at Port Hedland on March 19, and the master of the former, Captain Upjohn, was on board the Koombana. It had been suggested, but there was not the slightest ground for it, that there had been a discussion between Captain Upjohn and Captain Allen--it was proved by Captain Upjohn's evidence--about the state of the weather. It was quite usual with a small place like Port Hedland for the masters of vessels in that port to visit each other. They had been told that the two captains were together from 8 to 11 p.m.; but there was no proof that they were in each other's company the whole of that time. On the next morning, the 20th, Captain Upjohn again saw Captain Allen and they had it in evidence that there was a conversation in respect to the weather; and that Captain Upjohn said: "It's overcast and a bit dirty, but there is nothing in it." There was, in fact, he gathered from the evidence, nothing unusual to give the slightest occasion for alarm. On that point they had the emphatic statement of Captain Upjohn. Those


who said things to the contrary had been given an ample opportunty to appear before the Court and give evidence, but not one of their number had come forward. He did not want to mention names, but would say that there was at Port Hedland one particular busybody who sought to stir up strife on every conceivable occasion. That gentleman he would, however, say was concerned with the local Press, and there was sufficient evidence to show that there was nothing to justify what had been published in the paper at Port Hedland regarding ant alleged conference between the two captains. It was, he would admit, quite clear that there was some telegram--a kind of joint telegram--signed by Captains Upjohn and Allen, but that telegram had reference only to the painting of certain beacons. Apparently the busybodies had come to the conclusion after the loss of the Koombana that it was on the question of weather. But what was it that happened? The Koombana left Port Hedland at half past 10 in the morning on the top of the equinoctial spring tides. She had a loading of 1,671 tons, well distributed--a fact well proved. The evidence showed she was in good trim, and that the propeller was submerged. The evidence again clearly demonstrated that there was no coal on the cattle deck. Evidence in support of this had been given by the witnesses Gardiner, Upjohn, Crossley, and Craig, and it was also further shown that the Koombana was drawing 19ft. aft when she left Hedland. They had the evidence of Mr. Craig that the propeller of the Koombana was submerged six or eight inches, and that of Mr. Crossley that the draft was a little over 18ft., and that the propeller was completely immersed. He referred to the experiments made by the Ralston indicator, and those of Captain Rankin, and added that the indicator clearly showed that with a weight of 1,671 tons the vessel must have been drawing l9ft. aft. Chief Officer Crossley had said that from the reading of the barometer there was

No Storm Anticipated

until it was right down on top of them. Towards midnight the cyclonic conditions developed, the Bullarra then being on the way to Balla Balla. Mr. Crossley had expressed the opinion that it was a miracle that the Bullarra had come through it all. But, then, the Bullarra did not experience the same force of the cyclone that the Koombana must have, and it was on record that neither Captain Upjohn nor Mr. Crossley had experienced in the course of their lives such a gale. He thought, in the public interests, something should be said regarding the system of forecasting--it was one that could be very much improved on. It could be done in a simple and quite inexpensive way. What was the use of sending out messages of warning to shipmasters who had sailed the previous day? He would agree, however, that it was quite probable that it would have been impossible to send out warning on this particular occasion, becaunse the storm broke so soon--it developed suddenly, an altogether unexpected energy. He ventured to put it that there could be no doubts with the mind of the Court but that the Koombana was a stramgly built ship--the evidence was that she was super-strong. There was, for instance, the evidence of Mr. McDonald, who was in Glasgow supervising the construction and fitting of the Koombana's engines, machinery, etc., who came out with her as Chief engineer, and who ran in her for about 18 months to two years as chief engineer. "The trial trip of the Koombana, said Mr. McDonald, "was at sea." She indicated 3,080 horse-power, with a speed of 14 1/2 knots throughout. Fully laden, her average speed, however, was 13 knots." Was she a specially built ship so far as stability was concerned? he was asked, and he replied, "She was a magnificent vessel, strongly built. Her tailing shaft was 25 per cent. above requirements. She had watertight doors in every compartment, and was capable of carrying 900 tons of water ballast. Her engines were triple expanion, but not duplicate, and had all the latest auxliary gear. It had been stated that the vessel was top-heavy, but that is not true. She is the best sea boat I have ever sailed in, and almost my last trip in her was one of the worst from a weather point of view that I have experienced. Her machinery was the best running I ever handled. I do not think that she has broken her tailing shafting, which as I have said, is made 25 per cent. above the requirements. My opinion is that she has met with some minor disablement, such as a mishap to the rudder, in which case she would be unmanageable, and repairs would have to be effected at sea. They have all the necessary appliances, and facilities on board for doing such work. I have every hope that she will turn up partially repaired. You cannot do much in a week at sea in the way of repairs. Those who are anxious should take heart, because the Koombana is a splendid sea vessel, and well equipped in wery way." Contining, Mr. Moss remarked, the Koombana had been subjected to seven severe tests, and it had been demonstrated that had she heeled over to an angle. of 90deg., she must have righted herself--the tests proved that even in extraordinary weather she was a vessel as stable as any that had been into water. They had had evidence to the effect that it was

Impossible to Capsize

the vesel--there was the testimony of the winesses Upjohn, Crossley, Clarke, Rankin, Craig and Butcher. We wanted to specially draw attention to the evidence given by Mr. Clarke, who was formerly with the Koombana, and who travelled from Glasgow in her. He was free from all bias. Mr. Clarke had said that he was on board the steamer on the occasion of the trip to Geraldton with the teeth of a strong N.W. gale. Captain Dingle was on board; and expressed the opinion that he was thoroughly satisfied regarding her sea-going qualities. The evidence of the Rev. Mr. Patrick showed conclusively that no blow had been anticipated, and Mr. Patrick had been called by the Crown Prosecutor. It had never been suggested that the Koombana was ill-manned, but they had evidence that Captain Allen and his chief officer each held extra master's certificates, and, in fact, that all were fitted to fulfil any duty they may have been called on to perform. Mr. Moxon had told them that the master of the ship was not pressed for time--in fact, that he was well in advance of contract time.

What Caused the Disaster?

In his opinion, at the conclusion of the inquiry it was going to be as big a mystery as, unfortunately, other disasters at sea remained. There were many hypotheses that might be put forward, such as did she strike or graze Bedout or some hidden danger. In this connection he would draw attention to the fact that the chart was not reliable, because that part of the coast had been imperfectly surveyed. Then they had the fact that the Koombana was able to Marconigram another vessel on March 19, and that although the latter came nearer next day there was no message. He contended that the wreckage found negatived the idea that the Koombana had been the victim of a sudden overwhelming disaster, but it did suggest that the vessel had been subjected to a fearful battering about. It was also stated in evidence that the Bedout light was out from March 13, and the question that suggested itself was, in view of the condition and locality, should an unattended light be so far from supervision? He cast no reflection on the Harbour and Lights Department, but were the authorities satisfied that

An Unattended Light

at Bedout was safe? Should it not be attended to more frequently than the firm who supplied it said was necesary? It was possible that the vessel might have lost her rudder or propeller, but he was not inclined to that belief, seeing that the evidence disclosed they were 20 per cent. above the requirements. Had a breakdown happened in the engine-room then there would have been very little chance of the vessel weathering it through in such dreadful conditions as the Koombana must have experienced. It was the duty of the board, from a public point of view, to see whether all that was possible had been done by those directly concerned to trace any wreckage and succour any people who might be out on the sea. He did not think such a charge could be levelled against the Adelaide Steamship Company. They had put forward almost snperhuman efforts, and the Government were deserving of the greatest commendation for the part they had played in the search for the missing vessel, and in which not only the Bullarra, but the Una, Gorgon, Moonta, Minderoo, and four luggers were engaged. Captain Irvine, too, deseived great praise. He did not know what the finding would be, but his suggestion was that the Koombana, a steamer of the highest class and of proved stability, encountered a hurricape of phenomenal violence, of which no warning was given, in a dangerous position and was totally lost therein. The Admiralty said no reliance was to be placed on the chart and, in the circumstances, it was impossible to say what caused the loss of the vessel. Further proceedings were adjourned ntl' Monday next, when possibly the findig of the Court will be made public.