43["Wreck of the Koombana", The Sunday Times (Perth, WA), Sunday 19 May 1912, page 9]
WRECK OF THE KOOMBANA
A Decidedly Unsatisfactory Inquiry
Port Hedland Journalist's Important Statement--
A Last Interview with Captain Allen--
The Koombana Had an Ugly List to Port--
And Her Propeller--Was at Times Out of the Water--
When She Left Port Hedland
It cannot be said that the inquiry into the loss of the steamer Koombana was satisfactory to the public. It was certainly satisfactory to the Adelaide Steamship Company, which, by the finding, escapes any compensatory liability to the widows and orphans and other dependents of the 150 victims who went down in the vessel; but that isn't what we mean.
In the first place, the evidence was all one-sided. No attempt whatever was made to produce independent expert evidence as to the stability of the steamer, and by that we mean, her ability to live in a cyclone, and not her constructional strength. Mr. McDonald, who supervised her building at Glasgow, was asked with regard to her stability, and he replied--"She was a magnificent vessel, strongly built." But that was not the import of the question, which should have been as to her resistance to a great storm. A steamer may be a "magnificent vessel" in ordinary ocean conditions, but what we want to know is, was she fit to face extraordinary conditions?
In the case of the Koombana, the answer is that she went down the first time she met extraordinary conditions, and took her living freight with her. There was no evidence to show that she had ever been in a cyclone before, but there is the appalling fact that she did not survive the first big storm she encountered, duced at the inquiry. One ex-seafaring man, on looking at the model, said she was a conventional design of modern marine architecture, but admitted that if she got into holds with a cyclone she might be heeled over by the gale, and if a sea came along before she could right herself she might turn turtle and go to the bottom. On points like this the inquiry was silent. Certain witnesses said she could not capsize, but they were not subjected to expert cross-examination. It should be noted, however, that many of the witnesses are in the employ
of the Adelaide and other coastal steamship companies. What we should have liked to hear was the evidence of a dozen or more observant persons who had travelled in the Koombana and who knew more about her than theoretical salts.
There are many other points which should have been elucidated, such as the statement that the propeller was only submerged six or eight inches, which would be really no submergement to a tossing or heavy sea, because for a great portion of the time the propeller would necessarily be yards out of the water. We have indicated a few of the defects in this unsatisfactory inquiry, and in our opinion the Federal Government should hold an inquiry on its own account.
Mr. Barker, editor and proprietor of the "Port Hedland Advocate," who yesterday read the finding of the Koombana Inquiry Board for the first
time, says that the statement that the steamer when she left Port Hedland was drawing 19ft. aft is not in accordance with what the Harbormaster told him and said he was prepared to adhere to when the vessel was reported missing. The Harbormaster's assertion was that she was drawing 11ft. forward and 16ft. aft. As to the statement that there was no particular evidence of bad weather, Mr. Barker says that for some hours before the Koombana sailed from Port Hedland the people were battening down, preparing for the gale. Further, that 40 pearling luggers had run into the creek from outside for shelter; and that many divers had reported an almost infallible sign of a blow--that is, a heavy ground swell in various parts of the ocean bed where they had been working. Also other evidence and an erratic barometer made it patent that a big disturbance was on hand.
Furthermore, Captain Allen, when questioned by Mr. Barker as to whether he was going to put out, said he did not know. "I don't like the glass," was Captain Allen's remark, "and another 24 hours here will not matter."
His decision to put out was only announced subsequent to a conversation which took place on the Koombana between Captain Allen and Captain
Upjohn of the Bullarra. Upon deciding to go out Captain Allen asked the Harbormaster to have certain luggers that were obstructing the channel out of Port Hedland Harbor removed, and when one still remained said he would not go out unless it was removed. He was palpably uneasy and disinclined to go.
"My passengers think they will get to Broome to-morrow (Thursday)," he remarked, "but they will be lucky if they get there by Saturday. I am going to put right out to sea, and as I might bump the bar going out I will leave my ballast tanks until I get outside and fill them out there."
As the Koombana went out a choppy sea was rolling through the harbor entrance, Mr. Barker watched the vessel from his house on the foreshore, and she had an ugly list to port. She was rolling heavily, her propeller at times being out of the water.
Within the last ten days ten air-tight tanks from the lifeboat have been reported as found on the beach 14 miles south of Hedland.
The Penguin visited Bedout Island last Tuesday, but no wreckage was discovered.
[Why wasn't Mr. Barker called as a witness at the inquiry?--S.T."]