Page 107 - British Inquiry into Loss of RMS Titanic Day 32 - 36
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references. The Commissioner: April is too early? The Attorney-General: Yes. Substantially it comes to this, as your Lordship says, April is a little too early. In May and June it does happen. I do not mean it happens every year, but since 1898 it had happened, and it was the kind of thing they expected might happen, and which at least had happened three times since 1898. That is how it stands. But in April it was thought very unusual. Now the Commander was aware of these ice reports which he had got, which were four on this particular date (I am leaving out the “Mesaba”), the “Caronia,” the “Baltic,” the “Californian,” and the “Norddam,” which give quite clear indications to him. Now, my Lord, Sir Robert Finlay has dealt with this by the argument that at any rate as regards the ice reports of the “Caronia” and the “Baltic,” the Captain might reasonably have expected that he had passed to the North of the ice reported by them in consequence of the time that had elapsed and the position in which the “Titanic” was when they got the news and the reports of the latitude and longitude in which the ice had been found. Of course, I shall have to deal with that a little more in detail, but the view which I take of the whole of the evidence is this (and this is the answer to the question which your Lordship put to me just now as to whether I formed the opinion and put forward the view to your Lordship that the conditions were abnormal), that I am prepared to accept and think it right to accept on the evidence the description given that it was an exceptional night. What is exactly meant by saying that the conditions were abnormal, I am not quite sure. If it means they were infrequent, I agree; if it means - that is the position I am taking. I do agree that is the position I am taking. I do not agree with this, that it was a specially calm night on this night of the 14th April undoubtedly. But that there had been such specially calm nights before I think is established by evidence to which I am going to call your Lordship’s attention. It was not the first time in the experience of navigators that they had had such a night as this with a flat calm which is the distinctive feature of it so far as it has any bearing upon this case. Other navigators have said, of course, that they have seen this kind of thing before. It is very unusual at this time of year, but it does happen. The submission I make to the Court is that those conditions were unusual in the sense that they were infrequent; but unusual conditions necessitate unusual precautions. And whereas it may be perfectly right to go full speed ahead on an ordinary night when everything can be seen and there is no difficulty whatever in clearing an iceberg when it has been reported, it is a totally different state of things when you are dealing with unusual conditions, such conditions as existed on this night. It is very much open to question whether it is a right thing in any circumstance to go at full speed, even though you can see perfectly clearly, but no doubt it is right to say this as your Lordship indicated at an early stage, and I ventured to assent then, as I do now, that if you can see an iceberg at sufficient distance to navigate your vessel clear of it within a sufficient time, well, of course, there is no necessity to reduce speed. If you can depend upon seeing an iceberg five miles distant and that gives you ample time to clear it, I agree there would be no necessity to reduce your speed. But when you have conditions, particularly at night, which cannot make it certain that you will be able to see an iceberg at a great distance, then it becomes a very different question. The evidence establishes this, that according to the experience of those who have been in the habit of navigating on this track, and among ice, you could see an iceberg at night, on a fine clear night, at a distance of from five miles to one and a half miles. That is the closest I think it has been put. Of course I am summarising the whole of the evidence. As your Lordship is aware, there has been a great deal of difference of opinion about this distance. Perhaps the majority put it at something like three miles in fine weather, conditions such as were assumed in the question put to them; but some go so far as to say that you might not see it unless it was a distance of something like one and a half miles.
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