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INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON SAFETY OF LIFE AT

SEA

In these days of wars which have engulfed almost all Europe it is a satisfaction to recall that thirteen nations sent their delegates to an international conference relating to safety of life at sea, no longer ago than December, 1913, and that they signed on the 20th of January, 1914, a convention which has been adopted by many of the nations and which was transmitted to the Senate of the United States by the President on the 17th of March. All the resources of human skill and science are now being used to destroy life. It is a pleasure to reflect that man has at one time been engaged in a more humane and, shall we not add, a more Christian undertaking.

The thirteen Powers which joined in this conference are the following: Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Spain, Sweden, United States of America. The delegates from Great Britain included delegates from Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Those great trans-oceanic commonwealths are renewing in both hemispheres the glory of the mother country. Their delegates also signed the convention, the conclusions of which were unanimous.

The convention applies to merchant vessels mechanically propelled which carry more than twelve passengers and which proceed from a port of one of the states, which are parties to the convention, to a port situated outside that state or conversely. Ports in the colonies are considered for the purposes of this article to be outside of the states of the high contracting parties. There may be excepted vessels making coastwise voyages not exceeding a distance of more than 200 sea miles from the nearest coast.

The first provision for the safety of navigation is for the destruction of all derelicts in the northern part of the Atlantic Ocean, for an ice patrol and the study and observation of ice conditions. The United States Government is invited to undertake these three services and the contracting parties agree to join in paying the expense. Great Britain is to pay thirty per cent (beside a payment by Canada of two per cent) the United States, France and Germany fifteen per cent each, and the balance by the other Powers in smaller percentages. The United States is invited to devise à means of granting rewards to merchant vessels which have contributed in an effective manner to the destruction of ocean derelicts. Every master who meets with dangerous ice or a dangerous derelict is bound to communicate the fact as soon as possible, and if he have a radio-telegraph installation he is to report it immediately.

The loss of the Titanic led the convention to prescribe a new rule for navigation.

Article 10. When ice is reported on, or near, his course, the master of every vessel is bound to proceed at night at a moderate speed, or to alter his course so as to go well clear of the danger zone.

The conference after great deliberation decided not to fix any steamship routes but to leave this to the responsibility of the steamship companies. It is agreed further that there shall be imposed “on these companies the obligation to give public notice of the regular route which they propose their vessels should follow, and of any changes which they make in them.”

The parties further agree “to use their influence to induce the owners of all vessels crossing the Atlantic to follow as far as possible the routes adopted by the principal companies.” This system of ocean routes was recommended before the Civil War by Commander Maury of the United States Navy. It was taken up and advocated in 1870 by Thomas H. Ismay, one of the founders of the White Star Line. Experience has shown that the adoption by the principal steamship lines of the routes which he prescribed has been a source of safety. The old practice of setting the course westerly for Cape Race, Newfoundland, which led to so many shipwrecks on that rocky coast, has in the main been abandoned.

In view of the fact that many governments which were not parties to this convention had adopted the international regulations for preventing collisions at sea, and of the importance of uniformity in these regulations, the conference did not undertake to change these rules but it recommended to the governments which were not parties to the convention an agreement to the following changes:

The second white light. Under the original international collision rules the use of any lights for steam vessels, except the one white masthead light, the starboard green light, and the port red light, was prohibited. In the inland waters of the United States however a different rule prevailed. As long ago as the year 1829 the State of New York prescribed for the guidance of vessels upon its inland waters the system of range lights, that is to say, of a fixed white light forward and another aft. Experience showed that a competent navigator by watching the bearing of these two lights and the change in their relative position could determine with much accuracy the course of an approaching vessel. An interesting question came before the Supreme Court of the United States in the year 1893. In this case a sea-going yacht which was equipped with lights and had them set in accordance with the regulations governing sea-going vessels, was proceeding up the Hudson River. The absence of range lights upon this vessel embarrassed an approaching steamer. The captain of this vessel had however, as the court held, sufficient means of observation to determine the true course of the approaching steamer, and the whole blame of the consequent collision was attributed to him. But the result of the decision in this case and of the discussion at the International Conference at Washington in 1889 led the delegates of other nations to perceive the great advantage of the range light system and to recommend its adoption. It was not however made compul. sory. The present convention recommends that it shall be compulsory. They also recommend a stern light which was prohibited by the original rules, though they permitted a leading vessel to show a torch or other light to indicate her position to a following ship.

It is then recommended that there shall be a special day signal compulsory for motor vessels and a special sound signal to be used “by a vessel in tow, or if the tow is composed of several vessels, by the last vessel of the tow.” The convention further provides that the vessels coming within its scope “shall be sufficiently and efficiently manned.Measures to secure this result are to be taken by the parties. The fourth chapter of the convention deals with the construction of

1 Belden v. Chase, 150 U. S. 674.

vessels and with the important subject of openings in watertight bulkheads. These are to be reduced to a minimum. Double bottoms are to be provided in most vessels: “The highest degree of safety corresponds with the vessels of greatest length primarily engaged in the transportation of passengers.” It is interesting to note that in the schedules and regulations annexed to the convention vessels 1030 feet in length are provided for. Such was the care of the convention with reference to perfecting the construction of ships that all the parties agreed to cause the study of “the criterion of service” to be prosecuted by each. The results are to be communicated to the British Government, which is to undertake the task of circulating the information.

Chapter V requires all merchant vessels belonging to any of the contracting states, whether they are propelled by machinery or sails, and whether they carry passengers or not, “to be fitted with a radiotelegraph installation if they have on board fifty or more persons in all.” Vessels on short voyages or on which there is a temporary increase in number of persons on board may be excepted.

Article 35 provides: “The radiotelegraph installations required by Article 31 above shall be capable of transmitting clearly perceptible signals from ship to ship over a range of at least 100 sea miles by day under normal conditions and circumstances.” Vessels having these installations are required to be fitted with an emergency installation which must be placed in its entirety in the upper part of the vessels as high as practically possible, and this must include "an independent source of energy capable of being put into operation rapidly and of working for at least six hours with a minimum range of 80 sea miles for vessels in the first class and 50 sea miles for vessels in the two other classes."

Article 37 requires every master of a vessel who receives a call for assistance from a vessel in distress to proceed to the assistance of the persons in distress. The master of the vessel in distress may requisition from among those that answer his call for assistance the vessels which he considers best able to render assistance. This he must do after consultation as far as may be possible with the masters of those vessels.

Chapter VI contains ample provision for life-saving appliances and fire protection. The fundamental principle is stated in Article 40 as follows: “At no moment of its voyage may a vessel have on board & total number of persons greater than that for whom accommodation is provided in the lifeboats and the pontoon life rafts on board.”

Article 42 is important. “Each boat must be of sufficient strength to enable it to be safely lowered into the water when loaded with its full complement of persons and equipment.”

Article 53 contains a provision for the installation of electric or other system of lighting sufficient for all requirements of safety. "On new vessels there must be a self-contained. source capable of supplying, when necessary, this safety lighting system, and placed in the upper parts of the vessel, as high as practically possible." This latter clause is especially important in view of the practice which has become common of lighting vessels from dynamos propelled by the main source of power. Before this method was adopted, every vessel had a source of lighting independent of the main power. In many steamers in which the side lights and the masthead lights are electric, provision is now made for the immediate installation of oil lights in case the electrical apparatus is out of order. The convention extends this principle to the lighting of the whole ship. It is so common in cases of collision to find that the main source of power on the vessel is put out of commission that this new requirement is one of the most important in the whole convention.

Another new provision is contained in Article 54. “There must be, for each boat or raft required, a minimum number of certificated lifeboat men.” Provision is made for the examination of these men. This rule is a substitute for that recommended by the International Seamen's Union of America. This Union is seeking to establish a requirement for a certain number of able-bodied seamen. It would seem perfectly clear that for the purpose of handling the lifeboats or life-rafts skill in boating is the essential. A man might be a good seaman and yet not be skillful in handling boats. On the other hand a man might be very skillful in the latter who was not an experienced seaman. There seems no good reason for confusing two objects which in their nature are distinct.

Article 55 contains the following important provision.

The carriage, either as cargo or ballast, of goods which by reason of their nature, quantity, or mode of stowage, are, either singly or collec

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