The primary causes of nearly all the accidents which occur to life and property on board steam-vessels, may be classed as follows:-
Ignorance, carelessness, recklessness, and drunkenness of engine-men. Bad construction or insufficiency of safety-valves. Inattention to, or want of, proper apparatus to denote the level of water and pressure of steam in boilers. Malformation of boilers to sustain pressure. Working old boilers too long, and at too great pressure. Bad materials, and bad workmanship of boilers.
Carelessness, and want of cleanliness. Bad construction of coal receptacles. Stowing coals on the boilers, and against the undefended sides of the vessel. Placing boilers too near the decks and sides of the vessel. Defective state of the boilers. Want of fire-extinguishing apparatus.
On this head the Commissioners observe: - "Collisions between steam-vessels, and between them and other craft, occur so frequently in crowded waters,-they are often so fatal to life, and so generally attended with litigation and expense in repairing damage, that the want of a law to diminish the evil is the subject of complaint by nearly allour correspondents. Collisions occur both by day and by night, at sea as well as in rivers. They commonly arise from the absence of a universal understanding as to 'the rule of the road' to be observed by vessels in meeting and passing each other, and from the absence of a universal system of night-lights, or signals."
Mr. Shaw introduced a system of night-signals in that Company's vessels in 1834, which has since been adopted by her Majesty's packets at Liverpool, and in other steamers. This system consists of one white light at the foremast head, one white light on the starboard paddle-box, and one red light on the larboard paddle-box. These are all resplendent and powerful lights. The mast-head light is transmitted through a large solid glass lens, so shaped and disposed that the light ceases to be visible abaft the beam. The marginal cut represents a horizontal section of this light; a being the light, and b the solid lens. The starboard paddle-box light is also transmitted through a solid glass lens; the larboard light through a hollow glass lens, containing a red mineral solution. These are placed in houses attached to the paddle boxes, and the rays are projected at an angle of about 35 degrees with the keel, so as not to dazzle the look-out men on the forecastle. They are visible at great distances. A diagram of the system is given in the cut on the next page, in which a is the starboard light (bright), b the larboard light (coloured), and c the mast-head light.
To secure the adoption of what may from time to time be proved as the most eligible methods of building and fastening a steamvessel, the first essential is, that a written detailed specification be prepared as the basis of every contract, in which the dimensions, principle of construction, modes, extent, and size of the several fastenings be stated. The specification should also be accompanied by working drawings of the mode in which such parts are to be executed as cannot be given by mere description.
Outline of proposed Legislative Regulations prepared by the Commissioners:-
1. That a Board be appointed in connexion with, and under the president of the Board of Trade, whose business it shall be to register and classify ail vessels navigated by steam, built or building: the register to record detailed specifications of hull and machinery, periodical surveys to be made upon them, and particulars of all disasters and accidents which happen to, or may be occasioned by steam vessels.
That the Board be authorized to appoint local or district surveyors to inspect and report upon the condition of steamers; that, on such report being satisfactory, the Board shall grant licenses to the owners of steam vessels to ply; that, if unsatisfactory, they shall withhold such license, as far as relates to the conveyance of passengers. Penalty for plying without license.
That the Board be empowered to investigate personally, or otherwise, the nature and causes of accidents, to examine witnesses on oath, and call for the production of papers.
That the Board be required to make an annual report to parliament of its proceedings, of the state and progress of the mercantile steam marine, and of the disasters which may have been sustained. That the records be public on the payment of a reasonable fee.
That the Board be empowered to frame and issue general instructions for the guidance of the local or district surveyors; also to publish an abstract of the law and regulations, with authority to require such abstract to be placed in a conspicuous part of the vessel; under penalties on neglect.
2. That the surveyors of hull and machinery he paid for their surveys by the owners of the vessels according to a fixed scale, as is the practice for Lloyd's Register: that they shall forward their reports to the Board, which, in the event of the owner or owners objecting to the repairs required in order to entitle the vessel to a passenger license, shall (if the objection regard the hull) call in one or two of the principal ship-builders of the port or district, unconnected with the work of such repairs, to survey the vessel, in conjunction with the official surveyors, and report especially thereon.
Should the decision of the Board be objected to, on the report of the surveyor (if the objection regard the machinery), it shall call in the aid of one or more engineers to report in conjunction with such official surveyor.