east in the fairway as possible, and did not alter his helm at all before the collision. And as he declared, “If my vessel slipped over one of the bumps with helm to starboard, she would go to the east. She may have gone to east but it would be hardly noticeable… If we had sheered we would have gone ashore.” In answer to the question, Did your vessel slew to the east-ward at all while she was going down the channel? he replied, “She may have done, a little.”
Doris, he suggested in Court, changed her course when she was about 30-40 yards [27-36m] away from him. Angen had shouted, “Look out for the launch” but Martin lost sight of her and saw only her light flash across his bow, from port to starboard. In that moment before he touched her, he said, he stopped his engines then blew her whistle. But up until that moment, he had been gathering way, ie accelerating and was perhaps again at 2 knots.
David Jones down below did not know the vessel speed when they entered the fairway, just that she was running on one engine at half speed, ie at half throttle. Then he felt her bump three times. From the rather confusing Court transcription, it seems that after the first bump, he was ordered to run the other engine as well, also at half throttle. Then after another bump, in his own words, “Using my own judgement,” he set both engines on full speed. The vessel’s telegraph, he said, showed only “ahead,” “stop” and “astern.” And as he continued, “When the ship is on the bottom, the skipper likes me to go ahead. There is only the bell. I use my own judgement.”
In other words, he acted autonomously, and blind. And he now kept at full throttle for, he thought, about two minutes. Until a third bump, at which point he thought she may have stopped, but he did not feel any other impact. It was about then, it appears, that he got the order to stop, go full astern, and the whistle was blown two or three times, then continuously. He took it that there was trouble, that they may have stuck in the mud, and climbed the ladder and poked his head out up top to look at Angen.
Mentzer standing at the Doris wheel amidships port side had taken the white masthead light and starboard green to be a lighter, coming down the channel very slowly. The lights when he first saw them were about one point on his starboard bow, and he was adamant that at no point did he see them over his port bow. The normal course is for opposing vessels to passport to port, but with an uneven channel depth, rocks both sides (and now almost low tide) it was always a discretionary tactic in the fairway; vessels passed whichever side was deemed to be safest at the time. In this instance, because he saw the other’s green lamp, he assumed her master saw his. In other words, both vessels were safe to pass, albeit starboard to starboard. And by the other’s position in the fairway, he considered it would be unsafe for him to pass her on the western side, ie to her port, which is where the channel was shallower.
Closer in, the lights were getting slightly more on his starboard. He decided the lighter was aground in the channel, altered his course slightly to port, ie to east. Then all of a sudden, he said, the lighter swung around and he saw her red light. He did not know her speed, but he thought it more than 2 knots. And here he disputed his preliminary deposition: “It is not true,” he told the Court, “that I saw the red lights about 3 or 4 minutes before the accident. I was not in a fit state to make statements.”
In fact, he saw the red light just a second before the accident. He was of the opinion that Martin had grounded, and having his helm hard over, Tu Atu had slewed across. And at the moment he saw the red light, when he thought there might be an accident, he opened his throttle, put his helm to starboard.
Frederick Oemcke was one of the more credible and convincing waterside witnesses. Whereas most of the other men were talking in groups, he’d sat alone in silence up forrad, on the starboard bow. He saw a lighter on the western side of the channel when about 100 yards [91m] off, and they were on the starboard side of her. He saw only her white and green lamps, he testified, and they were never at any time on her port side. He also refuted a portion of his December preliminary deposition, which had not been read over to him and which he’d signed two days afterwards. He knew the channel quite well, he said, and Tu Atu appeared to him to be stationary, to be aground. He saw her green light all the time. He thought that she had swung in, ie towards him, when her deckhand called out, “Look out for the labour launch.”