Page images

The British Government in January announced that "owing to the opposition which has been raised in England to certain articles in the proposed regulations, especially that relating to fog signals, Her Majesty's Government now finds it impossible until Parliament has been consulted to fix a date for bringing the regulations into force." The withdrawal by the British Government in January of its support of a proposition advanced by it in the previous April and accepted by the United States and other Governments on its assurance that it had carefully considered the criticisms of foreign and colonial Governments and British shipowners, and had decided to adhere to the new regulations as finally agreed upon by all, left the United States two alternatives, either to assent to a postponement of the date when the regulations were to go into effect, or to require its vessels to navigate under the revised rules while British vessels were navigating under the rules of 1885.

The confusion and possible danger to life and property on the sea consequent upon the use of differing codes of fog signals by vessels of different nations, as well as the probability that should collisions occur the new rules might be brought into disfavor and the important work of the Washington Conference thus lost, seemed to this Bureau reasons for assent to a postponement of the date for enforcing the revised rules too strong to be resisted. With the approval of a majority of the delegates of the United States to the Conference a bill was introduced in Congress (accompanied by a transcript of all the diplomatic correspondence bearing upon the subject-Senate Ex. Doc. No. 75, Fifty-third Congress, third session) providing that the revised rules should not go into effect upon March 1, 1895, but at a subsequent time to be fixed by the President by proclamation issued for that purpose. The bill was passed and approved by the President.

On March 25 a select committee of the House of Commons was appointed at the instance of Sir Donald Currie, representing British shipowners, to consider the objections raised in England to article 15, relating to fog signals, of the proposed regulations. This committee, during May and June, examined many witnesses, but its work was brought to an abrupt close by the overthrow of the ministry and the subsequent dissolution of Parliament. The brief report of the committee reads:

The committee, in respect of the short time which remains for the consideration of their report during the present session, resolve to report the evidence to the House, and to express an opinion that a committee should be appointed as soon as practicable in the next session of Parliament for the purpose of considering the evidence and reporting to the House.

The effort was made by officers of the Government of the United States, through officers of the British Government, to secure the reappointment and assembly of the committee of the House of Commons during the August session of the new Parliament so that the final report of that committee might be available by the time the Congress of the United States should assemble in December. This effort, however, failed, owing to the small attendance at the summer session of Parliament and to the fact that little beyond appropriation bills was considered at the session. It is the understanding of this Bureau that the committee will be reappointed immediately after the meeting of Parliament in February, will lose no time in reporting, and that its action will be promptly communicated to the Government of the United States.

A review of the one hundred and forty-five pages of testimony before the committee of the House of Commons (Blue Book, No. 369, Rule of the Road at Sea, 1895), shows that objections are raised to the siren on steam vessels, on the theory that it should be used solely as a warning on a light-house or from the land, and to the following paragraphs of article 15 of the proposed revised rules:

(e) A vessel at anchor at sea, when not in ordinary anchorage ground, and when in such a position as to be an obstruction to vessels under way, shall sound, if a steam vessel, at intervals of not more than two minutes, two prolonged blasts with her whistle or siren, followed by ringing her bell; or, if a sailing vessel, at intervals of not more than one minute, two blasts with her fog horn, followed by ringing her bell.

(g) A steam vessel wishing to indicate to another "The way is off my vessel, you may feel your way past me," may sound three blasts in succession, namely, short, long, short, with intervals of about one second between them.

(h) A vessel employed in laying or picking up a telegraph cable shall, on hearing the fog signal of an approaching vessel, sound in answer three prolonged blasts in succession.

(i) A vessel under way, which is unable to get out of the way of an approaching vessel through being not under command, or unable to maneuver as required by these rules, shall, on hearing the fog signal of an approaching vessel, sound in answer four short blasts in succession.

Most of the changes in the rules made by the Washington Conference have met the cordial approval of the maritime world. There is every likelihood, accordingly, that its most important work will be approved and in due season become the law of nations. It is conceded that from six to nine months' notice should be given to the marine interests of the world before the revised rules are put into effect. It is assumed that the British Government and Parliament, in view of the respect to their wishes paid by the Congress and Government of the United States in consenting to a postponement of the enforcement of the revised rules, will take prompt action in February so that the postponement shall not be unduly extended. Should the report of the British committee be rendered in March and prove to be one in which this Government, having due regard for the maritime interests of the United States, may concur, it should be possible to put the revised rules into operation during the calendar year 1897.


The rules to prevent collisions on the rivers, harbors, and inland waters of the United States now in force were originally enacted in 1864. By the act of April 29, 1864, the United States adopted for its vessels the rules in use by Great Britain. In 1871 some modifications of these rules, mainly in so far as they relate to steam vessels, were made. In the revision of the Statutes the regulations to prevent collisions were incorporated in sections 4233, 4234, 4412, and 4413. Until 1885 they governed the conduct of American vessels on the high seas as well as on inland waters, but in that year the United States adopted the international regulations, which are still in force on the high seas and coast waters of the United States, except rivers, harbors, and inland waters, to which the provisions of the Revised Statutes referred to apply. In 1890 Congress adopted the revised international regulations, proposed by the International Marine Conference of Washington, which embody the best thought of the maritime world upon the subject of the prevention of collisions at sea. At the last session Congress enacted a code for the Great Lakes, based on the international regulations, modified to meet the peculiarities of lake navigation.

A synoptical table of these four sets of rules to prevent collisions may be found in Appendix L.

In several important respects the laws for the regulation of inland navigation are behind modern requirements of safety, as disclosed in the rules which all other nations have adopted. On inland waters, rivers, and harbors a sail vessel under way in the fog is required to sound a fog horn at intervals of not more than five minutes. This requirement was enacted in 1864, when our sailing tonnage outranked, four to one, our steam tonnage. Our sail and steam tonnage are now nearly equal. There has consequently been a large increase in the speed of our whole merchant fleet, and even in foggy weather, when reduced speed and cautious navigation are enjoined, vessels undoubtedly proceed more rapidly than thirty years ago. In order that a sound signal should have the same efficacy as formerly, it must be repeated more frequently.

The international rules of 1885, in force all over the world, require a sailing vessel under way in the fog to sound once in two minutes. The Washington conference recommended that the interval be reduced to one minute, and, while some of its recommendations have provoked discussion, there is unqualified assent to the wisdom of this change. The new lake rules adopted by Congress in 1895 require a sailing ves sel to sound once a minute when under way in the fog. The reasons which have led to the adoption of the more frequent signal on the high seas and Great Lakes apply with even greater force to the narrow and crowded waters of our harbors and rivers. Many steam vessels make, in clear weather, a distance of 2 miles during the five minutes, at intervals of which the law now requires the sail vessel to sound, and, even at reduced speed, in thick weather they not infrequently make more than the half mile, which under some conditions, is the limit of the carrying power of the small fog horn. The security of life and property would unquestionably be increased by requiring sailing vessels on inland waters in the fog to sound more frequently, and it is recommended that rule 15 (B) of section 4233 of the Revised Statutes be amended so that in thick weather sail vessels under way shall sound at least once a minute instead of once in five minutes.

For the same reasons it is recommended that steam and sail vessels, at anchor or not under way, during a fog shall sound a bell once in two minutes, instead of once in five minutes, as is now required under rule 15 (C) of section 4233 of the Revised Statutes, enacted in 1864. The international regulations of 1885, the revised international regulations of 1890, and the regulations of 1895 for the Great Lakes all require that a vessel not under way in the fog shall sound a bell at intevals of two minutes.

The law now permits the commander of a vessel of war to suspend the display of lights when the special character of the service may require secrecy. The same privilege may with propriety and safety be extended to revenue cutters, in the navigation of which secrecy is often necessary to the successful pursuit of smugglers or others engaged in breaking the laws. The late chief and the present chief of the RevenueCutter Service advocated this change in the law. The three recommendations just stated are incorporated in section 11 of bill L.

Section 4234 of the Revised Statutes contains a provision requiring a sailing vessel, on the approach of a steamer in the night, to show a lighted torch upon that point or quarter to which the steam vessel shall be approaching. At the last session of Congress this provision of section 4234 was not included in the sections made applicable to inland navigation. It was objectionable in that the display of the torch on either side of the vessel near the side lights created a confusion of lights

and gave no information to an approaching steamer beyond that already furnished by the side lights. The display of the torch at the stern to an overtaking steamer, which, of course, can not see the side lights of the sailing vessel, is a proper precaution. If the act of February 19, 1895, repealed by implication section 4234, there is no provision of law for the display of the torch at the stern. If section 4234 is still in force it provides for a signal undesirable under some conditions. Either alternative of construction thus presents difficulties. An opinion of the Attorney-General that section 4234 is still in force may be found in Appendix N. The embarrassment can readily be removed by repealing in terms section 4234, the valuable portions of which are now incorporated in the act of February 19, 1895, and by adding to section 4233 the rule for the display of the torch at the stern, used in the international regulations of 1885 and 1890. This suggestion is incorporated in sections 12 and 15 of bill L, "Proposed legislation."

The international rules of 1885, the revised international rules of 1890, and the lake rules of 1895 all contain a general precautionary rule to the effect that nothing in the rules shall exonerate any ship, or the owner or master or crew thereof, from the consequences of any neglect to carry lights or signals, or of any neglect to keep a proper lookout, or of the neglect of any precaution which may be required by the ordinary practice of seamen or by the special circumstances of the case. While the rule is understood to be a rule of admiralty courts everywhere, it has hitherto been omitted from our inland rules. It seems in itself proper to remedy the omission, and the addition of the rule is further desirable in order that our local rules may be made to accord, as far as practicable, with the international rules. This recommendation is included in section 12 of bill L.

For the same reason it is proposed to incorporate in the laws regulating inland navigation a provision closely resembling the provision in the revised international rules for fog signals of steam vessels engaged in towing. The revised international rule requires a vessel when towing to sound one prolonged blast, followed by two short blasts, at intervals of two minutes. There is no specific statutory requirement to cover in fog this distinctive, dangerous, important, and growing navigation on inland waters. A rule, however, has been established by the Board of Supervising Inspectors of Steam Vessels requiring such vessels to sound three blasts in quick succession at intervals of one minute. While the rule has the force of law, its incorporation into section 4233 would aid in creating that uniformity of statutes governing inland and deep-sea waters which is desirable whenever possible. Section 11 of bill L carries out this suggestion by the necessary amendment to rule 15 (A) of section 4233, Revised Statutes.

Our laws to prevent collisions on inland waters contain one curious anomaly. While Congress has provided statutes to cover some of the most remote and infrequent causes of peril, since 1871 the passing of steam vessels, which is the most frequent occasion of collision, has remained a matter of bureau regulation, being intrusted to the Board of Supervising Inspectors of Steam Vessels. The course signals of steam vessels are the most important of the signals adopted by nations to prevent marine disasters. The practice of the maritime world in this respect-one blast, to starboard; two blasts, to port, and three blasts, full speed astern-is deeply embedded in the laws of nations. While relatively minor changes in the laws to prevent collisions in this country like some of those indicated must be approved by both branches of Congress and the President before they go into effect, discretionary

power is lodged with a bureau of the Treasury Department to make changes in rules the stability of which is of the utmost consequence to our steam and sail navigation. The law, in my judgment, admits of improvement, and its clearness and symmetry would gain by the incorporation within it of the three elementary course signals of steam vessels now in use.

Since 1885, when the international rules to prevent collisions at sea were enacted, our laws until last year contained an obvious defect. They provided that certain rules should be followed by vessels on the high seas and in coastwise waters, while within harbors, rivers, and inland waters certain local modifications of those rules, peculiar to the United States, were to be observed. The line of demarcation between coastwise waters and harbors was nowhere drawn, and in consequence admiralty courts in cases of collision have for years been in doubt as to whether the international or the local rules should have been followed in a given collision occurring in the channels opening from our harbors into the high seas. This defect of the law was pointed out from time to time by admiralty courts and Congress was urged to remedy it, but until last year no steps to that end were taken.

Mainly through the efforts of the New York Maritime Association a law was passed and approved February 19, 1895, by which the Secretary of the Treasury was directed to define by ranges with light-houses, light vessels, buoys, or coast objects the lines dividing the high seas from rivers, harbors, and inland waters, thus determining the scope of application of the two sets of navigation rules. The Secretary of the Treasury designated as an advisory board to recommend such lines for his approval the Superintendent of the Coast and Geodetic Survey as chairman, the naval secretary of the Light-House Board, the Supervising Inspector-General of Steam Vessels, the chief of the RevenueCutter Service, and the Commissioner of Navigation as secretary. The board has been in correspondence with marine interests at the principal seaports and has recommended lines for the ports of New York, Boston, San Francisco, Galveston, Philadelphia and Delaware Bay, Baltimore and the Chesapeake Bay, and other ports.

Its recommendations have been approved and promulgated by the Secretary of the Treasury and have been generally published for the benefit of navigators. They have been approved by maritime interests and the courts and uncertainty as to the law has been removed. In its recommendations the board has made use of whistling buoys as far as practicable, so that the position of the lines may be ascertained approximately in thick weather, when the danger of collision is greatest, as well as in clear weather. The ports at which lines have been drawn enter and clear three-fourths of the vessels engaged in foreign trade with this country, and consequently are the ports where the necessity for the line of demarcation was greatest. The lines for minor ports will be defined from time to time. The work of the board has been performed without any additional expense to the Government. The lines thus far drawn by the board may be found in Appendix L.


At the instance of the Lake Carriers' Association, representing ninetenths of the American shipping on the Great Lakes, Congress at the last session passed a law establishing a body of rules to prevent collisions on the Great Lakes and connecting waters as far east as Montreal. Its chief point of difference from the international rules is the application of the usual course-indicating signals by steam vessels to foggy

« PreviousContinue »