Report from the senior naval officer of the HMS Highflyer

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Report from the senior naval officer of the HMS Highflyer
#1
Report from the senior naval
officer of the HMS Highflyer
Report made on December 7, 1917 by the Senior Naval Officer of
the HMS Highflyer, a British cruiser regarding the collision of the
Imo and the Mont-Blanc.
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Comments in brackets are not part of the original document. They have been added to assist the reader with difficult words.
H.M.S. Highflyer
7 December 1917
… About 8.45 A.M., the French Steamer Mont-Blanc passed between HMS Highflyer and the Dartmouth shore going toward
Bedford Basin. At the same time, the Belgian Relief Steamer
Imo was seen leaving Bedford Basin. The Mont-Blanc made one
short blast on her syron [sic – siren] just after passing HMS
Highflyer, which was acknowledged by the Imo with one short
blast. The Mont-Blanc altered course to starboard [right]
about one point and appeared to ease down, and the Imo appeared to maintain a steady course from the neck of the
channel to HMS Highflyer. The Mont-Blanc shortly afterward
made two short blasts and turned sharp to port [left] …. The
Imo thereupon sounded two short blasts but still appeared
to hold a steady course. Shortly after this, the Imo sounded
three short blasts and was seen to be going eastern, her bows swinging to starboard [right]. This was a few seconds before the actual collision.
The Imo struck the Mont-Blanc on the starboard side … on the … bow [front of the
ship], the angle appearing to be about 45 degrees. The two ships swung parallel to
each other and parted a one, the Imo moving toward the Dartmouth shore and the
Mont-Blanc toward No. 8 Pier ….
Fire broke out in the fore [front] part starboard side of the Mont-Blanc immediately after the collision and within five minutes flames were seen. These increased very quickly and came in distinct spurts that rose over one hundred feet
and were thought to be the ignition of drums or barrels of oil. This continued
until 9.08 A.M. when the ship, being close to the shore, there was a very violent
explosion and dhe [sic – she] disappeared.
The crew of the Mont-Blanc were seen to abandon their ship immediately fire
broke out and pulled towards the Dartmouth shore, where they landed.
-The Senior Naval Officer, Halifax
“The Halifax explosion,” The Canadian War Museum – George Metcalf Archival Collection. CWM 19890161-002
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#2
The cause of the catastrophe
Excerpt from the newspaper article published in The Halifax Herald
on December 8, 1917.
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The Halifax Herald
December 8, 1917
… On Thursday morning the French steamer MontBlanc was steaming up the harbour with Pilot Frank
Mackay in charge and reached a point opposite the
northern terminals of the C.G.R., while the Belgian
Relief steamer Imo was proceeding out in charge
of Pilot William Hayes and they were approaching
each other. For some inscrutable [incomprehensible /
strange / odd] reason the Belgian steamer violated the
rules of navigation and the result was that she collided with the Mont-Blanc. Soon the Frenchman burst
into flames. She was loaded with 5000 tons of high explosives.
The crew abandoned her and all escaped safely to the Dartmouth shore.
Then came the terrific explosion which destroyed the extreme south-eastern
part of Halifax, caused the deaths of more than 2000 persons, and perhaps double that number rendered 5000 people homeless, and involved a property loss of
from $12 000 000 to $15 000 000 … because someone had blundered, or worse.
Behind all as responsible for the disaster, is that arch criminal the Kaiser of
Germany who forced our Empire and her allies into the fearful war.
“The cause of the catastrophe,” The Halifax Herald, December 8, 1917, http://www.virtualhistorian.ca/large-pages/newspaper/405 (Accessed
November 6, 2011).
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#3
Testimony of John L. Makiny
Excerpt from the testimony of John L. Makiny, recorded during the
Halifax Explosion Inquiry, led by Justice Arthur Drysdale. Makiny
was the civilian captain of the Nereid, a tugboat that patrolled the
Halifax submarine net defences during the war.
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Testimonty of John L. Makiny
The Halifax Explosion Inquiry
Q.—Did you notice anything particularly about the speed at which
the Belgian ship was coming?
A.—She was coming quite a good speed; I could not swear just how
rapidly; but there was quite a foam at her bow ….
Q.—The French ship, about her speed?
A.—She was I should positively swear not four knots; very slow; she
eased a great deal more after she came on a ways; that is when I
first seen her I am swearing to.
Q.—Tell the signals you heard and the order in which you heard
them, from both the Belgian ship, the Imo, and the French ship, the
Mont Blanc. You heard whistles?
A.—Yes.
Q.—Which ship did you hear blow first?
A.—I heard the Mont Blanc; the French ship.
Q.—Whereabouts was she when she first blew?
A.—Quite a distance below the Highflyer.
Q.—What signal did she give?
A.—Two blasts, no, one blast.
Q.—The next whistle you heard?
A.—She blew again.
Q.—The French ship blew a second whistle?
A.—Yes, one straight blast.
Q.—What signal did you hear from the other ship?
A.—Not any for a few moments.
Q.—What blast or signal did you hear from the Belgian?
A.—I heard two ….
“In the Privy Council on appeal from the Supreme Court of Canada between the ship “Imo” (Southern Pacific Whaling Company, Limited,
Owners) (Defendant), appellant and La Compagnie générale transatlantique (plaintiff), respondent record of proceedings, volume 1 Constant &
Constant ... appellant’s solicitors, William A. Crump & Son ... respondent’s solicitors,” p. 12–13, from Early Canadiana Online - CIHM number
(9_05977) http://www.canadiana.org/view/9_05977/0001 (Accessed November 6, 2011).
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Testimony of Aimé Le Medec
Excerpt from the testimony of Aimé Le Le Medec, the captain of
the Mont-Blanc, that was recorded during the Halifax Explosion
Inquiry.
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Testimonty of Aimé Le Medec
The Halifax Explosion Inquiry
Q.—Where was the Imo when they first saw her?
A.—She seemed to leave Bedford Basin.
Q.—In what part of the channel was the Imo?
A.—The Imo appeared towards the land in the West—she was leaving the basin and
he could see her towards the land on the west side ….
Q.—What was done, if anything, on board the Mont-Blanc?
A.—As he was seeing the boat on his port side he showed he had seen her and gave
one short blast, and put his ship a little to the right, and inclined towards the
land.
Q.—Was any order given to the helmsman when he gave the short blast?
A.—Yes sir, the order was given to go to the right, but as I was too near the land
he could not go too much to the right.
Q.—Was any order given to the engine room at that time?
A.—I ordered to the engine room to go slow.
Q.—Did he receive any signal from the Imo in answer to his one blast?
A.—Yes sir, the Imo replied by two short blasts.
Q.—Which was the first signal given by either of the ships to the other?
A.—It was me gave one short blast meaning “I am going to the right.”
Q.—Did the Imo change her course after giving the two short blasts signal?
A.—I think so; but it is difficult for a ship against the land to find out if she
is moving in one direction or not. The fact of giving two short blasts of the
whistle does not imply that the vessel itself will go to the right or to the left—
it might say I pass to the right or I pass to the left ….
Q.—Ask him whether he gave any other signal from his ship?
A.—A few seconds after he had a reply from the Imo he gave a new short blast and
then he went to the right, and he stopped his engines immediately.
A.—Did he get a second signal from the Imo?
A.—Yes sir, he heard from the Imo a second signal of two blasts.
Q.—At what distance from each other were the ships by this time?
A.—About 150 metres ….
Q.—How fast was the Imo travelling at the time?
A.—Judging by the force of the collision the Imo should have had at the time a
great speed.
“In the Privy Council on appeal from the Supreme Court of Canada between the ship “Imo” (Southern Pacific Whaling Company, Limited,
Owners) (Defendant), appellant and La Compagnie générale transatlantique (plaintiff), respondent record of proceedings, volume 1 Constant &
Constant ... appellant’s solicitors, William A. Crump & Son ... respondent’s solicitors,” p. 12–13, from Early Canadiana Online - CIHM number
(9_05977) http://www.canadiana.org/view/9_05977/0001 (Accessed November 6, 2011).
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The Halifax Herald article about
the testimony of Frank Mackey
Excerpt from a newspaper article published in The Halifax Herald on
December 17, 1917 about the testimony of Pilot Frank Mackey in the
Halifax Explosion Inquiry that was held after the explosion.
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The Halifax Herald
December 17, 1917
… When Pilot Frank Mackey was called to the stand he said that he was
forty-five years of age and had been a licensed pilot for Halifax for a little
more than twenty-four years, in which time he had had no accident whatever.
… [on the morning of December 6th] the Mont Blanc proceeded in to enter
the Narrows …. As he straightened to go up thru the Narrows his ship
was 320 or 330 feet from the Dartmouth shore. He was some minutes
on that course before he saw the Imo. He first saw her foremast [front
mast] and then as she cleared the land so that he could see her hull, he
observed that she was showing white water under her bow and evidently
violating the admiralty regulations, which require that a ship must go
very slow at that point.
...Asked by Mr. Henry what he then did, the pilot said: “I established my
proper location by one blast of the whistle.”
He said that the whistle worked promptly and distinctly and that at that
moment the captain of the Mont-Blanc did not give any order. In a few seconds he heard
two blasts from the Imo. “So as to remove any possibility of doubt,” declared Pilot Mackey, “I
again blew one blast and again I got two blasts in return from the Imo. These blasts I plainly heard, and I changed my ship a little to starboard so that he could see my … bow plainly. I
did this when I blew the two blasts for the second time.”
The pilot said that the helmsman promptly carried out his orders. At the time of the second
one blast signal the vessels were about 400 feet apart and the Imo was still coming at considerable speed and crossing over into the Mont-Blanc’s water. There was not as much speed
and foam, but she was still making quite a ripple at her bow.
Knowing the rules of the road as he did, Pilot Mackey said he considered it wise to obey the
rule which in such emergencies empowered [allowed] him to use his own judgment to port to
starboard or to stop. The Imo suddenly blew three blasts. Just before this she was twisting a
little to starboard. About five seconds after the Imo blew the three blasts, Pilot Mackey said
he saw her throwing a wake from her starboard propeller. The Imo flew quickly to starboard.
“Mont-Blanc was exceeding the speed limit on that fateful day of explosion,” The Halifax Herald, December 17, 1917, http://www.virtualhistorian.ca/
large-pages/newspaper/413 (Accessed November 7, 2011).
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Responsibility of naval authorities
Excerpt from a newspaper article published in the Halifax Morning
Chronicle on December 20, 1917.
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The Halifax Morning Chronicle
December 20, 1917
It is imperative [necessary] that the public should know by whose authority the
Imo was ordered to leave her anchorage in Bedford Basin at a time when it must
have been plain to the competent naval authority that the two ships would meet
in or near the narrow channel which leads from the inner harbour to the Basin.
It is also imperative, not only for the purposes of this investigation, but for the
City’s security in the future, to ascertain [discover] why a proper patrol was not
maintained by naval craft to keep the course clear for the munitions boat. The
naval authorities have a large number of boats of various sorts at their command in this harbour, but so far as we have learned, none of them were employed in escorting the Mont-Blanc on her way to Bedford Basin. Why? The public has a right to know, why these and other precautions which we might mention
were not taken and, above all, why the risk of allowing these two steamers to
meet … was taken.
As quoted in John Griffith Armstrong, The Halifax explosion and the Royal Canadian Navy (Vancouver, BC: UBC Press, 2002), p. 127.
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Important questions for the naval
authorities
Letter to the editor written by J. R. Middleton that was published in The
Halifax Herald on December 21, 1917.
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Letter to the editor
The Halifax Herald
December 21, 1917
After one of the most frightful disasters the modern world has
known, the citizens of this city are being treated, under the title
of “Enquiry as to the Disaster,” to the spectacle of several seamen
and a pilot, being “examined,” and “cross-examined,” by eminent [distinguished] counsel, in an effort to prove that one of the vessels
in the collisions went to “port” [left] when she should have gone
to “starboard,” [right] or that the other “blew her whistle once” or
“twice,” as the leaning of counsel may be. Doubtless this is interesting to navigators …. Of what interest is it, however, to the citizen of this city who, in the fortunate case of being alive, finds
himself, or herself, STRIPPED OF EVERYTHING which previously had
made his, or her life?
What the people of this city want to know, and what they have got
to know is:
WHY was the Mont-Blanc coming into Halifax?
WHO was the naval officer who issued permission for her to come,
and
FROM WHOM did HE get the authority?
WHERE lays the ultimate responsibility for permitting such ships
to come into our midst ….
So far the Naval department have preserved a judicious [cautious]
silence …. We now want their answers.
-J.R. Middleton
As quoted in John Griffith Armstrong, The Halifax explosion and the Royal Canadian Navy (Vancouver, BC: UBC Press, 2002), pp. 127–127..
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#8
The Halifax Explosion Inquiry
decision
Excerpt from the decision handed down by Mr. Justice Drysdale
following the Halifax Explosion Inquiry.
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Halifax, N.S.
4 February, 1918
Sir,
… having heard all the witnesses that could throw any light on the situation,
having conferred with the Nautical Assessors, I have reached the following conclusions and desire to report as follows:
… collision was caused by violation of the rules of Navigation.
That the Pilot and Master of the Mont-Blanc were wholly [totally] responsible for
violating the rules of the road.
That Pilot Mackey by reason of his gross negligence [obvious neglect] would be
forthwith dismissed by the Pilotage Authorities and his licence cancelled.
In view of the gross neglect of the rules of Navigation by Pilot Mackey, the attention of the Law Officers of the crown should be called … with a view to a
criminal prosecution of such pilot.
We recommend to the French Authorities such evidence with a view to having Captain Le Medec’s licence cancelled and such captain dealt with according to the law
of his country ….
The Master and Pilot of the Mont-Blanc are guilty of neglect of the public safety in not taking proper steps to warn the inhabitants of the city of a probable
[likely] explosion.
Commander Wyatt is guilty of neglect in performing his duty … in not taking proper steps to ensure the regulations being carried out and especially in
not keeping himself fully acquainted with [aware of] the movements and intended
movements of vessels in the harbour ….
13. The regulations governing the traffic in Halifax harbour in force since the
war were prepared by the competent Naval Authorities; that such traffic regulations do not satisfactorily deal with the handling of ships laden with explosives
and we have to recommend that such competent Authority forthwith take up and
make satisfactory regulations dealing with such subject; we realise that whilst
war goes on under present conditions explosives must move but, in view of what
has happened, we strongly recommend that the subject be dealt with satisfactorily
by the proper Authorities.
Given under my hand at the City of Halifax this Fourth day of February, 1918.
(Signed)
Mr. Justice Drysdale
As quoted in Michael J. Bird, The town that died: The true story of the greatest man-made explosion before Hiroshima (London, UK: Souvenir
Press, 1962), p. 180.
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#9
Accident or sabotage?
Newspaper article originally published on June 14, 1922 in The Evening
Echo, a Seattle newspaper. The article was republished in Halifax
newspapers at the time.
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Special to The Evening Echo: SEATTLE, June 14, 1922:
Solution to the mystery which surrounded the explosion … in the city at Halifax,
Nova Scotia late in 1917 is believed by government agents in Seattle to have
come with the suicide of William Johnson … a highly educated Finn chemist
whose body was found by an Indian on Bacon Creek, Skagit County, last month.
Agents of the United States and Canadian government say the chemist confessed
not only to responsibility for the Halifax disaster but also admitted the slaying
of two men, one a captain of a British transport ….
It has already been established that Johnson was in Halifax in the British transport service. An address at which he later resided in Halifax is known to agents
….
First information regarding the alleged confession and possibility of clearing the
Halifax blast mystery came from J.R. Cox, Watchmen employed at Talc Mines
on the Skagit River …. It was while talking with Johnson some days before his
death, Cox told Seattle agents, that Johnson alluded to the Halifax explosion.
Cox asked the chemist whether he could identify an unbranded high explosive
powder. Johnson named it at once.
“Would Have Blown Up More: I had thirty-five pounds of a more dangerous
explosive than that left after we blew up three ships in Halifax harbor during
the war,” Johnson is alleged to have said. “If they had not discharged me, there
would have been more ships blown up. We will be better prepared for them the
next time they start a war.”
As quoted in Laura M. MacDonald, Curse of the narrows (Toronto, ON: HarperCollins, 2005), pp. 340–341.
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#10
Francis Mackey interview
Excerpt of an interview conducted by CBC Radio in 1967 with
the pilot of the Mont-Blanc, Francis Mackey.
Comments in brackets are not part of the original document.
They have been added to assist the reader with difficult words.
CBC Radio Special
With Francis Mackey
MACKEY: I came in on the Mont-Blanc.
The ship in the first place, a ship bound
in was supposed to have the right of
way. No other ship was allowed to pass
her coming out ….
We arrived on the examination ground.
Ships were only allowed into Bedford
Basin in daylight. It was late afternoon. And the man from the examining
boat came alongside as they all had to do
to find out what the ship’s cargo was and
so on. Well I said, “Just wait a minute.
You’re standing on top of five hundred
tons of TNT now, both of us. The rest of
her cargo is picric acid, dry and wet.
And Benzol on deck. Now,” I says, “that’s
a damned bad cargo.” I said, “What I’d
like you to do is ask the examining officer aboard the ship there. Ask or tell
him there that I expect to get special
orders for this ship through the night.
Ask him if he can arrange it.” Next
morning, daylight came and I was ordered
to get underway. I asked him, “Are there
any special orders in way of protection
of the ship?” And he said, “No sire.”
We come up, arrived up at The Narrows.
We were coming up as slow as we possibly
could … and the other ship was coming
down on his wrong side, answering my
one blast with two, decidedly opposite
to what he should do. He should have
answered me with one and kept close to
the Halifax side …. When he got down
a little further he found it was narrowing up across it, see and he got cold
feet and pulled it full speed astern
[backwards direction] when he was on my
starboard side and that’s when he cut
her into me.
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CBC: That’s when you hit?
MACKEY: Yeah he cut right into me …. The
friction between the two plates of the two
ships created a spark. We stood there until
we couldn’t stand there any longer. I said,
“The only thing to do is save our crew.” I
said, “Get them in the boats.”… We pulled
away from the ship. There was a navy tug
going down past us and we hailed him and
I waved to him, “Take us in tow.” Hollered
but you might as well as holler at a post.
Nobody could hear. Too much racket ….
CBC: Do you think the collision could have
been avoided? What should have been done?
MACKEY: By not allowing the Imo out. He
come out on his wrong side. Broke the rules
come on the wrong side of a steamer on the
wrong side up above The Narrows and then
come down on the wrong side again and
struck me …. There was no ship allowed to
come out when a ship incoming was bound
in.
CBC: Once the collision took place, could
anything have been done to prevent the
explosion?
MACKEY: No. No. The explosion she was out
of business. Couldn’t do anything with her.
No one was throwing water on her.
CBC: Could she have been taken in tow
[pulled it by tugboat]?
MACKEY: Well it would … was just a question … you wouldn’t have been time to take
her in tow and take her anywhere.
“Mont-Blanc pilot Francis Mackey recalls the explosion” CBC Radio
Special, October 3, 1967, as quoted in Laura M. MacDonald, Curse of the
narrows (Toronto, ON: HarperCollins, 2005), pp. 289–290.
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#1
Determining fault
Excerpt from a journal article written by Captain Robert C.P. Power
entitled “A look back at the collision of the Imo and Mont-Blanc
with seventy-five years of hindsight,” published in Ground zero: A
reassessment of the 1917 explosion in Halifax harbour in 1994.
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It is my conclusion that the Imo and Mont-Blanc had sighted each other
long before the collision …. The position of the Imo when she made her turn
would have placed the sun directly over the top of the Mont-Blanc. In The
Narrows, with no wind and the amount of coal smoke in the atmosphere,
anyone looking into the sun would probably have seen only an indefinite
[vague] silhouette of any object in the glare of the water. The Mont-Blanc’s
wartime grey would not have helped against the background of a haze
with sun shining through it. When the Mont-Blanc sounded two blasts on
its whistle and started to swing to port [left], those on the bridge [room or
platform from which a ship is commanded] of the Imo were able to determine her aspect and proximity and the danger of collision. Three blasts were
made on the whistle of the Imo and the engine was put full astern [reverse]
for a second time. Of course, at this point it was not possible to redeem
[save] the situation and the collision resulted shortly thereafter.
It is my conclusion that both vessels can be faulted for not stopping entirely
before the situation became critical. If the Inquiry was correct in finding
that the collision took place in the centre of the channel, if not on the Halifax side, I find it difficult to understand why the captain of the Mont-Blanc
chose to turn to port [left] towards Halifax when there was certainly enough
water for his ship to turn to starboard [right] without danger of grounding.
Robert C. P. Power, “The Collision of the Imo and the Mont-Blanc,” in Alan Ruffman and Colin D. Howell (eds.),
Ground zero: A reassessment of the 1917 explosion in Halifax harbour (Halifax, NS): Nimbus Publishing, 1994),
p. 386–387.
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Local prejudice influences
opinion
Excerpt from a journal article written by Donald A. Kerr entitled
“Another calamity: The litigation,” published in Ground zero: A
reassessment of the 1917 explosion in Halifax harbour in 1994.
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Immediately following the explosion, a rumour began to circulate that the
disaster was part of a nefarious [wicked] plot by the Kaiser and his evil
cohorts, and that Halifax would be entirely flattened by a second enormous
blast scheduled to go off a few days later. In addition, only four months earlier, Canada had passed a Conscription Act despite strong opposition from
the province of Québec. It was easy for the local populace [population] to
focus its anti-French sentiments [feelings] on the Mont-Blanc. It was well
known that just prior to the collision the French vessel had made an inexplicable [unexplainable] alteration [change] of course towards the Halifax side.
Rumours of a deliberate explosion increased when it was learned that the
Mont-Blanc had not been displaying the red explosives flag. (At the inquiry
it was very properly pointed out that the flag was to be displayed only when
explosives were being “handled.” Captain Le Medec … correctly stated that
to display the explosives flag on other occasions would have been to advertise the nature of the ship’s cargo and thus invite enemy activity.)
The print media were in a frenzy, repeating and exaggerating (if not inventing) each successive rumour. The sentiment against the Mont-Blanc was
illustrated by an editorial comment in the Truro Daily News that the parties
responsible for “such a needless collision” in clear weather “should be hung
in good old fashioned style” from the yardarm.
Donald A. Kerr, “Another calamity: The litigation,” in Alan Ruffman and Colin D. Howell (eds.), Ground zero: A
reassessment of the 1917 explosion in Halifax harbour (Halifax, NS): Nimbus Publishing, 1994), p., 368.
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The Supreme Court weighs in
Excerpt from a book written by lawyer Donald A. Kerr entitled
“Another calamity: The litigation,” published in Ground zero: A
reassessment of the 1917 explosion in Halifax harbour in 1994.
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In the course of his analysis, Mr. Justice Anglin found that the Imo “inexcusably”
stayed on the wrong side of the channel until just before the collision. He concluded saying: “While I incline to think that the Imo was the more blame-worthy of the
two, I am not sufficiently satisfied of this to do otherwise than apportion [distribute] the responsibility equally.”
The two remaining judges, Brodeur and Mignault, were French-Canadians and
were understandably suspicious of the anti-French bias displayed by Drysdale and
identified by their associate, Justice Anglin. In thorough [detailed] and well-reasoned decisions, both of those judges found the Imo fully to blame, and the MontBlanc blameless. Both judges said … that the place of collision was almost immaterial [unimportant]. It was necessary to go further back in time … and analyze the
manoeuvres which got the ships to that place before attempting to assign responsibility. Both concluded that the Imo was in the wrong water at all relevant times,
only getting over to its own side when it was too late, and that the violent alteration
to port of the Mont-Blanc, although unwise in the circumstances, was understandable and excusable. The Imo, they said, was solely to blame ….
Of the five Supreme Court judges, two were in favour of the Imo, two were for the
Mont-Blanc, and one was of the opinion that both were to blame. The bout would
have been a draw! Draws are unacceptable at the Appeal Court level, which is why
there is almost always an uneven number of judges. A draw would mean that the
appellant [appealing person/group] (Mont-Blanc) had failed to discharge the burden of upsetting the Drysdale decision, with the result that the case would go into
the books as a complete win for the Imo. Brodeur and Mignault cannily [shrewdly]
decided that they would not let that happen. Accordingly, in the final paragraph of
each of their decisions, they said that while they would have held the Imo solely to
blame, they were prepared to adopt the reasoning of Justice Anglin and find mutual
and equal fault on the part of the two ships. Half a loaf was better than none. Thus
it ended up as a three-two decision in favour of an equal division of fault.
Donald A. Kerr, “Another calamity: The litigation,” in Alan Ruffman and Colin D. Howell (eds.), Ground zero: A
reassessment of the 1917 explosion in Halifax harbour (Halifax, NS): Nimbus Publishing, 1994), p. 373–374.
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Conclusions of Captain Louis
Demers
Excerpt from a book written by historian John Griffith Armstrong
entitled The Halifax explosion and the Royal Canadian Navy,
published in 2002.
Caus
Halifa es of the
x Exp
losio
n
Comments in brackets are not part of the original document. They have been added to assist the reader with difficult words.
In reaching his conclusions, Demers [Dominion Wreck Commissioner] rather
astonishingly placed moral considerations above rules governing maritime law. To
the wreck commissioner’s mind, the weighing of evidence required no great efforts
of deliberation. Demers’s notion was that Captain Le Medec and Pilot Mackey had
indefensibly violated the rules of the road in the narrow waters. When Imo had
sounded her two-blast to answer to Mont-Blanc’s single warning, Demers insisted
that the latter should have at once placed her helm to port [turned to the left],
sounded a signal of three blasts, and ordered her engines full astern [reverse the
engines]. He also insisted that this obligation to defer immediately to Imo’s advertised intentions—normal procedure or no—was Mont-Blanc’s only proper recourse
because only Le Medec and Mackey had knowledge of the very dangerous cargo
their ship carried. Demers believed this knowledge carried with it an overriding
obligation to take uncommon measures to avoid any prospect of collision ….
Interestingly, Demers considered Imo’s pilot and crew blameless. Pilot Hayes had
himself been a victim of the disaster—“he has lost his life, and therefore cannot defend himself”—and Demers would not even blame him for not reporting the ship’s
departure from Bedford Basin to the naval authorities.
John Griffith Armstrong, The Halifax explosion and the Royal Canadian Navy (Vancouver, BC: UBC Press, 2002),
p. 191. This excerpt is reprinted with permission of University of British Columbia Press 2002. All rights reserved
by the Publisher.
the
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