§ * LORD COLVILLE OF CULROSS
, in rising to ask whether the Board of Trade will take the steps necessary to require the Trinity Corporation to remove from Cowes Roads the remains of the hull of the ship Astracana, 1,400 tons burthen, which was towed in by their officials from the Channel, and deposited there on the; 3rd January last, the said hull being a danger to navigation, and occupying a large portion of the best anchorage for trading and small vessels in Cowes Roads, said: It will be known to most of your Lordships that the vessel to which my question relates was sunk in a collision with another vessel about mid-channel with her keel up and all her masts standing under water. She became a standing danger to the navigation of the Channel, and the Corporation of the Trinity, as in duty bound, proceeded to try to get hold of the wreck and destroy it. They found her, I believe, off Beachy Head, and they commenced to try to destroy her by dynamite. They partially succeeded, but they only blew her stern out. Unfortunately, instead of completing the act of destruction in deep water, the Trinity towed the vessel into Cowes Roads on the 3rd January, and deposited her in the most sheltered and convenient passage for vessels of 992 moderate draught in that harbour. I am told that the Trinity have been offered £400 for the wreck and the cargo, but they have refused to accept it. After discharging the cargo the Trinity recommenced the work of destruction; but in consequence of the absence, through illness, of their principal diver, the work was suspended. By this time the Local Board of Cowes petitioned the Board of Trade that they should have this wreck removed. Perhaps I may be anticipating the answer that I shall receive from my noble Friend who will reply for the Board of Trade; but I will read the letter which the Trinity House addressed to the Board of Trade, who had forwarded a complaint from Cowes as to this wreck—I am directed by the Board to acknowledge the receipt of your letter dated 29th ultimo (H 4253) transmitting a copy of a letter from Messrs. Winther and Co., of Cowes, on the subject of the wreck Astracana, and requesting that the Board of Trade may be furnished with the observations of the Elder Brethren thereon. In reply, I am to state that, as soon as the wreck could be secured and the cargo recovered there from, steps were taken to disperse the hull of the vessel without loss of time; but some delay occurred through the sudden illness of the diver employed upon the work. As the result of the operations undertaken, no part of the vessel is now more than two feet above the ground, while there is 14 feet of water over the outside, and 11 feet over the inside portion of the wreck. A wreck buoy has been laid over the centre of the remains, and a cautionary notice to mariners (No. 15) issued against anchoring within a space of thirty fathoms there-from. No doubt inconvenience may be felt from the restriction thus imposed as to anchorage in a locality so frequented by yachts and other small craft, and this circumstance the Elder Brethren much regret. There is, however, every reason to suppose that even the portions of the vessel standing above the mud are sinking quickly into it, the ground being already perfectly level over the wreck in some places. Looking at the manner in which the vessel has been already dealt with, and the large expenditure incurred, as well as to the fact that a very considerable sum might yet be spent in rendering the spot absolutely free for anchorage, the Elder Brethren do not feel justified in putting the Mercantile Marine Fund to further expense, being advised, in fact, that all that is reasonably necessary in the matter has been done.When the Trinity abstained from further attempts to remove the wreck they placed a buoy over her, and published a cautional notice, which I hold in my hand, "that no vessels were to anchor within the range of 30 fathoms of the buoy." Now, 993 my Lords, that is all very well in daylight, but there is no light over the wreck at night, and any vessel going into Cowes Roads, and anchoring in what is considered to be the best anchoring ground in the harbour, would probably find her anchor fouled, and never recover it again. I demur to the statement in that letter that the wreck is sinking into the mud. Those who know the locality far better than the Trinity do consider that a shoal is being formed over the wreck and over the two or three hundred tons of stone which formed the ballast of the vessel. I observe that last night in another place the President of the Board of Trade, in answering a question upon this subject, said that there was nothing of the wreck above the level of the sand. This is in direct contradiction with the notice issued by the Trinity, in which they say that a small portion of the wreck is in some places two feet above the mud. This very caution issued by the Trinity against vessels anchoring within 30 fathoms of the buoy indicates that an area of about 2½ acres of the very best anchorage in Cowes Harbour is rendered dangerous and useless. The President of the Board of Trade said in answer last night that he had recently seen the spot, and that he did not think trading vessels would be inconvenienced, although a few yachts might be at certain states of the tide. I speak from upwards of thirty-five years' experience of Cowes, where I have a residence. At this time of the year no doubt there are a great many yachts to be seen there, but if you go there in the winter you will probably not see one; but this particular anchorage is much used by coasting vessels, because they can there have shelter in all weathers, and lay out for the strong tide which runs through Cowes Roads. I think the noble Lord opposite (Lord Brassey), who is a great authority on such matters, will bear me out that the anchorage which has been destroyed is the best anchorage in Cowes Harbour for coasting vessels in bad weather. The upshot of the matter is that the Trinity Corporation, the supreme power to protect our harbours, have by their own act in not destroying this derelict in the English Channel, but depositing her in a much frequented anchorage, created an obstacle which it is their bounden duty to remove. Had this happened in 994 the Thames or in the Mersey, I ask your Lordships how long they would have been suffered to let that wreck remain there? Notwithstanding the unsatisfactory answer given last night by the President of the Board of Trade, I do trust that my noble Friend who represents that Department in this House will say that it is the duty of the Board of Trade to compel the Trinity to restore the anchorage which they have destroyed into its wonted condition.
§ LORD BRASSEY
Before the noble Lord replies, I think it my duty to say that the question which the noble Lord has brought forward is not a question which mainly affects yachtsmen. In the stormy months of winter the Cowes Roads are very much frequented by small coasting vessels—a class of vessels which well deserve consideration and protection.
* LORD BALFOUR
The day after my noble Friend put this question on the Paper, a communication was addressed to the Trinity House, enclosing a copy of the question, and asking to be placed in possession of the views of Trinity House upon the subject. I am authorized to read, for the information of the noble Lord and of the House, the following communication, which has been received in reply:—The duty of removing wrecks dangerous to navigation is laid on the Trinity I Louse by an Act passed in 1877. The wreck Astracanca was reported floating bottom up in the English Channel, a most serious danger to life and property. Trinity House vessels were sent in search, found it on 30th December, and tried to sink it in deep water, but being laden with oil in casks, the vessel would not sink. Waterlogged and unmanageable, it was with great difficulty, and after several days' work, towed out of the way of navigation on the 3rd January into Cowes Roads, that being the nearest place suitable for operations of breaking up and salvage. These were carried on with all possible diligence, although under great difficulties, and it is now (25th June) ascertained that nothing remains of the wreck which could occasion damage to passing navigation, there being 17 feet clear all over her at low water spring tides, and nothing above the level of the sand. To remove the buried remains would be a very costly proceeding, and although for a time the anchorage for a space of about 70 feet by 30 feet will be to some extent foul, only small vessels could anchor there, and a buoy is placed to warn them.I am instructed also to add that in cases where, as in this case, the proceeds of the 995 sale of the cargo are sufficient to meet all the expenses incurred by Trinity House, the Board of Trade has no authority or control in the matter. The question seems to imply that the wreck was deposited voluntarily in the place where it now unfortunately lies. It was, in fact, not the intention of the Trinity House, or its officers, to place the wreck there. They were endeavouring to take the wreck to a more suitable place, and to their regret it became unmanageable and sunk in the Cowes Roads. In consequence of the concluding remarks of the noble Lord, I am bound to point out that the discretion in this matter does not rest with the Board of Trade, but lies upon Trinity House. The Act of 1877 distinctly places all responsibility for the removal of wrecks upon one of two bodies. Where the wreck is lying in a place which is under the control of the Harbour or Conservancy Authorities, the responsibility is placed upon the Harbour or Conservancy Authorities. Where, as in this case, there is no Harbour or Conservancy Authority responsible for the particular spot in question, the duty of removing the wreck is, in the words of the 5th section of the Act, "placed upon the Lighthouse Authority of that part of the United Kingdom," and that for England is, as your Lordships know, the Trinity House. The authority of the Board of Trade only comes in if the proceeds of the sale of the material of the vessel or the cargo recovered is insufficient to meet the cost of the operations. The Trinity House is the authority for saying whether those operations are necessary; but if money is required in addition to the value of the salvage recovered, the Authority of the Board of Trade is called in to sanction an application from the Mercantile Marine Fund. I very greatly regret that this vessel should be lying where it is; but I hope that after what I have said the noble Lord will understand clearly that in this matter the responsibility rests not with the Board of Trade, but with Trinity House, to take whatever steps are necessary.
§ * LORD COLVILLE OF CULROSS
Am I to understand from my noble Friend that the Board of Trade cannot put any pressure whatever upon the Trinity to enforce them to remove the obstruction which they themselves have placed in Cowes Harbour?
* LORD BALFOUR
The Board of Trade have no authority under the Act to deal with such a matter at all, unless and until a demand is made upon them by the Trinity House for authority to apply some portion of the Mercantile Marine Fund for the purpose. Any pressure which has to be brought in the matter ought, therefore, to be brought upon the Elder Brethren of Trinity House.
§ * LORD NORTON
As I take a great interest in Trinity House, I asked for particulars from them of this subject, and their Report to me to-day is that since that Report of the 23rd of May they have been continuing to clear the place, and the whole obstruction will be cleared away as quickly as possible. The space of foul anchorage is now reduced to 70 feet by 30.