Noronic Ruling Blames Owners, Master
The owners, the Canada Steamship Lines, Ltd., and the captain of the Great Lakes steamer Noronic, which burned on Sept. 17 with loss of 119 lives, were held responsible for the disaster in a judgement handed down by Justice R. L. Kellock, in Ottawa, Ont., on Nov. 21. Junior officers and crew members came in for lesser criticism.
The court ordered the certificate of Captain William Taylor be suspended for one year and the Canada Steamship Lines should pay the costs of the investigation, estimated at between $50,000 and $100,000.
Justice Kellock stated the destruction of the Noronic and the loss of life had been caused by:
- Absence of a continuous fire detecting patrol on the ship, the patrol in existence at the time of the fire having been limited to approximately fifteen minutes out of every hour.
- Failure to have any organization operative when the ship was in dock, with passengers on board, which could immediately have dispatched men trained in fire-fighting.
- Failure to contemplate in any real sense the possibility of fire occurring at a dock, so that only fifteen men out of a crew of 171 were actually on duty.
- Failure to have any plan for arousing the passengers and getting them off the ship.
- Failure to train the crew in the proper steps to be taken on discovery of fire and in fire-fighting methods, beyond giving them a knowledge of how to operate fire extinguishers and hoses.
The Noronic, being an old ship, was not equipped with fire-resisting bulkheads, but its fire alarm system was in good order, the report said. Although the equipment had been approved by the Steamship Inspection Service on April 23, justice Kellock observed that “the laxity of the inspection in requiring compliance with regulations could only induce or encourage similar laxity on the part of the owners and officers of the ship with respect to the vital matter of preparedness for fire.”
With some few exceptions, the report stressed the complete complacency that had descended on both the ship officers and the management. When the fire was detected, the report said, one crew member and a passenger spent valuable time trying to extinguish it and delayed giving the alarm.
The actual cause of the blaze was not established, it broke out in a small linen closet, just forward of the women’s washroom, opening onto the port corridor of C deck, here was no evidence of the fire having been deliberately set.
While the report mentions individual members of the crew for their energy in trying to help passengers to safety, it pointed out these individual efforts only served to bring into contrast the lack of proper organization and the fact that neither the master, nor any other officer, took over direction of the fight against the fire, which spread rapidly. Only eleven minutes elapsed from the time it was discovered until the ship was substantially in flame, with the exception of parts of the bow and stern.
Justice Kellock made a number of recommendations that call for the installation on lake ships of fire-resisting bulk-heads, continudus patrols, an automatic fire alarm, adequate crew training in fire-fighting and the direction of passengers, a sprinkler system to protect all enclosed parts of the ships, a public address system for directing passengers in an emergency and the provision of more than one exit to shore when ships are at dock, and telephone connections with shore authorities.
On the day before the report was released the press announced the identification of two more of the dead. The total of identified dead, as of Nov. 20 was given as 112. Seven persons remain unaccounted for.