The Wreck of the Fantee
Transcribed by Todd Stevens


THE MERCHANT SHIPPING ACT, 1894 - REPORT OF COURT; (No. 7963) - M.V. "Fantee" O.N. 161104

In the matter of a Formal Investigation held at Liverpool on the 7th, 8th and 9th days of February, 1950, before R. F. Hayward, Esq., K.C., assisted by Captain J. P. Thomson, Captain P. S. Robinson and J. R. C. Welch, Esq., into the circumstances attending the stranding and total loss of the M.V. "Fantee" on the 6th October, 1949, on the Seven Stones, near Scilly Isles. 

The Court, having carefully inquired into the circumstances attending the above-mentioned shipping casualty, finds, for the reasons stated in the Annex hereto, that the casualty was caused by wrongful act or default of her master, Captain J. W. Andrew, and the Court orders that his certificate be suspended for six calendar months from the date of the occurrence. Dated this 9th day of February, 1950. 

R. F. HAYWARD, Judge

The "Fantee", ex "Penrith Castle", of Liverpool, was a steel twin screw cargo motor ship of 6,368 tons gross register, 464 feet in length and 60 feet beam, built in 1929 by Messrs. Cammell Laird & Company Limited, and owned by Elder Dempster Lines, Limited, of Water Street, Liverpool, and managed by W. L. Robinson, Esq., of the same address. She had seven water-tight bulkheads and an almost continuous double bottom. She was fitted with two motor engines, situated amidships with a total B.H.P. of 4,480, giving the vessel a designed speed of 13½ knots. She was steered by electric hydraulic gear, telemotor controlled. She was equipped with the regulation life-saving appliances, lights and sound signals which were in accordance with Ministry requirements. The "Fantee" was equipped with main and emergency radio transmitters and receiver, a direction finder and an auto alarm, all in good order. She was also equipped with a Marconi echometer, a patent sounding machine, deep sea and hand leads and lines, and three Walker's logs and lines. She carried a Kelvin's liquid standard compass on the wheelhouse top and a Kelvin's liquid steering compass in the wheelhouse, and she carried a spare dry card compass aft; these were last adjusted at Liverpool, on the 11th December, 1947. The vessel was classed +100 A1 at Lloyd's, and her load line certificate was dated April, 1948, to expire in June, 1952. 

The "Fantee", bound from Takoradi, West Africa, laden with a cargo of African produce including about 125 tons of timber on deck, discharged about 2,000 tons at Amsterdam, and sailed from thence on the 4th October, for Liverpool, manned by 51 hands all told, and carrying 3 passengers, with a draught of 22 feet 11 inches forward and 24 feet 3 inches aft. 

Coming down channel at a speed of 13 knots or a little more her last visual fix was of the Royal Sovereign L.V. abeam at a distance of about 2 miles, at 12.30 p.m. on the 5th October. (Note: All times given are B.S.T.). Thereafter, it being hazy over the land, none of the usual land marks or lights were sighted, the visibility from time to time being down to 1 mile and the ship occasionally sounding long blasts for fog, with her engines on stand by, and her echometer in almost constant use. Various D.F. bearings were obtained, particularly of Start Point which was passed at about 1 a.m. on the morning of the 6th October. None of the ship's navigational documents having been saved, the evidence as to navigation throughout was only oral, depending on the memory of the witnesses called. The bearings last referred to indicated that the ship was about 2 miles to the southward of her course line. 

Following a cross D/F bearing of the Start and Round Island at 4.26 a.m., the ship's course was altered to west (true). The Lizard fog signal was heard at about 5.40 a.m., when about abeam, at an estimated distance of about 5 miles. The west course was continued with a view to passing to the south of Wolf Rock. This sea mark was neither seen nor heard. The master for some unexplained reason estimated his speed at about 11 knots. The Court, however, is satisfied that it was about 13¼ knots through the water with an adverse tide of something less than a knot. Although 3 patent logs were carried none of them was in use, the reason given being that the one used in the earlier part of the voyage was unreliable. 

At about 7.50 a.m., course was altered to 290 true, and at about 8.15 a.m. it was altered to North true, and at 8.35 a.m. a bearing of the ship from Land's End Goniometer A of 244 true was received. This bearing was notified as a Class C bearing, indicating that it was liable to error up to plus or minus 10 degrees. At about 8.40 a.m., course was altered to 005 degrees true, and at 8.54 a.m. a D/F bearing of Round Island 267 degrees was obtained and an echometer sounding of 37 fathoms was noted. The master, thinking he was steering a safe course and was to the eastward of the sixth meridian and having been almost continuously on the bridge since the previous evening, went below for breakfast at about 9 a.m., leaving the second officer in charge. The visibility at this time was stated to be about 1½ to 2 miles, but the Seven Stones L.V. was never seen, and her log record is that she ceased sounding for fog at 7.15 a.m., and re-commenced at 9.15 a.m. Between about 9.05 and 9.10 a.m. the ship's lookout on the forecastle head reported breakers on the starboard bow, The second officer, who had been in the chartroom, came on the bridge and seeing breakers four points on the port bow and fine on the starboard bow promptly turned the ship under full starboard wheel and instructed the third officer, who was just returning to the bridge, to call the master at once. The latter promptly arrived on the bridge and the ship was steadied on 170 degrees true. At 9.12 a.m. Land's End radio reported the ship bearing 247 degrees, a Class B bearing, indicating a possible error up to plus or minus 5 degrees. 

The evidence as to the precise orders given from this point is not clear, but, under some order from the master, the third officer turned the ship under full starboard wheel through west and, whilst she was swinging, was ordered to steer 045 degrees true. The ship was put on to this course, and at 9.23 a.m. stranded on what local boatmen afterwards stated was the South Stone. Land's End radio reported her bearing as 247 degrees Class B, but even allowing the maximum error of 5 degrees this would appear to place the ship somewhat south of the South Stone. 

On striking, the engine room filled rapidly and had to be abandoned. The sea became covered with palm oil which the ship was carrying in deep tanks as part of her cargo. The ship listed over about 30 degrees to starboard, and soundings taken showed 15 feet on the starboard side amidships and about 15 fathoms abreast of the foremast. The master fearing that the ship would slide off and founder ordered "abandon ship", and the passengers and crew were rapidly embarked in two of the ship's lifeboats, which remained clear of the ship until about an hour later when all were transferred to a launch which came out from St. Mary's. During the afternoon the master was unable to get a boat to return to the ship, but doing so on the following morning found that she was completely broken at the fore end of the engine room with her after part submerged and her fore part nearly awash. She was later recognised to be a total loss. 

The Court is satisfied that at no time did the master of the "Fantee" attempt to ascertain with any accuracy the speed of his ship during his passage down the English Channel, although he had indications of hazy weather which might necessitate dead reckoning navigation. His speed could have been readily obtained by noting the times of passing and distance run between Royal Sovereign, the Start and the Lizard. Had he done so it would have become apparent that to underestimate his speed by 2 knots for three hours, when attempting to shape a midway course between the Wolf Rock to the eastward and the Seven Stones some 12 miles to the westward, would be fraught with grave danger if the visibility remained as it did remain, pretty poor. In those circumstances a radio bearing of Land's End should have been obtained before the ship was steered to the northward. 

The Court is satisfied that the master concluded, and rightly so, that the breakers reported were on the Seven Stones. It is further of the opinion that, having received the bearing of 247 degrees from Land's End at a time when the ship was heading safely to the southward and away from the reported danger, it was a grave error of judgment or lack of care to turn the ship to the westward and northward under full speed and thereafter to steady on 045 degrees. Good seamanship would have dictated that on receiving the bearing of 247 degrees from Land's End radio he should have turned the ship to port on to a course no further north than about E.N.E., reduced his speed and navigated with caution until he was able to fix his ship's position with accuracy. 

Having regard to the master's good record and the fact that he has been unemployed for the four months since the casualty it recommends that his certificate be suspended for a period of six calendar months from the 6th October, 1949.