THE PORT KEMBLA DISASTER.
At the inquiry at Wellington into the of tiie. steamer Port' Kembla off Cape Farewell on September 18tt, Mr P.. S. K. Macassey, who appeared for the Marino Department, said :—
"On Wednesday, September 12, at 6.15 p.m., the s.s. Port itembla left Breakwater Pier at Williamstown, Victoria, bound for London, via Wellington and Panama, with a crew of 59 hands-all told. The vessel was fully laden with frozen produce, wool, skins, tallow, jams, lead, and general cargo. .There was also on board a mail for New Zealand consisting of 270 packages. 'The draught of water leaving Williamstown was 22ft 2in forward and 24ft llin aft. Fine weather was experienced, with moderate westerly winds and moderate seas. At 2 p.m. on Friday, September 14, wireless instructions were received from Sydney to proceed en the voyage to Wellington. On Motfday night, September 17, Kaurangi Light was picked lip and passed at a distance of 19 miles at 11.55 p.m. The course was then set for Farewell Spit light, to pass about four mile's off. Captain Jack was on and off the bridge until 0.50 a.m. on September 18, when he saw the loom of Farewell Spit Light. He then came down.and entered the chart room, . and afterwards his cabin. He was just about to sit down when he heard a terrific explosion. He immediately rushed to the bridge, where he met Mr Churton, the second officer, who was1 on watch. William" Donald, A.8., was at the wheel, and John Rogers was on the look-out in the crow's-nest on the foremast. Mr Gard was in charge of the wireless. The captain rushed to the bridge, whore lie met Mr Churton, who said, 'A bomb has exploded forward.' The captain gave orders for the helm to be put hard to port and head S.S. for tho land. The captain then ran to the wireless room, and ordered the operator to send out the S.O.S. signal. At the isamc trine orders were given for the lifeboats to be swung out. The captain went on the bridge again, when Mr Churton informed him that the comoass was shat-
tered by the force of the explosion. The engines were then stopped and everyone ordered to stations to swing out and lower the lifeboats. Mr Gard, the wireless operator on watch, and Mr Haslem, senior operator, were also there, and tried to send off the message, but they could not do so as the aerials had been carried away by the force of the explosion. The carpenter was ordered to.sound forward, and Mr Fletcher, chief officer, met him at No. 2 hatch, and he reported Bft of water in No. 1 hold; No. 2 was dry. Mr Fletcher reported that No. 1 hatches were blown off and cargo strewn around the decks. The ship had now listed heavily to starboard, and the foredeck was awash.
"Both lifeboats were now in the water, and all the crew as far as could be ascertained were on board the boats. The captain gave orders for the second officer to go into the starboard boat, and the boats to pull away from the ship, and stand by at a safe distance. The captain then went aft as the water came along the decks. The starboard side was now under water from forward to about amidships..' The captain worked his way afte. He met Mr Fletcher, the first officer, and Mr Samms, the third officer, but, as the vessel had listed heavily to starboard and the water was washing along the deck to No. 4 hatch, it was decided to abandon the ship. Tiie captain, Mr Fletcher, and Mr Samms jumped overboard, and swam towaixls the boats. The captain and officers were taken into tho boats, and it was decided to head towards the loom of Kaurangi Light, which could be seen at times between ithe rain squalls. The seamen were pulling constantly until 6.30 a.m. on September 18th, "when they were res cued by the s.s. Regulus, and brought to Nelson.
"As to the cause of the explosion, I think it will be established beyond any doubt that the explosion was an internal one, and was not an external explosion, for the following reasons i 2—The explosion took place in the "No. 1 hatch, in which there were frozen rabbits in open crates in tiie lower hold and between decks, and under the shelter deck forward cases of jam, wool, and skins. No. 1 hatch was blown off, and a. seaman called Horsford, who was sitting on the hatch at the time, found himself lying on the starboard side of !the ship, with cases of jam, which were I blown up on deck out of No. 1 hold. [The explosion was a very heav yreport, and the shock caused the ship to shake I from stem to stern. Several hatches blew off the starboard side of the No. L hold, and several cases of cargo, jam, etc., blew out of the hold on to the ;deck. A large quantity of smoke was coming out of the No. 1 hold, and also from the ventilators on the forward deck on the starboard side. The second officer will say that lie smelt fumes, as he thought, of sulphur, which came up and affected him so-much that he was sick when in the boat, and the man at the wheel will say that his mouth was all blistered with these fumes. There is the following evidence against the theory that the explosion was caused externally: The hatches on "No. 1 hold were blown off; the cargo in the hold
was blown up through tho hatches on to the deck ; smoke was seen coming out of the hatches and out of the ventilators; the smell of sulphur came straight up to the bridge, and affected ithe second officer, and also Rogers, the ilook-out man in the crow's nest on [the forward mast; the wireless apparatus was affected and the compass j .smashed; and there was no volume ot j water thrown up j.nTo the air, as one j would expect it the explosion was due to a floating mine or other external cause."