The one thing which strikes a layman as rather peculiar is, that while the engineer for his negligence has his licence revoked and thus is deprived of his livelihood at his present vocation, the master, for his errors, is suspended for but a year. This nice division into degrees of negligence which was responsible for the loss of many lives does not appeal to the non-nautical public.
The decision, as it stands, is not a final disposition of the case. It is open to the master and the engineer to take their cases on appeal to higher authority, where the testimony will be examined anew, and they can secure the benefit of further expert opinion on their defences.
But even this should not be the end of the matter. It is apparent by the finding of the inspectors that the loss of the many lives, was due to a preventable contingency at the least; and that is was gross negligence which caused the loss. Gross negligence, resulting in the death of a person, spells manslaughter ashore; and it is to be presumed that the same law holds good on the high seas. The inspectors having disposed of the cases of the delinquents to the full extent of their jurisdiction, it remains with the United States district attorney to determine whether a case is not presented for him to bring before the federal grand jury.
The verdict is "neglect and incompetency" on the part of the chief engineer and the captain.
As a penalty for these conclusions the licence of Chief Engineer De Launay has been revoked, and Captain Roberts has been suspended from service for one year.
The two propositions set forth above will be startling to the community and the people at large.
The 'Clallam' was a new steamer having been upon the waters less than twelve months and having been built under such inspection as certified to her complete seaworthiness and substantiality.
The testimony before the inspectors went to show that, though carelessness or indifference, water was admitted to the vessel by opening wrong valves, and thus sunk through the operation of the ships pumps.
In other words, as illustrated in the Times repeatedly since the disaster occurred, the valve which admits water into the pumps from the ocean was opened instead of the valves which permit the waters to be thrown out of the vessel.
If the findings of the inspectors - Messrs. Whitney and Turner - be correct, then more than fifty human beings lost their lives through sheer carelessness, indifference or complete ignorance of the proper operation of ships pumps.
Of course, the chief engineer is the principal party to be censured for the sinking of the ship in the first place, but Capt. Roberts in also censured and suspended from service for twelve months. This would imply that the inspectors found Capt. Roberts incompetent to handle the ship after she became unable.
Apparently the 'Clallam' might have been beached and probably every passenger on board saved - instead of a complete loss of the ship and the drowning of some fifty-five persons
If the inspectors be correct in their findings, is it possible that the courts will permit this matter to rest where t is?
Is not such a finding equivalent to the report of a coroner's jury that fifty-five human beings were sent into eternity through the 'incompetence and neglect' of the two chief officers of that ships?
But in making such a finding, would not the coroner's jury hold these persons to the grand jury or the criminal courts for the commission of one of the highest crimes known to the law?
Of course, neither of these men expected to drown anybody, or to take any chances of being drowned themselves. But they so mismanaged the ship in the charge the fifty-five lives were lost as a result of such mismanagement.
It seems to us that , if the inspectors findings be true, both Capt. Roberts and Engineer De Launay ought to be put on trial for homicide at least.
It is no small matter for two officers in charge of a ship, with an hundred lives on board, to go misconduct themselves as to destroy the lives of one half of that number of persons.
A mere revocation of an engineer's licence which will merely prevent De Launay for awhile from having a similar opportunity to destroy life, is a mockery of justice.
The suspension of Capt. Roberts from holding a commission for twelve months will go but a little way toward appeasing the families of the dead.
We believe that a most complete trial of this case ought to be had in the courts of competent jurisdiction and justice administered in accordance with the facts.
"This verdict will confuse the mind of the average landsman as to who has charge of a ship. Captain Roberts has been master of steam vessels on Puget Sound for more than a quarter of a century. It is reasonable to suppose that during that period he has looked into the engine room often enough to know something about the pumps and their functions. Such being the case, it is passing strange that he did not make an examination into conditions in the engine room when he found his vessel was in peril. Had he done so, and discovered that the pumps were not working right, his plain duty was to head for the nearest point of safety instead of continuing on his course in an apparent endeavor to reach a port where dock facilities were cheap and salvage could be avoided. There can be - one master on a ship, and every other officer on that ship takes orders from the master.
"The testimony does not show Engineer De Launay in an enviable light and he is probably entitled to all the punishment he received for gross negligence or ignorance, or both. Just why a higher punishment should be levied for the master's greater negligence is a matter which the public at large will be slow to understand, and the mourning relatives and friends of the sixty people who lost their lives by the calamity, can hardly be expected to view it as a case where the 'punishment fits the crime.'"