The Otterspool was a vessel ship rigged of 1,711 tons registered tonnage, official Number 91,173, built at Jarrow in the county of Durham in 1885 and belonging to the Port of Liverpool.
It appears from the evidence given before this court that she sailed from Newcastle-on-Tyne on August 10th last bound for Iquique with a cargo of coals and a crew of 22 hands all told.
On Friday night, November 2nd, a tarry smell was noticed proceeding from the forehatch and about 10 p.m. the same night smoke was observed coming out of the ventilators forward. The third mate, Mr. Carvell, went down the forehatch which had smoke in it but found no trace of fire. The ship was at this time in Lat. 30°26" S. and Long. 72°9" W. about fifty miles off the land at Coquimbo. The master ordered everything to be battened down and this was done. All the ventilators were covered. Holes were cut in the deck round the main hatch and the pump was kept at work pouring water into the hold until the ship arrived at Caldera. Water was also drawn by hand and poured down the holes cut in the deck. The first explosion took place about 2 o'clock on Saturday morning and for some time the explosions succeeded one another at intervals of about half an hour; subsequently the intervals lengthened considerably, but the explosions were more violent. At each explosion the fore hatches were lifted and partly blown off, and the main hatch was also lifted. At some of the later explosions a blue flame came out of the forehatches and went as high as the foreyard.
The weather was fine with a steady breeze. After each explosion the crew replaced and battened down the hatches, until at noon on Saturday, November 3rd, the fore hatches were blown right over the fore yard. A new sail was then lashed over the forehatch with a heavy davit on top. This sail remained in its place until after the ship was anchored at Caldera, when it was blown up and as it came down caught and hung on the fore top gallant yard. After the first explosion on Saturday morning, November 3rd, the temperature in the hold rose very rapidly and the master decided to make the first available Port. The wind was light southerly and west. Sighted land at daylight November 3rd to the southward of Carrizal. The ship entered the Port of Caldera in charge of the Pilot and, when she has anchored, at the request of the master, the British Vice-Council and the masters of the various vessels in the Port came on board and after a lengthy inspection were unanimous in advising the master to move the ship into shallow water and endeavour to scuttle her. Mechanics from the shore came off promptly and worked till dark trying to cut a hole on each side of the conflagration. The vessel rose so rapidly that the holes were soon above the waterline and not much water entered by them. There were at Caldera no appliances for putting out or controlling the fire. The plates got too hot to work at, and the explosions threw the mechanics into the water, and the masts were expected to fall, so that after dark the mechanics refused on any terms to continue working. The deck beginning to buckle up the crew left the vessel by orders of the master about 4 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, November 4th. Shortly after the crew left the ship she was a mass of flames. The Court having regard to the circumstances above stated finds as follows:—
That the fire was due to spontaneous ignition of the coal cargo:
That the hatches were properly ventilated during the voyage.
That everything was done that should be done to extinguish the fire and save the ship.
The Court desire to place on record its high opinion of the coolness, bravery and devotion to duty of the master, officers and crew, and considers that the conduct of the master is specially worthy of commendation. Richard A. Buck, acting chief mate, and John Carvell, 3rd mate, in the opinion of this Court set a fine example to the crew and deserve the highest praise. The expenses of this Court, fixed at £18 17s. 2., are approved.
Dated at the British Consulate General in Valparaiso this 21st day of November, 1900.
(Sd.) Berry Cusack-Smith, K.C.M.G.
Her Majesty's Consul General for Chili,
President of Naval Court.
(Sd.) E.J. Fritz. (Sd.) H.C. Brown,
Transcribed by Lars Bruzelius
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Copyright © 1996 Lars Bruzelius.