The diver's report was as follows: "I examined the bottom of the barque Gitana from bow to stern both sides and could find nothing wrong. On her starboard side her bilge shows traces of having rubbed on sand but nothing more". In addition to this both Lloyd's Surveyors and the Board of Trade Surveyors at Kingstown personally inspected the ship and found nothing to object to, and in spite of these recommendations nine of the crew refused to proceed to sea unless the vessel was brought back to Liverpool and there unloaded drydocked and resurveyed. It ought to be mentioned too that before leaving the Mersey on this trip the Gitana had been surveyed by Lloyd's and passed a number two survey, officials personally complimenting the owners on the excellent condition of the vessel and remarking that there were very few of her strong type of construction now sailing.
These, in brief, are the facts up to the time of the men's refusal to sail and we hold that not only did Messrs Leyland do the right thing in insisting upon the vessel going to sea but that, under the circumstances, no other possible course was open to them, either as guardians of the cargo or as men of business. Anyone acquanted in the slightest degree with shipping matters knows that such cases are a daily if not hourly occurence, and if all the vessels that graze the ground were turned back to their port of departure, in spite of the results of close examination, ship owning as a business would cease to exist.
To resume the story. The men having refused to work were given in charge and marched to jail, and afterwards came before the Kingstown magistrates. On Tuesday last by order of the last named official, the insubordinates were put on board again by the police, the magistrate evidently imaging that the day or two spent in jail would have effectively cooled the ardour of the foolish seamen. At the trial which led up to this proceeding the Board of Trade Surveyor stated in court that he was personally so well satisfied with the seaworthiness of the ship that he would be quite willing to sail in her himself. It was natural to suppose that after this evidence the men would have readily done their duty but on the morning following their return to the vessel the solicitor of the Dublin branch of the Sailors Union sent a letter on board and after this precious communication was unfortunately allowed to reach the men they refused to take the ship to sea, and insisted on going on shore with their baggage.
There were only two courses open to the officers, either to let the men go or prevent them by force and very luckily for all concerned the first course was adopted. The telegram was dispatched to the owners and on Wednesday evening nine men were sent from Liverpool and we are informed by the owners that the vessel left Kingstown for Valparaiso, fully manned, on the insubordinate menb came on to Liverpool and are now doubtless waiting to ship again, obtain another advance note and once more earn another month's wages for three days' work. This manner of the month's advance is certainly one which seems to have affected the action of the Gitana malecontents and the effect of the case upon the owners should be to make them resolutely refuse advances of pay to all except those who they can fully trust. The owners of the ship are absolutely helpless unless they summns the men for desertion, the loss of several hundreds of pounds in hard cash as well as the delay to the vessel, it is absolutely impossible to make good. In showing the strength of the Gitana it will be remembered that she was ashore for some five months five or six years ago, in the North Sea, and was successfully floated without any but the most trifiling damage to her hull. Instead of reading this lesson aright, the men foolishly urged that the fact the vessel had been ashore added another reason for her alleged unseaworthiness; bit is evident that the severe test to wich the ship had been put and the full confidence placed in her by the various surveyors, had proved quite clearly that she was a sound and taut craft.
The difficulties of ship-owners seem to be increasing on every hand and as far as the labour question is concerned such conduct as we have above described renders the problem still more complicated and disheartening. It has been suggested that with a view to put a stop to cases of this kind the men's discharges should all be kept in the custody of the Captain, and there may be something in the idea; but it seems to us that if the insubordinate half of the Gitana's crew had not received a month's advance we should not have heard of any doubts of the vessel's seaworthiness.
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Copyright © 1996 Lars Bruzelius.