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Penmaenpool Bridge

Penmaenpool Bridge

Penmaenpool Tragedy 1966
At 10:55am on July 22nd 1966, the first day of the school summer holidays, the “Prince of Wales” pleasure boat left Barmouth on it’s regular two-hour return trip to Penmaenpool. The boat was carrying the captain and forty-two passengers, As it arrived and turned to join the jetty, it hit the Penmaenpool bridge. As a result the boat sunk and fifteen of the passengers lost their lives.

On the jetty was Mr. John. A. Hall, the proprietor of the George III Hotel. Mr. Hall embarked in his nine-foot rowing boat “The Daisy May” (which he had only taken possession of five days beforehand) and together with two of his employees; David Christopher Jones and Robert Jones, was responsible for saving many lives. Mr. Ronald Phillip Davies, an employee of the Dolgelly Rural District Council, also waded into the river twice and saved the lives of two children.

This is the full report into the tragedy…


THE MERCHANT SHIPPING ACT 1894
Report of Court No.8041 - m.v. PRINCE OF WALES (Unregistered)


In the matter of a Formal Investigation held at the Old Primary School, Barmouth on the 25th, 26th and 27th days of October 1966 before Barry Sheen, Esquire, QC, assisted by Captain K. A. H. Cummins, into the circumstances attending the loss of the British motor launch Prince of Wales in the River Mawddach at Penmaenpool, Merionethshire, on the 22nd day of July 1966.

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 loss of the Prince of Wales and the consequent loss of fifteen lives of her passengers was caused by reason of the negligent handling of that boat by Edward Llewellyn Jones and because the Prince of Wales was inadequately manned.

The Court orders Edward Llewellyn Jones to pay the sum of one hundred pounds to the Treasury Solicitor towards the cost of the Inquiry and further orders John Jones and Harry Lloyd Jones to pay the sum of fifty pounds each to the Treasury Solicitor towards the cost of the Inquiry.

Dated this 28th day of October 1966.

BARRY SHEEN, Judge.

I concur in the above Report.

K. A. H. CUMMINS, Assessor.



ANNEX TO THE REPORT

1. This Inquiry was held at the Old Primary School, Barmouth, Merionethshire, on the 25th, 26th and 27th days of October 1966. Mr. Michael Thomas appeared on behalf of the Board of Trade; Mr. R. Oliver Jones (instructed by H. J. Rowlands of Barmouth) appeared for the owners of the Prince of Wales; and Mr. Norman Sellers (instructed by Griffith, Adams & Williams of Dolgelly) appeared for the Penmaenpool Bridge Company.

2. The Prince of Wales was a clinker built boat about 32 feet 6 inches in length, about 9 feet in beam, and having a depth of 3 feet 6 inches. Before 1921 she was owned by the Admiralty and, though her full history was not in evidence, she was purchased in 1936 by three brothers, John Jones, Edward Llewellyn Jones and Harry Lloyd Jones who trade in partnership under the name and style of David Jones & Sons.

In 1956 a Mark II Morris Navigator 4 cylinder petrol/paraflin engine was installed, and this engine drove a single screw. The speed of the vessel was said by her owners to be about 8 knots, but an experienced surveyor estimated her speed as no more than 6 knots. The Prince of Wales was fitted with a wooden rudder operated by means of a tiller about 4 feet in length.

3. An important feature of her construction was that, although the engine was situated a short distance forward of the tiller, a man could not reach the engine controls if he was holding the tiller hard over to starboard.

4. Although the Prince of Wales was at least forty-five years old, her hull had been well maintained and was in seaworthy condition immediately before her loss. A thorough inspection of the hull was made by Mr. J. W. Williams, an engineer and ship surveyor, on behalf of the Board of Trade, on the 24th May 1966, after an application had been made by David Jones & Sons for Class V and Class VI Passenger Certificates. Mr. Williams was informed by the owners of the Prince of Wales that her master would be E. L. Jones and her engineer would be H. L. Jones. When that application was made, an undertaking on Form Surveys 134 was signed on behalf of her owners by John Jones. It was a term of that undertaking that if either the man in charge or the engineer was changed, the owners would notify the surveyor.

5. During the course of this Inquiry it emerged that Mr. J. W. Williams signed a declaration on the 26th May 1966 that he had completed the inspection of the main machinery of the Prince of Wales. In fact the inspection of the main machinery was not carried out until the 4th June 1966. The declaration made by Mr. J. W. Williams was made at a time when he confidently expected that he would be able to make an inspection of the boat’s engine within a few days and he made this declaration before completion of the inspection with the object of assisting the owners of the vessel. The Court wishes to make it clear that the casualty under investigation was in no way caused by this sequence of events, but the Court deprecates the practice of signing such declarations before the inspection has been completed.

6. On the 10th day of June 1966, the Board of Trade issued both the certificates for which application had been made. Only the Class V certificate is directly relevant in this Inquiry and will hereafter be referred to as ‘the Passenger Certificate.’

7. The Passenger Certificate certified that the Prince of Wales was fit to ply within certain limits with thirty-six passengers on board and with a crew of two persons. At the Inquiry the owners of the boat put forward the view that two children might count as one passenger and expressed their ignorance of the meaning of the word ‘passenger’ as defined in Section 26 (1) of the Merchant Shipping (Safety Convention) Act 1949. Although the owners of the boat knew that the certificate was granted on the basis that the boat would be operated by a crew of two persons and no less, it was suggested on their behalf that the certificate did not make this clear. The Court was informed that consideration is being given to an alteration in the wording of the certificate, and the Court thinks that some alterations could be made to prevent any doubts arising in future.

8. The Prince of Wales was required by the terms of the Passenger Certificate to carry two buoyant apparatus capable of supporting twenty-eight persons and five lifebuoys (which are capable of supporting two persons on each). Although the owners stated that five lifebuoys were carried by the Prince of Wales on her last trip, some doubt has arisen as to the accuracy of this statement. Those passengers who were called to give evidence at the Inquiry did not see two lifebuoys which were said to have been stowed in the engine space and, in spite of extensive searches for bodies of those who lost their lives, no trace of these two lifebuoys has been found. Three lifebuoys were stowed forward in the boat, but these were tied to the buoyant apparatus and were not readily detachable. Whether any life or lives would have been saved had these lifebuoys been free to float off separately will never be known, but it is at least a possibility.

9. Edward Llewellyn Jones is 73 years of age and has known the river Mawddach between Barmouth and Pennmaenpool for over fifty years. He has had a lifetime of experience of handling boats, including many years as coxswain of the Barmouth lifeboat. Unfortunately his great experience led him to believe that he could navigate the Prince of Wales single handed. This belief was apparently shared by his brothers John Jones and Harry Lloyd Jones.

It was apparent to the Court that on 22nd July 1966 the Jones brothers intended that Edward Llewellyn Jones alone should take the Prince of Wales and her passengers to Penmaenpool in contravention of the terms upon which the Passenger Certificate was granted. The Court does not accept the reason put forward by the Jones brothers for the absence of Harry Lloyd Jones on the last up-river trip of the Prince of Wales.

10. At about 1055 hours on Friday, 22nd July 1966, the Prince of Wales, under the charge of Edward Llewellyn Jones and with no other crew on board, cast off from a jetty at Barmouth at the start of a pleasure trip up the river Mawddach to Penmaenpool, a distance of about seven to eight miles. There were forty-two passengers on board, of whom fifteen were children between 3 and 12 years of age.

11. The number of passengers carried was six in excess of the number permitted by the Passenger Certificate. The Court does not accept the excuse put forward for this breach of Section 283 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1894, that is to say that two children count as one adult; nor does the Court accept the evidence that Edward Llewellyn Jones did not know how many passengers were on board.

The carriage of passengers in excess of the permitted number was not in any sense causative of the Prince of Wales sinking, but it is clear that the loss of life might have been less if only thirty-six passengers had been carried. Even if all the required lifesaving appliances were being carried at the time of her loss, the Prince of Wales was not carrying sufficient lifesaving appliances for the total number of persons on board.

One of the passengers, Mr. William Sidney Ash, told the Court that in his opinion the Prince of Wales was carrying an excessive amount of loose water in her bilges at the commencement of the trip. Mr. Ash estimated the quantity of water as being 30 gallons. The Court thinks that Mr. Ash considerably overestimated the amount of loose water on board, but is of the opinion that if the estimate made by Mr. Ash was accurate, this had no effect upon subsequent events.

12. During the voyage up-river the Prince of Wales grounded on sand banks on two occasions. She came off immediately and continued her voyage. The only significance of these two occurrences is that they tend to show that this trip was commenced too early on that morning’s tide.

13. About 1145 hours the Prince of Wales arrived at Penmaenpool. At this time the flood was running in full force, which the Court thinks was in the region of 4 to 5 knots. In reaching this conclusion, the Court was greatly assisted by the evidence of Mr. Peter James Lyon Wyllie (a senior assistant engineer concerned with hydrology and employed by the Gwynedd River Authority) who carried out tests in the vicinity of Penmaenpool on 12th October 1966, when the predicted height of tide corresponded to the level predicted for 22nd July.

14. The Prince of Wales passed the jetty at Penmaenpool at a distance of about 15 feet. At this time Edward Llewellyn Jones was sitting on the stern sheets holding the tiller. It was his intention to turn to port to return down-river. The speed of the Prince of Wales at this time was about 3 to 4 knots through the water. Shortly before this, the engine of the Prince of Wales, which had been at slow speed, was increased to half speed.

15. The Court has no doubt that the start of the turn to port was not made until the Prince of Wales was about half way between the jetty and the Penmaenpool bridge. In the tidal conditions prevailing, which should have been obvious to a man as experienced as Edward Llewellyn Jones, the turn to port was started much too late. Even if he had succeeded in completing this manoeuvre, he would have been running an unjustifiable risk in leaving his turn until this late stage.

Edward Llewellyn Jones found that he was not turning as rapidly as he had expected, even though his tiller was hard over to starboard. In order to give the boat more speed, he let go of the tiller to increase the speed of the engine. It would not have been necessary for Edward Llewellyn Jones to let go of the tiller if the boat had been properly manned. The Court is of opinion that the absence of an engineer aboard the Prince of Wales was the most serious single fault causing the subsequent disaster.

16. The Prince of Wales was unable to complete her turn and was carried by the strong flood tide into collision with the lower stretcher attached to one of the trestles of Penmaenpool Bridge. These stretchers are solid beams which protrude about 18 inches out from the upright members of the trestles. They are visible at low water, but are covered as the tide rises. Their presence was well known to Edward Llewellyn Jones. There was a considerable conflict of evidence as to which trestle was supporting the stretcher struck by the boat, but the Court thinks that in all probability it was the eighth trestle from the southern end of the bridge.

17. As a result of the impact with the bridge, the Prince of Wales was seriously damaged below the water-line. Seven strakes of planking on the starboard side of the boat were stove in. The hole was 5 feet 6 inches long at its longest, and about 2 feet in depth, at its widest. As a result of this damage the boat sank very rapidly so that no steps could be taken for the safety of those on board, who had to fend for themselves.

The two buoyant apparatus and three lifebuoys floated off attached to each other and drifted upstream. Some passengers were able to reach these life saving appliances and hold on. The Court would like to draw attention to the fact that an open boat equipped with a heavy engine must necessarily sink if its hull is breached below the water-line, and invites consideration to be given to the fitting of buoyancy tanks in vessels of this type as a prerequisite to the granting of a passenger certificate.

18. On the jetty was Mr. J. A. Hall, the proprietor of the George III Hotel. By great good fortune he had recently purchased a 9 foot clinker rowing boat and had taken possession of it five days before the casualty. With considerable presence of mind, Mr. Hall embarked in his boat together with David Christopher Jones and Robert Jones, two of his employees, and together these three persons made commendable contributions towards saving lives. Mr. Ronald Phillip Davies, an employee of the Dolgelly Rural District Council, was in the vicinity of Penmaenpool Station at the time of the casualty. He waded into the river twice and saved the lives of two children.

Mr. Lewis Idrisyn Roberts, the keeper of the toll bridge, immediately notified the Police and thereafter joined in the rescue operations.

The Police and other public servants arrived with proper despatch, and the Court is satisfied that all proper steps were taken to rescue the passengers from the Prince of Wales.

19. Despite these efforts fifteen lives were lost, including the lives of many upon whom others were dependent. At an Inquest held by HM Coroner for Merioneth in August 1966 into the cause of death of those fifteen passengers from the Prince of Wales, the Jury returned a verdict that the cause of death was accidental and added two riders. These riders were: (i) that stricter enforcement of the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Acts relating to the licensing of pleasure and other passenger-carrying craft should be employed by the Board of Trade, and (ii) that the provision of compulsory insurance against third party risks in the use of such craft should be considered.

20. The second rider raises a matter upon which this Court is not called upon to express a view, and about which the Court has insufficient information for full consideration. We accordingly draw attention to this rider without comment.

21. The first rider refers to matters about which evidence has been adduced at this Inquiry. Captain Edward William Lewis, the Professional Officer at the London Headquarters of the Board of Trade, drew the attention of the Court to the administrative difficulties of the strict enforcement of the terms upon which Passenger Certificates are granted to small vessels. Evidence was also given by Colin Pugh, an Engineer Surveyor and Public Health Inspector to the Barmouth Urban District Council, whose duties also include that of Boating Inspector to the Council; and by Inspector J. H. Griffiths, a Police Inspector for the Gwynedd Constabulary, stationed at Barmouth. The Court is satisfied that all practical steps had been taken by the Board of Trade and local officials to ensure that the conditions upon which the Passenger Certificate was granted were complied with. The real difficulty of enforcing the conditions of the Passenger Certificate lies in the fact that the boat can embark on a voyage at any moment without complying with the terms of her Passenger Certificate. It is with this in mind that Captain Lewis stated, and the Court agrees, that the prime responsibility for observing the conditions of a Passenger Certificate must lie with the owners of the vessel in question. Great assistance in the enforcement of the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Acts can also be given by all members of the public, if they can be made aware of the conditions attaching to a Passenger Certificate. The Court has been told that consideration is being given to a requirement ‘that boat owners should display the Certificate at the place where tickets are sold.

22. There was a conflict of evidence as to whether or not the Passenger Certificate was properly displayed aboard the Prince of Wales. The Court accepts the evidence of Edward Llewellyn Jones that the Certificate was so displayed.

23. Having regard to the difficulties of enforcing compliance with the conditions upon which Passenger Certificates are granted, the Court considers that severer penalties than those now permitted by the Merchant Shipping Acts might act as a deterrent to those who may be tempted to flout the regulations.

24. The Court has been informed that in this case there will be no prosecution of the owners of the Prince of Wales. The Court thinks that the cynical disregard of the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Acts by the owners of the Prince of Wales calls for the strongest censure of them. Finally, the Court thinks that because this casualty was brought about at least in part by a flagrant breach of a condition of the Passenger Certificate, those responsible should be ordered, as has been done, to contribute to the expense of the Inquiry.

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Q.1. By whom was the Prince of Wales owned at the time of her loss?
A. The Prince Of Wales was jointly owned by John Jones, Edward Llewellyn Jones and Harry Lloyd Jones, who were three brothers trading in partnership under the name of David Jones and Sons.

Q.2. (a) How many (i) passengers (ii) crew was the Prince of Wales carrying at the time of her loss?
A. (i) Forty-two. (ii) One.

Q. (b) Who was in charge of the Prince of Wales at the time of her loss?
A. Edward Llewellyn Jones.

Q.3. (a) What passenger certificate or certificates did the Prince of Wales carry at the time of her loss?
A. Passenger Certificate Class V and Passenger Certificate Class VI.

Q. (b) What steps were taken to see that the Prince of Wales was used in accordance with the terms of the Passenger Certificate?
See Annex.

Q. (c) Was the voyage of the Prince of Wales on 22nd July 1966 to Penmaenpool permitted by the terms of the Certificate?
A. Yes, by both Certificates.


Q.4. (a) What life saving appliances were carried by the Prince of Wales at the time of her loss?
A. The relevant appliances carried were two buoyant apparatus capable of supporting twenty-eight persons, and at least three lifebuoys. It was stated by Edward Llewellyn Jones that a total of five lifebuoys were carried by the Prince of Wales on her last voyage, but the Court was left in doubt as to whether two of these were on board.

Q. (b) Had they been properly surveyed and maintained?
A. Yes.

Q. (c) Did they comply with the terms of the Passenger Certificate and the relevant Regulations in force?
A. Yes, if five lifebuoys were carried.

Q.5. (a) Was the Prince of Wales in all respects seaworthy at the time of her loss?
A. Structurally she was seaworthy, but she was undermanned.

Q. (b) Was the Prince of Wales properly manned at the time of her loss?
A. No.

Q.6. (a) At what time did the Prince of Wales leave Barmouth on 22nd July 1966.
A. About 1055 hours BST.

Q. (b) What was her destination?
A. Penmaenpool.

Q. (c) How long was this trip expected to take?
A. About 50 minutes.

Q. (d) Were there any untoward events during the trip before the casualty?
A. Yes, the Prince of Wales grounded twice on sandbanks on her way up river.

Q. (e) What was the state of the weather during the trip?
A. Fine and clear, with light airs.

Q.7. (a) At what time did the Prince of Wales arrive at Penmaenpool?
A About 1145 hours BST.

Q. (b) How long was this before high water at Penmaenpool?
A About one and a quarter hours.

Q. (c) What was the force of the tide or current at this time?
A Off the jetty at Penmaenpool the tide was flooding with a force of about 4 to 5 knots.

Q. (d) What was the speed of the Prince of Wales at this time?
A About 3 to 4 knots through the water.

Q. (e) What manoeuvre of the Prince of Wales was proposed or intended at this time?
A Edward Llewellyn Jones intended to turn to port on to a down-river heading.

Q. (f) What manoeuvre was carried out?
A No manoeuvre was completed; the turn to port was started.

Q.8. (a) Where, when and with what did the Prince of Wales collide?
A At about 1145 hours BST the starboard side of the Prince of Wales collided with the down-river side of one of the lower transverse stretchers on one of the trestles of Penmaenpool bridge. There was a considerable conflict of evidence as to which trestle the stretcher was attached to, but it seems probable that it was the eighth trestle from the southern end of the bridge.

Q. (b) What then happened to the Prince of Wales?
A The Prince of Wales was badly holed below the waterline. She pivotted on the stretcher with her stern moving up-river and sinking rapidly. Within a very short time the Prince of Wales sank.

Q.9. Were all proper steps taken thereafter for the safety of the passengers?
A. Yes; see Annex.

Q.10. How many lives were lost and saved respectively?
A Fifteen lives were lost and twenty-eight lives were saved.

Q.11. What use was made of the life saving appliances carried on board the Prince of Wales?
A See Annex.

Q.12. What was the cause of the loss of the Prince of Wales?
A The intended manoeuvre of turning to port was started too late, and subsequently that manoeuvre was interrupted because Edward Llewellyn Jones let go of the tiller whilst he attended the throttle of the engine. Although the turn to port was started too late for safety, the manoeuvre might have been successfully completed if Harry Lloyd Jones had been aboard the boat as engineer, so that the helm could have been kept hard over while the speed of the engine was increased.

Q.13. Was the loss of the Prince of Wales and the consequent loss of fifteen lives caused or contributed to by the fault of:
(a) Edward Llewellyn Jones?
Yes.

(b) John Jones?
Yes.

(c) Harry Lloyd Jones?
Yes.

(d) Any other person or persons?
No.

© Crown Copyright 1967
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