The "La Crescenta" was built in the year 1923 by the Furness Shipbuilding
Company, Limited, of Haverton Hill-on-Tees.
The cost of the ship to her owners was £90,429 8s 6d. The value of
the ship when she left Port San Luis is problematic but, according to the
conclusions in whch we concur, may have been £25,000 as between
owners desirous of selling and a willing buyer. At the time of her loss the
vessel was insured as follows:-
Hull and Machinery - £25,000 free of particular average, paying
£15,000 in case of total loss.
At the time of loss the "La Crescenta" was eleven years old.
Lloyd's Register of Shipping assigned the vessel a classification of 100 A.1.,
carrying petroleum in bulk.
The owners did not accept the offer of a reduced freeboard because in effect
they considered - as stated in a letter dated the 13th May 1932 - they would
not derive from it sufficient benefit to justify the outlay.
The "La Crescenta" left Dundee on the 13th January, 1934, and did not
thereafter return to Great Britain.
The instructions given to the master Captain Upstill, at material times were
to the effect that he must load as much cargo as possible.
Q. 16. What was the full deadweight on board the vessel, including cargo,
bunker oil, crew, water, stores and galley coal, when she left Port San Luis
in November, 1934?
A. Evidence which we accept shows the deadweight to have been as much as 9,781
tons. On behalf of the owners it was estimated at 9,702 tons.
Q. 17. Was the vessel overloaded when she left Port San Luis in November, 1934,
and, if so, to what extent?
A. According to the evidence which we accept she was overloaded to the extent
of 441 tons.
Q. 28. When the vessel left Port San Luis on her last voyage was she properly
loaded? Had she adequate stability?
A. When the vessel left Port San Luis on her last voyage she was not properly
loaded, in that her deadweight was excessive. She had adequate stability but
that did not counteract the effect of overloading.
She sailed on the 29th November, 1934, and was bound for Osaka, Japan.
The weather conditions were bad, and, in the region through which the
"La Crescenta" was passing, precipitous seas are reported.
The vessel had been in wireless communication with other ships before and on
the 5th December. On that day at noon her wireless operator exchanged
messages with the s.s. "Athelviscount" and gave her position. SHe was signalled
by the "Athelviscount" in the evening of that day but no reply could be
obtained and thereafter no futher signals from her were received.
Q. 34. How many members of the crew of the vessel lost their lives as a result
of the casualty to her?
A. The whole of the ship's company, twenty-nine in number.
Q. 35. What was the cause of the loss of the vessel?
A. The most probable cause appears to us to be seas striking the gangway and
flooding the boiler-room and engine-rooms and putting the dynamo out of action:
the working of the machinery would cease. With a ship deeper in the water than
she should be the effects upon her of such causes would obviously be greater
than in the case of a vessel loaded to a proper depth.
Two contributory causes to the loss, in our judgment, were the limited degree
of the strength and stability of the the fore and aft gangway and the
overloading of the ship.
Mr. R. F. Hayward and Mr. H. R. B. Griffin (instructed by Messrs. Hudson,
Matthews and Company) appeared as Counsel for the relatives of Captain N. S.
Upstill, master of the s.s. "La Crescenta," Mr. A. Everett, first officer,
Mr. R. Martin, second officer, Mr. D. J. Gardner, third officer, Mr. J. Wylie,
second engineer, Mr. H. Garry, third engineer, and for the following Officers'
A prolonged Inquiry was needed in this case by reason of very grave allegations
definitely made against the persons who were responsible for the management
and use of the steamship "La Crescenta" before and at the time of her loss at
The "La Crescenta" was an oil tanker, built in 1923, gross tonnage 5,880; net
tonnage 3,531; length 400 feet; breadth 53 feet; depth of hold 32 feet 8 inches;
and was continuously classed 100 A.1. down to the time of her loss. She set out
on a laden voyage across the Pacific from the United States Port of San Luis to
Osaka, Japan, in November, 1934. She encountered heavy weather on the high seas
at the beginning of December, and on the night of the 5th of December, 1934,
after a period of regular wireless communication with other vessels, she was no
more heard of. Her last recorded position was in latitude 34 51 N. and
longitude 163 24 W. She was laden with crude oil and about a month later a
lake of such oil, covering about two square miles, was come upon by a vessel
navigating the area in which the "La Crescenta" had disappeared in latitude
35 2 N. and longitude 164 W. That the vessel foundered was unquestionable and
that she foundered during the heavy weather on the night of the 5th December,
When the cause of the loss of the "La Crescenta" came to be investigated she
was found to have been systematically overladen - loaded down, it was asserted,
to her Tropical Marks when she should only have been loaded to her Summer
the owners, the Crescent Navigation Company Limited, in pursuance of
instructions given by their managers. It was found, too, that in 1932, under
the provisions of the Merchant Shipping (Safety and Load Line Conventions) Act,
1932, the owners had applied for an assigned tanker freeboard and had been told
of alterations in the vessel's structure and equipment which were deemed
necessary for this purpose, and had decided that it was not worth while to make
the necessary expenditure. The alleged over-loading of the "La Crescenta" at
the material times was said, therefore, to have been ordered in conscious
disregard of the law.
She had been manned substantially in excess of the legal minimum as to deck
hands. By degrees the number of deck hands was reduced to the legal minimum.
The engineroom staff and service staff - as to which there are no legal rules
governing the minimum - were also effectively reduced.
The master of the "Vancouver City", gave as his opinion that the weather was
"not enough to sink a well found ship".
From what has been set forth, it will be seen that the Inquiry necessarily
involved questions as to the loading, manning and seaworthiness of the "La
That the "La Crescenta" was repeatedly overloaded in 1934 is beyond question.
Henry Edward Steel, a ship surveyor of the Board of Trade since 1919...
On the voyage from Batoum to Vladivostok, Mr Steel found the total deadweight
carried to be 9,487 tons and this, he stated, involved over-loading which would
submerge the vessel by 9 7/8 inches below the permitted load-line.
On the voyage from San Pedro to San Antonio loading to the Tropical Load Line
was permissible and there was no over-loading, 9,616 tons being allowed and
9.587 tons carried.
Proceeding from San Pedro and Port San Luis to Japanese ports the actual
deadweight was 9,660 tons, that allowable 9,340, an excess of 320 tons
The vessel ultimately left Port San Luis on the 24th November, 1934, and Mr.
Steel reckoned her actual deadweight at 9,781 tons against an allowable
deadweight of 9,340 tons - an excess of 441 tons. Her correct draught - the
Summer Load Line applying - would have been 27 feet 9 3/4 inches. There was,
he said, and excessive submersion of 10 3/4 inches. at the time when the
"La Crescenta" left the port. Before the 6th December the deadweight had, of
course, been substantially reduced by consumption of fuel and stores.
she was more than 10 inches deeper in the water than she should have been when
The master, Captain Upstill, overloaded at the express bidding of those who
represented his employers, Sydney Graham and Ralph Henry Holland. He realised
the peril but employment was precarious and the directions he got could hardly
be misunderstood. When in January, 1934, he received a letter with an order to
"load as much cargo as you possibly can" he drafted a reply - as he wrote to
his wife - in which he said he was not going to overload for anybody.
Upstill, however, shrank from the refusal he had at first purposed to make.
Such a refusal would probably have resulted in his becoming unemployed.
Upstill wrote to his wife: "Sydney Graham says I must." In May for a voyage
from San Pedro to Japan this instruction was written to him: "We look to you to
load the maximum quantity possible on your Tropical Load Lines."
"Kindly load as much cargo as possible. We were disappointed last time that you
did not load to your Tropical Load Line" - and this though such loading was
The master overloaded as he was bidden.
The manning of the "La Crescenta" was made the subject of close inquiry and
...way adduced as to a period of about 6 years. During 1929, 1930 and 1931 the
ship's company varied between 34 and 41 in number, an ordinary total being
39 or 40. In 1932 the number of engineers was reduced from 5 to 4, the number
of stewards and cooks was reduced by 3, and a ship's carpenter was no longer
engaged. On the voyage which ended in November, 1934, the engineroom staff was
diminished, in that instead of 3 firemen and 2 greasers as on the previous
voyage, 4 firemen were taken. On the last voyage 9 sailors replaced ? sailors
and 2 apprentices and, in addition to the 4 firemen, 1 greaser was carried.
...is to be judged in the light of the work failing to be carried out in the
successive period and whether anything happened to reduce it.
Whether the "La Crescenta" was adequately manned in the this sense is a
question of no less importance than whether she carried the minimum compliment
of deck hands prescribed in the Board of Trade instructions.
The strength of the engineroom staff and the burden of their duties are also
matters which clearly affect the safety of the ship.
On the 4th May Upstill wrote - "I have been very busy to-day in the tanks.
I have been trying to stop some of the leaks. I am afraid it is a hopeless
On the 20th July Upstill wrote:
"Hardly anybody had any sleep for about three or four days while we were
cleaning out the tanks".
On the 7th of November he wrote: "I am very awful tired. Have been down in the
tanks cutting out rivets again to-day and I am awful stiff and tired".
Samuel Frederick Marks ... joined ... as fireman in 1934... he says of the
ship's company on her last voyage but one, "There were only 28 and all the
crew were hollow cheeked and seriously overworked."
Hubert Garry, third engineer in August and November, 1934, says in his
statement as to himself and the other engineers, "we even have to clean out
own tubes and back ends and chip inside as we only have two firemen and two
The seaworthiness of the "La Crescenta" at the end of 1934 has been an
outstanding question throughout the Inquiry.
Hubert Garry, third engineer on board in the autumn of 1934, wrote home thus:-
"It is not the main engines that are the trouble; they are the best I have ever
been with, thank goodness, but it is the auxiliaries such as the condensers,
Weir's pumps, fuel pumps, boiler mountings, joints and the hundred and one
other things." A statement given by Samuel Frederick Marks, before mentioned,
now resident at Los Angeles, who served as a fireman on board the ship in two
of her last voyages, relates failure of the machinery which supplied and
operated the oil fuel system, choking of filters, trouble from carbon deposit
in the burner nozzles, choking of smoke tubes, heavy escapes of steam from
failure of joints in the pipes and also quantities of sea water coming into
the stokehold. He says that he left the ship because she was in such bad
condition that he "feared disaster would overtake her."
John Mooney , who signed on as a greaser, had been at sea many years and had
served in various tankers. He described some parts of the auxiliary gear of the
"La Crescenta" in 1934 as being "in a very deplorable out-of-order state of
The owners of the "La Crescenta" in addition to their other evidence, put in
an affidavit of William James Mackie, a ship's engineer who served on board the
"La Crescenta" as fifth engineer in 1928-1929 and as third engineer from July,
1929, to November, 1933. He contradicts a great deal of the evidence of Samuel
Frederick Marks and states that the vessel was kept in good repair and that
all requests for repair received immediate attention.
...the Assessors have observed that the evidence shows her to have been a ship
somewhat slow in rising to a sea in heavy weather and so designed that she
drew deep water for the amount of deadweight she carried.
...if the vessel were overloaded she would thereby be the more liable to damage
As was said by the Solicitor-General in summing up the evidence at the Inquiry,
it is reasonable to assume that the cause of the loss of the "La Crescenta"
was that cause - whatever it may have been - which suddenly put out of action
the wireless apparatus of the ship. A violent explosion of oil gas could, no
doubt, have had this effect, but there was no evidence of such an explosion.
The discovery of a broad sheet of oil in the area in which the "La Crescenta"
foundered, a month after her disappearance, seems to indicate that the oil
tanks were intact when she went down.
That the fore and aft gangway was carried away is an almost inescapable
conclusion. At that time the vessel was overloaded; she was slow to rise to a
sea in heavy weather; and the further conclusion to which we come is that the
consequent putting out of action of the ship's motive power rendered her
helpless so that in face of precipitous seas she inevitably sank.
Our conclusion with regard to the matter is that they ignored the regulations
because they intended that the "La Crescenta" should be loaded as fully as
possible and that this was done to secure as large a return as possible from
the vessel's employment in times when profit was hard to obtain.
I order the Owners, the Crescent Navigation Company, Limited, of 81,
Gracechurch Street, London, E.C., and Mr. Sidney Graham, the registered manager
of the ship, of 81, Gracechurch Street, London, E.C., and Mr. Ralph Henry
Holland, manager of the shipping department of Harris & Dixon, Ltd., of 81,
Gracechurch Street, London, E.C., jointly and severally to pay on account of
the expenses of this Investigation the sum of two thousand seven hundred and
fifty pounds to the Solicitor, Board of Trade, three hundred and fifty poiunds
to the Solicitors, Messrs. Russell Jones & Co., representing the National
Union of Seamen, and three hundred pounds to the Solicitors, Messrs. G. F.
Hudson, Matthews & Co., representing the relatives of officers on board the
s.s. "La Crescenta" and various Officers' Protection Societies.