Oral Answers to Questions — H.M.S. "theseus" (Loss of Cutter)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th July 1949.

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The following Question stood upon the Order Paper in the name of Mr. J. P. L. THOMAS:

86. To ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty whether he is now able to make a further statement about the loss of the cutter from H.M.S. "Theseus."

Photo of Mr John Dugdale Mr John Dugdale , West Bromwich

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and the permission of the House, I should like to answer Question No. 86.

As the House will be aware, a motor cutter from H.M.S. "Theseus" sank on the afternoon of 6th June last at Invergordon with the loss of one midshipman and three ratings. All the circumstances of this disaster have now been thoroughly investigated by two Boards of Inquiry and it has been possible to raise the cutter for examination.

The immediate cause of the accident appears to have been the shipping of a considerable amount of water forward when the cutter got into shallower water, which brought the bows down and allowed the seas to break inboard, thus rendering the boat unmanageable and causing her to sink. She was found to be properly equipped with gear, the crew were wearing life-belts and none was wearing sea-boots. In the difficult conditions then prevailing, which involved a search on a lee-shore during a gale, my noble Friend considers that everything practicable was done in an attempt to rescue the men.

He is also satisfied that the midshipman in charge of the boat was in every respect a proper person to undertake this responsibility, and that he handled the boat in a seamanlike manner and displayed calm and decisive leadership. My noble Friend is, however, still considering what degree of blame should be attributed to other officers who were concerned with the movements of the boat, and I am not at present in a position to make any statement on this point.

I am sure the House will realise that the precautions necessary for the safety of ships and vessels at sea in relation to prevailing weather conditions are not easy to decide and that every care must be taken in arriving at a correct judgment of the degree of blame. In conclusion, I should like to express once again the deep sympathy of the Board of Admiralty with the relatives of those who lost their lives.

Photo of Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller , Daventry

Are not these cutters designed for service in rough sea, and is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that they are really satisfactory for such service? The right hon. Gentleman said on 21st June that this cutter appeared to ride comfortably into the sea …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st June, 1949; Vol. 466, c. 35.] and that she could not be moored safely astern. Can the right hon. Gentleman state why the cutter could not be moored safely astern if she could ride comfortably into the sea?

Photo of Mr John Dugdale Mr John Dugdale , West Bromwich

With regard to the first part of that question, we are satisfied that this cutter, like other naval cutters, is of satisfactory construction. In fact, as I have said before, there are not many accidents occurring to these cutters, but naturally, we will take every precaution to see that cutters are built of a thoroughly satisfactory design, although we have no reason to suppose that present cutters are not so constructed.

In reply to the second part of the question, the point was that the admiral's barge was already tied up behind H.M.S. "Theseus" and it was impossible to tie up the cutter alongside at the same time because they would have swung round in the gale which there then was and would have crashed together. It was decided that in all the circumstances the risk of doing this was too great.

Mr. J. P. L. Thomas:

Is the Parliamentary Secretary prepared to issue an Admiralty Fleet Order about the use of these small boats so that every precaution may be taken to avoid these tragic occurrences in the future?

Photo of Mr John Dugdale Mr John Dugdale , West Bromwich

Yes, Sir. We are considering issuing an Admiralty Fleet Order stating it is essential that commanding officers should not hesitate in taking precautionary measures to ensure the safety of boats, in spite of any inconvenience which may be caused by the suspension of boat traffic.

Photo of Sir Allan Noble Sir Allan Noble , Chelsea

In view of the fact that there have been two or three of these accidents in the last two or three years, will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the greatest importance is attached to training at sea for both officers and men?

Photo of Mr John Dugdale Mr John Dugdale , West Bromwich

Yes, Sir. I most certainly give that assurance.

Photo of Sir Charles MacAndrew Sir Charles MacAndrew , Bute and Northern

Why could not one boat have been moored astern of the other, and then they could not have swung round and crashed?

Photo of Mr John Dugdale Mr John Dugdale , West Bromwich

Those who were there at the time decided that they would have swung round and collided with each other and that both boats probably would have been smashed. That was the decision of the people there.

Photo of Sir Charles MacAndrew Sir Charles MacAndrew , Bute and Northern

Even if there was a strong wind blowing, if one boat was moored astern of the other, how could one of them have swung round and crashed into the other? It is quite nonsensical.

Photo of Mr John Dugdale Mr John Dugdale , West Bromwich

There was also a very strong tide, and it was swinging them round.

Photo of Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller , Daventry

When the matter has been further considered, will the right hon. Gentleman give further information as to the result of the decision which has been reached?

Photo of Mr John Dugdale Mr John Dugdale , West Bromwich

I will certainly be willing to give the House further information, but the reason I have made this statement today is that the House is rising shortly and my noble Friend will probably be in a position to decide finally long before the House meets again. That decision will then, presumably, have to be made known to those whom it concerns. If information is wanted later, naturally I shall be only too glad to give it when the House meets.

Photo of Mr David Gammans Mr David Gammans , Hornsey

If the right hon. Gentleman is giving the statement because the House is about to rise, why is he not also making a statement today about H.M.S. "Amethyst" on the Yangtse?

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

That is another question. Question No. 86 dealt only with H.M.S. "Theseus."