It is with regret, and in haste, that I write this letter to you - regret that such a small misunderstanding could lead to the following circumstances, and haste in order that you may get this report before you form your own preconceived opinion from reports which will appear in the world press. I am sure they will tend to over dramatize the affair.
We had just picked up the Pilot, and the Apprentice was on the bridge. He was replacing a “G” flag with an “H” flag and was having difficulty with a fouled halyard. I proceeded to show him how to clear the flag and told him to “Let go.” The lad, although willing, is not too bright, and I was obliged to repeat the order, but in a sharper tone. At this moment, the Third Officer appeared from the Chart Room, having plotted the vessel’s progress up the channel, and thinking I was referring to the anchor, repeated the order “Let Go!” to the Chief Officer on the fo’c’sle head. The port anchor, having been cleared away, but not walked out, was promptly let go. The effect of letting go the anchor while the vessel was proceeding at full harbor speed proved too much for the windlass brake, and the entire length of chain was pulled out and lost over the side. I fear the damage to the chain locker may be extensive.
The braking effect of the port anchor naturally caused the vessel to sheer in that direction, right towards a swing bridge that spans a tributary to the river up which we were proceeding. The swing bridge operator showed great presence of mind by opening the bridge to my vessel. Unfortunately, he did not think first to stop the vehicular traffic, the result being that the bridge partly opened, depositing a Volkswagen, two cyclists, and a cattle truck on the foredeck. My ship’s company are at present rounding up the contents of the latter which, I would say from the noise, are pigs. In his efforts to stop the progress of the vessel, the Chief Officer then dropped the starboard anchor, too late to be of any practical use as it fell on the swing bridge operator’s control cabin.
After the port anchor was let go, and the vessel started to sheer, I gave a double ring Full Astern on the Engine-Room telegraph, and I personally rang the Engine-Room to order maximum astern revolutions. I was politely informed that the sea temperature was 53 degrees, and was asked if there was a film tonight. My reply would not add constructively to this report.
Up to now, I have confined my report to the forward end of my vessel; back aft they were having their own problems. At the moment the port anchor was let go, the Second Officer was supervising the making fast of the after tug, and was lowering the wire to the tug. The sudden braking effect of the port anchor caused the tug to run under the stern just at the moment when the propeller was answering my double ring Full Astern. The prompt action of the Second Officer in securing the inboard end of the wire delayed the sinking of the tug by some minutes, thereby allowing the safe abandoning of the vessel.
It is strange, but at the very same moment of the letting go of the port anchor, there was a power loss ashore; the fact that we had passed over a Cable Area at that time suggests that we may have touched something on the river bed. It is perhaps lucky that the high tension cables brought down by our foremast were not actually live, possibly having been replaced by the underwater cable. Owing to the shore blackout, it is impossible to say when the pylon fell.
What never fails to amaze me are the actions and behavior of foreigners. The Pilot, for example, is at this moment huddled in the corner of my Day Cabin alternately crooning to himself and crying, after having consumed the entire contents of a bottle of my best Gin in a time worthy of inclusion in the Guinness Book of World Records.
The Tug Captain, on the other hand, reacted violently, and had to be forcibly restrained by the Chief Steward who has him handcuffed in the ship’s hospital, where he is telling me to do impossible things with my ship and person.
I enclose the names and addresses of the drivers and insurance companies of the vehicles deposited on my foredeck which the Chief Officer collected after his somewhat hurried evacuation of the fo’c’sle. These particulars will enable you to claim for the damage that they did to the railings around the hatchway of Number 1 Hold. I am closing this Preliminary Report, for I am finding it difficult to concentrate because of police sirens and flashing lights. It is sad to reflect that, had the Apprentice realized that there is no need to fly a Pilot Flag after dark, none of this would have happened.
For my Weekly Accountability Report, I will assign the following Casualty Numbers; T/750101 to T/750199 inclusive.