MONTREAL, June 1, 1914 (UP) -- Government investigation of the loss of 1,032 lives when the Canadian Pacific liner Empress of Ireland was rammed and sunk by the collier Storstad started here today.
Capt. Lindsay, wreck commissioner of the dominion of Canada, opened an inquiry which will probe the horror preliminary to a full investigation by a royal commission.
Two judges of the admiralty court of Canada and a representative of the British board of trade will finally decide the cause of the disaster.
Grave discrepancies in the testimony of Capt. Kendall of the Empress and Capt. Anderson of Storstad as to the occurrences remain to be explained. Both captains declare their boats were almost stationary. Capt. Anderson says the Storstad's engines were at full speed astern when the crash came.
He denies his vessel backed out of the rent she tore through the Empress' side and insists that momentum of the liner twisted the collier out of the great gap, thus allowing the water to pour in with such speed that practically all chance of the passengers escape was cut off.
The Storstad reached this port yesterday under her own steam, and immediately was seized for damages by collision to the extent of $2,000,000. Counsel for the owning company, the Maritime Steamship Co., prepared to furnish bail so the collier could be moved today.
In reply to the charge before the coroner's jury that Capt. Anderson of the Storstad ignored Capt. Kendall's signals and therefore was responsible for the collision, counsel for Capt. Anderson issued the following statement:
The vessels sighted each other when far apart. The Empress of Ireland was seen off the port bow of the Storstad.
"The Empress of Ireland's green of starboard light, was visible to those on the Storstad. Under these circumstances the rules of navigation gave the Storstad the right way.
"The heading of the Empress of Ireland was then changed in such a manner as to put the vessels in a position to ply safely. Thereafter a fog enveloped first the Empress and then the Storstad.
"Fog signals were exchanged, the Storstad engines were at once slowed and then stopped. Her heading remained unaltered. Whistles from the Empress were heard on the Storstad port bow and were answered. The Empress of Ireland was then seen through the fog close at hand on the port bow of the Storstad. She was showing her green light and was making considerably headway.
"The engines of the Storstad were at once reversed at full speed and her headway was nearly checked when the vessels came together.
"As the vessels came together the Storstad's engines were ordered ahead for the purpose of holding her bow against the side of the empress and thus preventing the entrance of water into the vessel.
"The headway of the Empress, however, swung the Storstad around in such a way as to twist the Stortad's bow out of the hole and to bend the bow itself over to the port.
"The statements which appeared in the press, indicating that there was the slightest delay on the part of Storstad in rendering prompt and efficient aid, do a cruel injustice to the captain, who did not hesitate to send out every boat he had, in spite of the desperate condition of his own ship.
The Storstad was badly damaged about the bows, but so far as could be seen this did not extend to more than 20 feet from the stem. She was low in the water except at the bows, where she had evidently been lightened. Her draft was 26 feet.
That the impact with the Empress of Ireland had been great was evident by the way the vessel's stem was twisted to port, the hawser hole completely smashed, plates cracked, rivets twisted or missing, while the heavy anchor had evidently been driven back several feet into the bows.
Some of the seamen of the Storstad who were induced to talk said Capt. Anderson was off duty at the time of the accident.
They also said that the Storstad had been signaled to go Eastern before it struck the Empress a glancing blow. The seamen of the collier said that 350 persons were saved by the crew of the Storstad.
W. Simpson Walker, registrar of the admiralty court, was instructed by the solicitors for the Canadien Pacific railway, to issue documents for the seizure of the Storstad for $2,000,000 in damages. This amount can be further augmented. The warrant was executed by acting deputy sheriff W.S. Marson.
The warrant was nailed to the mast accompanied by a writ of summons in rem. The vessel cannot be moved without the deposit of ball, which was to be arranged today.
Capt. Henry George Kendall, of the sunken Empress of Ireland, testified before the coroner that he had halted his ship and taken all possible precaution against collision. He stated that he had first seen the Storstad two miles away and warned it to stop, but that the Storstad had come on through the fog, and had rammed his vessel while it was practically motionless.
He said the Storstad's captain had not heeded his plea to keep his engines full speed after the ramming so as to keep the hole in the Empress' side plugged up, but had withdrawn his vessel and backed away, so that the hole was opened up and the water rushed in.