• U.S.

Transport: Guilty

2 minute read

Last week in Manhattan it took a Federal Court jury which had spent ten weeks listening to evidence on the burning of the T. E. L. Morro Castle off the New Jersey coast in September 1934, scarcely ten hours to reach a verdict.

Convicted of criminal negligence were The New York & Cuba Mail Steamship Co., operator of the Ward liner; Executive Vice President Henry E. Cabaud, the shore official in charge of safeguarding the Morro Castle; Acting Captain William F. Warms and Chief Engineer Eben Starr Abbott, the two chief officers of the ship which took 124 lives.

During the long trial, which investigated every detail of the catastrophe, the defense maintained that the huge death list was in part due to “an act of God,” in part to “a defect” in the ship’s construction, that in any case the defendants did all in their power to protect the passengers.

The jury decided otherwise after hearing that; 1) The Morro Castle was not thoroughly inspected in port because she did not stay long enough. 2) Fire drills were rarely held, never thoroughly. 3) Fire-fighting equipment was in such poor shape as to be virtually useless. 4) Mr. Cabaud knew the regulations were not complied with, ignored them in order to keep the liner busy. 5) Captain Warms had no command over his crew, which was completely disorganized. 6) During the fire, he hesitated too long in sending out an SOS, failed to tend to the passengers until too late, handled his ship incompetently. 7) Engineer Abbott did not know his job, never went to his post during the crisis but fled in the first lifeboat, where he plucked off his officer’s insignia, murmured: “I’ll be jailed for this.”

Possible sentences: $10,000 fine; ten years’ imprisonment.

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