The Steamship “Kanal” (1886) - The Ship and her Last Journey

    Initially inspired by a paper model kit of the steamship “Kanal” (Channel), the author, a retired professor of naval architecture, researched the history and technical and regulatory aspects of this ship which capsized on December 22, 1909, in Danish waters, leading to the deaths of five of its seven crew members, 159 head of cattle and the loss of the ship.

    Tapping a considerable variety of resources and at times using simple engineering calculations to assess some of the characteristics of the steamer, the author assembles the background against which to evaluate the fatal accident, 100 years ago, and, as a byproduct, sheds some light on some aspects of coastal shipping during those times.

    After laying said foundation, the paper discusses the fateful last journey of the “Kanal” which led to the loss of the ship and how those regulatory and technical aspects as well as the actions of the captain were likely to have contributed to it. In this context, the paper also discusses an earlier, somewhat similar accident of the same ship, in 1894, during which a catastrophe had, however, been averted. That accident had subsequently been investigated by the Seeamt oversight authority yet, as it becomes clear with hindsight, the lessons from this incident had not been sufficiently learned or, in any case, applied.

    As so often is the case with accidents, not one single cause but the unfortunate combination of several causes and circumstances led to the sinking of the “Kanal”. However, the author makes it clear that the loss of the “Kanal” in 1909 could most likely have been avoided, had the regulatory and oversight authorities as well as the shipping company that operated the “Kanal” taken some steps to improve the seaworthiness of this kind of ship — steps which should have been rather obvious since the 1894 accident at the latest. It also appears that the captain made some questionable decisions though it is impossible to assess today under how much pressure he had been to sail despite the increasingly dangerous weather conditions.