Skip to Content

Colonial Cases

The Sotir v. The Iser, 1895

[shipping, collision]

The Sotir v. The Iser

Judicial Committee of the Privy Council
February 1895
Source: The Times, 23 January 1895



This was an appeal from an order or decree of her Britannic Majesty's Supreme Consular Court, Constantinople, sitting in Vice-Admiralty, of August 1, 1893.

Sir Richard Webster, Q.C., Mr. Joseph Walton, Q.C., and Mr. Charles Stubbs were counsel for the appellant; Sir Walter Phillimore, Q.C., and Mr. Frederick Laing for the respondent.

The suit in which the order appealed from was made was one brought by the appellant against the respondent in order to recover damages in respect of a collision which took place on December 14, 1892, between the Sotir and the Iser in the Cervi Channel, which is between the island of Cerigo and the mainland of Greece.  The Sotir was a Greek brig of 307 tons register and carried a crew of nine hands.  The Iser is a screw steamship of 2,177 tons (gross), belonging to the Port of London.  At the time of the collision the Sotir was on a voyage from Taganrog for Catania with a cargo of grain, whilst the Iser was on a voyage from Maddalena to Batoum, calling at Constantinople.  The collision occurred at about  2.15 a.m. on December 14, 1892.

The case was heard before Mr. C. J. tarring, Acting Judge of her Britannic Majesty's Supreme Consular Court, Constantinople, who found that the Iser was not to blame for the collision, which he held was brought about proximately by the Sotir herself altering her course at the last moment, and he made an order, dated August 1, 1893, that the petition of the Sotir be dismissed and that judgment be entered on behalf of the defendant steamer Iser, and that the Sotir do pay to the Iser such costs of suit as might on taxation be allowed. From that order the present appeal was preferred on the part of the Sotir to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

SIR RICHARD WEBSTER, Q.C., and Mr. JOSEPH WALTON, Q.C., argued the case for the appellant, and SIR WALTER PHILLIMORE, Q.C., the case for the respondent.

At the conclusion of the argument for the respondent,

Their LORDSHIPS did not call upon counsel for the appellant to reply.

The LORD CHANCELLOR said their Lordships would give their reasons on a later day.


Source: The Times, 12 February 1895




This was an appeal from a decree of Mr. C. J. Tarring, Acting judge of her Britannic Majesty's Supreme Consular Court at Constantinople of August 1, 1893, in a cause of collision brought in the Vice-Admiralty of the Court by the appellant against the respondents.

Sir Richard Webster, Q.C., Mr. Joseph Walton, Q.C., and Dr. Charles Stubbs appeared for the appellant; Sir Walter Phillimnore, Q.C., and Mr. Frederick Laing for the respondent.

The arguments were recently heard before a Board consisting of the Lord Chancellor, Lord Watson, Lord Macnaghten, Lord Shand, Lord Davey, and Sir Richard Couch, when judgment was reserved.

LORD WATSON, in delivering, on Saturday, the opinion of the Committee, said, on December 14,     892, about 2 a.m., the British steamship Iser and the Greek brig Sotir were approaching each rougher in the Cervi Channel, which separates the island of Corigo from the mainland of Greece.  The steamer, of 2,177 tons gross, was on her way from Maddalena to Constantinople and was making not less than 10 knots.  The brig, about 307 tons register, was carrying a cargo of grain from Taganrog to Catania.  She had not a set course, but was sailing close-hauled by the wind, which was light and from south-south-west, her speed being about 2 ½ miles per hour.  The course steered by the Iser was east b y north-quarter-north, or east three-quarter-north magnetic, and, according to the evidence, the course of the brig must have been somewhere between west and west b y north.  The night was dark, but clear and favourable for the observation of lights.  The two vessels came into collision, and the Sotir immediately sank.   The present action was brought by the appellant, her master and part-owner, against the Iser, in the Consular Court at Constantinople, and, after proof on both sides, was dismissed by the Acting Judge, upon the ground that the Sotir was alone to blame for the collision.

Upon some material points, the evidence was not conflicting.  It showed (and it was not controverted) that the steamer's lights were seen and watched by those on board the Sotir for a considerable tine before her side lights were observed by the Iser.  And the evidence of the Iser's own witnesses showed that the period which elapsed, between the time when she first saw the lights of the Sotir and the moment of collision, was very brief.  The statements made by the witnesses   on either side in regard to the lights which they observed, and their bearings, during that period of time, were in all respects consistent. But they differed in their account of the manoevreing of the two vessels by which those results were brought about.

The case presented for the Sotir was that she never deviated from her course, but continued to steer by the wind, from the time when she first saw the lights of the Iser until that vessel came close upon her, so close as to leave no doubt in the minds of her crew that she would inevitably be run down, when their only thought was how to save their lives.  She first saw the mast-head light of the Iser ahead, at some miles distance; and shortly afterwards the green light appeared ahead, and continued in sight until the vessels were quite near to each other, when it suddenly disappeared and a red light appeared in its stead.  In an instant it became apparent that the steamer was crossing her bows, and there was hardly time to call up the crew, who were below deck, before the Iser ran into her.

The case set up by the Iser was that no light was exhibited by the Sotir, which could be seen from the Iser, until about ten minutes after 2 a.m., when a red light was observed to appear suddenly about 1 ½ to two points upon her starboard bow.  The chief mate, who was in charge, immediately gave the order, "Hard=-a-port," and telegraphed to "Stand-by."  The captain, who had gone below a few minutes previously, ran up as soon as he heard the telegraph ring, and on reaching the bridge saw both lights of the brig a little on his port bow.  He at once telegraphed "Full speed astern," and, to use his own language, "with that almost immediately came the crash."  The chief mate said that after he gave the first order, the captain "immediately appeared upon the bridge," and that both lights of the Sotir were then visible."  From the account thus given it is perfectly obvious that a very short time elapsed between the order to "hard-a-port" and the collision, that when the brig's red ,light was first seen the vessels must have been in dangerous proximity, and that at the time of the collision the Iser was crossing the bows of the Sotir.

In these circumstances, their Lordships entertained no  doubt that the fact of no light having been seen by the Iser, until the vessels were  so near as to involve risk of collision, was the main, if  not the only, cause of the collision.  It was therefore necessary to consider whether the failure of the Iser to observe the light of the Sotir, before the vessels were so near to each other, was owning to her own negligence, or was due, as she alleged, either to the brig carrying no lights or to her red light being screened by her sails.

The learned Judge of the Consular Court acquitted the Iser of all responsibility for that failure.  He had not found, or even suggested, that the lights of the brig, which were admittedly in order at and before the time of the collision, had not been burning before the red light was observed by the steamer.  There was ample and uncontradicted testimony that they were.  But he came to the conclusion that the red light was so obscured by the sails of the brig that it continued to be invisible to the Iser until it was observed.  His reasoning in support of that conclusion rested, in the first place, upon the assumption that an effective look-out was kept by the Iser; and, in the second place, upon the fact, stated by the steersman of the brig, that at a certain distance he was unable to see the lights of the Iser because they were concealed by the sails.

The latter circumstance appeared to their Lordships to be of no moment.  The steersman's position was aft of the sails, which might at times interrupt his view of the Iser.  But it did not in the least follow that the side-light of the brig was screened by her sails from the observation of a seaman on the forecastle of the Iser.  There is little probability in the suggestion, and no attempt was made to lay any foundation for it in the evidence.  Not a single question was put to any witness with regard to the build and rig of the Sotir, or as to the position of her sails when set in relation to her side-lights.

Their Lordships were unable to concur in the view which the learned Judge took of the efficiency of the look-out on board the Iser.  It was proved by two of her crew, who had the best means of knowledge, that during a critical period preceding her observation of the red light the Iser had no look-out.  It was the duty of her steersman and her look-out to relieve each other at 2 a.m.   At that precise hour the look-out states that he left the forecastle, but, instead of going to the helm, went below.  About three minutes after the hour he came on deck and relieved the steersman, who followed his example, and, instead of looking out, went below. He positively stated that not more thwn five minutes elapsed between his leaving the helm and his reaching the forecastle; but that statement showed that the Iser was proceeding at full-speed on her voyage with-out any look-out for, at least, eight minutes.  It was right to say that the absence of the look-out did not appear to have been known to the officer who was navigating the ship, but that was not a circumstance which could aid the case of the Iser.  It was argued for the Iser that the absence of a look-out during the period in question was immaterial and excusable, inasmuch as it was proved that sometime between 2.5 and 2.10 a .m. her chief mate took the bearing of the light on Cape Spathi, and would necessarily have seen the red light of the Sotir if it had been visible at that time.   Their Lordships were of opinion, and they were advised by their assessors, that such a casual and brief opportunity for observation by an officer whose attention was directed to another point, could not be regarded as an efficient substitute for the services of a look-out man during the period when no look-out was kept. 

Upon the evidence their Lordships had had no difficulty in coming to the conclusion that

the Iser had incurred responsibility for the collision by her failure to keep a proper look-out, and by not stopping and reversing, in compliance with Article 18 of the Regulations,when the red light of the brig was first seen.  Their Lordships were also of opinion that the Iser was alone to blame for the collision.  The contributory fault imputed to the Sotir was that she improperly  changed her course, "by going into the wind, after she had been seen by the Iser."  In support of that assertion, which was positively contradicted by the witnesses from the brig, it was argued that, according to the evidence, the steamer had, a second or two before the collision, succeeded in crossing the bows of the brig, and attaining a course which would have been perfectly safe if the brig had not run into her, and that thebrig must have accomplished that feat by luffing into the wind.  The argument mainly rested on the fallacious assumption that the steamer had got clear of the brig before the collision occurred.  The fact was that she failed in her rash attempt to cross the bows of the brig. No doubt her captain said that, at the moment of the collision, the Sotir seemed about head to wind, with her sails flat aback.  If that had been the case she could have had very little and, more probably, no way upon her. But the chief mate of the Iser said that at the same moment he "saw the foam breaking at her bow," and that she immediately struck his ship.  Their Lordships were not disposed to attach any weight to that evidence; and even if it had been more reliable, they would have hesitated to hold the crew of the Sotir responsible for the navigation of their vessel during a period of natural panic suddenly induced by the fault of the Iser.

Their Lordships would humbly advise her Majesty to reverse the judgment appealed from, to condemn the Iser in damages and costs, and to remit the case to the Consular Court that the amount of damages might be ascertained and decreed.  The respondent must bear the costs of this appeal.


Nottingham Evening Post, 12 February, 1895
  In the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, yesterday, judgment was given in an appeal. "The Greek brig Sotir v. the British steamship Iser," from a decision of the Acting Judge of the British Consular Court at Constantinople. A collision took place between the two vessels near the island of Cerigo on the 14th of December, 1892, and the master and part owner of the Sotir brought an action in the Consular Court against the owners of the Iser  to recover damages for the loss of their vessel. The Acting Judge dismissed the action on the ground that the Sotir was alone to blame for the collision. The plaintiff appealed, and their Lordships now affirmed the appeal, reversing the judgment of the Consular Court, and condemning the Iser in  damages and costs.

Published by Centre for Comparative Law, History and Governance at Macquarie Law School