Did a fire make the mark?

Mr Molony has a photograph of Titanic leaving Belfast on the 2nd of April, that shows a mark on the side of the ship. He believes the mark was caused by a fire in the bunker of No.6 Boiler Room. Evidently, Mr Molony failed to check the accident report. The bunker fire was in No.5 Boiler Room. Read Bunker Fire Inquiry (below).
The No.5 Boiler Room bunker is on the aft side of bulkhead E, whereas the mark in on the forward side of bulkhead D, a long way from where the fire occurred. The mark is below the well deck. The mark is on the side of No.3 Hold and is much longer than the bunker fire could potentially have produced. Mr Molony says it is a 30-foot-long black streak but the bunker is only 9 feet wide.

At time 7:41 of the video, Mr Malony's mark can be seen. Note that there is another mark to its right. Compare the two marks. Their shape, size, slope and height above the sea are identical. Neither Mr Molony or his colleague, Steve Raffield, noticed this second mark. Maybe I am the only person who has ever noticed this second mark. The instant I saw it, I recalled my boyhood experiences of working on a steamer. I think I can explain the duplicate marks and their relationship to each other.

What caused the mark?

Titanic was tied to the wharf by a bowline to limit its movement toward the stern. The stern was secured to some kind of anchorage, or mooring, to limit its movement toward the bow.

Because cargo needed to be moved to and from No.3 Hold, the ship was tied to the wharf immediately below the well deck where the cargo crane and derricks were located. Danger: If the stern-line were to give way, the ship would pivot clockwise on the wharf bollard and the bow would strike the wharf and do enormous damage to the ship. To prevent this possibility, the bow of the ship was also tied to the wharf. With the vessel attached to the wharf in two places it was secure. That this double attachment created a slight inward angle to the wharf, of maybe 5 degrees, would not be a concern.

A ship in the sea never stops moving. Even though Titanic was fastened securely by its mooring ropes it continually moved. It moved toward the stern until the bowline went taut and brought it to a halt. The ship then rebounded and moved toward the bow until the stern-line went taut and brought it to a halt, again causing it to rebound. This continual oscillation, though perfectly normal, left evidence of its movement. At the two places where the ship was tied to the wharf, there were buffers to prevent the ship scraping its side against the wharf. Though the buffers prevented damage, paint was sometimes rubbed from the ship where the buffers made contact. The oscillating movement of Titanic would cause the paint to be rubbed off in a fairly horizontal line, though with some slight vertical width induced by the up-and-down action of the waves. The photograph shows that paint had been rubbed away by both buffers, and a similar quantity and shape by each.

Consider the effect if the tide were coming in: As Titanic rose on the tide the horizontal scraping of the paint would be a little lower, and continue to get lower as the tide rose higher.

In addition to this effect, the variability of the wind direction and its speed would have an effect on the horizontal location of each scraping. For example, assume the wind were blowing against the stern of the ship: the scraping would tend toward the right, whereas, if blowing the opposite direction, the scraping would tend toward the left.
    One of the photograph suggests certain possibilities:
  • Titanic, towed by a tug, appears to be leaving port. That is likely to be at high tide.
  • the bottom scrapings are those made at high tide.
  • the bottom scrapings are to the left which suggests the wind was blowing from the right.
  • the smoke from the funnels indicates the wind was blowing from the right.

The bunker fire

A spontaneous combustion coal fire occurred in the forward starboard bunker of No.5 Boiler Room. The bunker measured 9 feet wide against the hull and 34 feet wide against Bulkhead E. It could hold about 250 tons of coal, so maybe about a 32 feet high stack.

Where the fire started in the bunker is impossible to say, as the combustible patch of coal could be anywhere within the stack. The chemical action that creates a spontaneous coal fire generates heat, and little by little the heat accumulates until it gets so hot it ignites. It is unlikely the chemical action took place on the top surface of the coal stack, for being in the open the heat being generated would tend to dissipate rather than accumulate and so could not ignite.

It was suggested the spontaneous fire had started in the bunker weeks earlier but at some stage grew into an inferno. The theory is this massive fire at the top of the bunker spread across its total width to make contact with the ¾ inch thick hull, heating it to such a level it burned off the paint to create the mark.

But if any red-hot coals came in contact with the ice-cold steel of the hull, one would think they would lose their heat and go out. The inner part of the coal fire would continue to burn and would warm the coal in contact with the hull but this heat would be instantly dissipated by the conduction of the heat by the steel. Any coal that failed to go out would eventually use its fuel and leave its clinker, ash and slag.

It would also take a few days for the heat to build up prior to ignition and during this time coal was being removed from the bottom of the bunker to feed its two boilers. This means the top of the stack will have dropped several feet and be below where it is claimed the fire did the damage.

The mark was photographed on the 2nd of April, so the very latest the fire could have happened was the 1st of April. It has been suggested the fire in the bunker was an inferno. If that were so, one would expect all the coal to be burnt away with a few days yet, weeks after it was suggested the fire started, there is still coal burning on the 13th of April when it was finally shovelled into the boilers. This suggests the coal fire was only smouldering for all these many days.

Another argument against the inferno theory: For an inferno to exist, it requires a vast amount of air, such as we see in forest fires. The fire in the bunker could never turn into an inferno simply because there was only a limited amount of air available, particularly when the bunker door was shut. The fire theory is beyond belief, even if it were the correct bunker!

Alternative ways to put out the fire:
  • collect the burning embers and feed it into all of the No.5 Boiler Room furnaces.
  • spray water onto the fire.
  • minimise or stop the flow of air into the bunker:
    • shut the bunker door.
    • inject steam into the bunker.

British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry

from Testimony of Frederick Barrett examined by the SOLICITOR-GENERAL.

Now, with regard to the bunker, you have said this bunker referred to just now was empty - the coal bunker? - Yes.
Were there any other coal bunkers empty forward? - No.
Was this the only one empty? - Yes.
Had it been emptied in the usual way? - No.
Why was it emptied? - My orders were to get it out as soon as possible.
When did you receive those orders? - Not very long after the ship left Southampton.
Was there anything wrong? - Yes.
What was wrong? - The bunker was a-fire.
Shortly after you left Southampton -
The Commissioner: Now how is this relevant to this Inquiry? Shortly after you left Southampton -
I'll put another question or two, and you will see why I think it is relevant.
(To the Witness.) How long did it take them to work the coal out? - Saturday. The whole Saturday.
What condition was the watertight bulkhead in? - It was the idea to get the bunker out. The chief engineer, Mr. Bell, gave me orders: "Builder's men wanted to inspect that bulkhead." The bulkhead forms the side of the bunker.
What was the condition of the bulkhead running through the bunker? - It was damaged from the bottom.
Badly damaged? - The bottom of the watertight compartment was dinged aft and the other part was dinged forward.
(The Commissioner.) What do you attribute that to? - The fire.
Do you mean to say the firing of the coal would dinge the bulkhead? - Yes.
(Mr. Lewis:) This is the bulkhead between sections 5 and 6? - Yes.
(The Commissioner:) You told us there was some fire in that bunker? - Yes.
Soon after you left port? - Yes.
Is it a very uncommon thing for fire to get into a coal bunker in that way? - It is not an uncommon thing.
It happens sometimes? - Yes.
I suppose the proper order is to have that actual bunker emptied as soon as possible? - Yes.
And, therefore, that was all right? - Yes.
Did the fact that there was fire in that bunker in any way conduce to the collision as far as you know? Had it anything to do with it? - I could not say that.
Do you think it had? Do you think that the fire had anything to do with this disaster? - That would be hard to say, my Lord.
The Commissioner: Very well; perhaps I am asking you a riddle.
(Mr. Laing:) Did you work out that bunker yourself? - I was in charge. There were between 8 and 10 men doing it.
Was it fire or only heat? - It was fire.
Did you play upon it? - The hose was going all the time.
And did they get it out by the Saturday? - Yes.
Cleared all out? - Yes.