Merchant Shipping Act 1854

Merchant Shipping Act, 1854  (1854) 

The Mercantile Marine Magazine and Nautical Record
[pp 333-341]


[An Act to Amend and Consolidate the Acts relating to Merchant Shipping and to come into operation on 1st May 1855.]

IT is divided into eleven parts as follows :- Part 1 defines the duties and functions of the Board of Trade. Part 2 relates to the ownership, measurement, and registration of British ships, as well as the transfer mortgage and national character of such vessels. Part 3 regulates the position of, and determines the relations between Masters and Seamen; it provides also for the constitution of Local Marine Boards and Shipping-offices, the engagement of Seamen, and payment of wages, and other matters relating to the protection and discipline of seamen when on service. Part 4 provides for the building, equipment, and inspection of all sea-going vessels with a view to safety and the prevention of accidents. Part 5 refers to Pilots and Pilotage. Part 6 to Lighthouses. Part 7 to the Mercantile Marine Fund. Part 8 to Wrecks, Casualties, and Salvage. Part 9 to the liability of Shipowners. Part 10 to Legal Procedure. Part 11 to Miscellaneous Matters.

Part 1. Functions of the Board of Trade. The Board of Trade is to be the department to superintend all matters relating to Merchant Shipping, and is authorised to carry out and enforce the provisions of this Act. All documents and certificates issued by the Board, and signed with its seal are to be received as evidence without further proof, unless the contrary be shown. The Board of Trade will also issue the forms of instruments, books, and papers, required by this Act and is empowered to make from time to time any requisite alterations, such forms being exempted from the stamp duty. All fees and payments, subject to special provisions, are to be paid over to the Mercantile Marine Fund, except fines, which will be paid into the receipt of the Exchequer for the Consolidated Fund. All Consuls, Officers of Customs, Local Marine Boards, and Shipping Masters, are to make such returns and reports as the Board may direct, and Shipping Masters may be required to produce the official log books and other documents. Officials of the Board of Trade, Naval Officers, Consuls, and Officers of Customs, may inspect such documents, and may muster crews. The Board of Trade has also power to appoint Inspectors to report on various matters.

Part 2. Ownership Measurement and Registration of British Ships. This part refers to the whole of Her Majesty's dominions. Ships to be entitled to the description of British must belong to natural-born British subjects, or to persons lawfully naturalised in Great Britain or the Colonies, or to Bodies Corporate established under the laws of the United Kingdom, or having their principal place of business in it. To claim this title, however, every British ship must be registered before the Act comes into operation, except ships under 15 tons engaged solely in the Coasting Trade of the United Kingdom, and those under 30 tons employed solely in the Fishing or Coasting Trade of the North American Colonies. Elaborate rules and tables are given for the measurement of tonnage both in sailing and steam vessels, and the tonnage, (so registered,) as well as the number of the certificate of registry, must be carved or permanently marked on the main beam of each ship, and to be ever after deemed its tonnage. The re-measurement, however, of vessels already registered is not compulsory. The Commissioners of Customs may appoint Officers to inspect ships and carry out the tonnage rules. The Registrars are to be the Commissioners and principal Officers of Customs at any port, or persons administering the Government in the Colonies, &c. The name of the ship must be conspicuously painted upon her, and not changed except to avoid an enemy, unless re-registered, under a penalty of £100, and the vessel must also be previously surveyed. The names of the Owners or Corporate Bodies to which the ship belongs must be declared with other statements, such as the number of Owners and their interest, the port to which the ship belongs, and the name of the Master, which are to be entered into the register book; and the certificate of registry, and all changes in the same are to be indorsed whenever the ship returns to port. Powers are given for provisional certificates of registration, and for the transfer of ships and shares, for sales and mortgages, and the registration of such transfers, &c., and for the punishment of offences against the provisions of this Act.

Part 3. Masters and Seamen. The provisions of this part extend variously. The whole refers to all sea-going ships registered in the United Kingdom. The portion relating to returns and wages refers to all sea-going British ships, wherever registered, and the same is the case with the provisions relating to the shipping and discharging of men in the United Kingdom, and to the volunteering into the Royal Navy. In certain cases, fishing vessels of the United Kingdom, vessels belonging to the Trinity house, &c., and pleasure yachts are exempted. Local Marine Boards are to be established under the Board of Trade wherever they are now in existence, and at other places, at the option of the Board of Trade, and constituted as follows :- Mayors or Provosts, stipendiary Magistrates of the place, or such (if more than one) as the Board of Trade appoint, are to be ex officio members. The Board of Trade will also nominate four persons residing or having places of business within seven miles of the place, and the owners of foreign-going ships registered at the port will appoint six members. The elections are to take place every three years, on the 25th of January, and persons elected to supply vacancies will also retire at that time. The Owners of foreign-going vessels so registered will have votes as follows,- Every registered Owner of not less than 250 tons shall have one vote for each member for every 250 tons owned by him, provided he has not more than 10 votes in all for any one member; and when there is more than one Owner, the votes shall be apportioned to their respective shares, subject to the basis of 250 tons; but where the shares are not sufficient in amount, the whole shall be deemed to be owned by one of the Owners resident within seven miles of the port. Every person qualified to vote is also qualified to become a member of such Local Marine Board as long as he possesses the required qualification. In case any such Board fails to discharge its duties, the Board of Trade may assume them, and direct a new election. In addition to sending in reports, &c., the Local Marine Boards are to establish Shipping-offices, subject to the partial control of the Board of Trade, as far as regards money matters and the removal of the superintendents (shipping masters), clerks, &c., of these offices. The general business of these offices is - to afford facilities for engaging seamen by keeping registries of their names and characters, to superintend and facilitate their engagement and discharge - to provide means for securing the presence of men, so engaged, on board - to facilitate apprenticeship to sea-service - and to execute all other duties and powers laid upon them by this Act. The fees are fixed in a schedule (P), and the Masters or Owners shall pay the fees on behalf of the seamen, and deduct them from the wages. The business of Shipping-offices may be conducted at Custom-houses, or at Sailors' Homes in London. Examinations are to be instituted by the Local Marine Boards for Masters and Mates of foreign-going and home-trade passenger ships, subject to rules and qualifications, from time to time laid down by the Board of Trade. Fees are to be paid by the applicants, and Certificates of Competency will be granted to those who pass. Certificates of Service for foreign-going ships will be given to Masters or Mates who served as such before January 1, 1851, and to certain Naval Officers; also for home-trade passenger ships, to those who served as Masters or Mates before the same date. All ships are required to have Masters and Mates with the necessary certificates for either service. With respect to the engagement of seamen, the Board of Trade will grant licences to persons approved of for supplying seamen or apprentices. These licenses are revocable on certain contingencies, and the penalty for any person acting in such capacity, other than the Owner, Master, Mate, or some person bona fide in the constant employ of the Owner, is £20. The same penalty is incurred for employing any unlicensed person in this capacity other than the above exceptions; and no remuneration is to be received beyond the fees fixed by the Act. The Master of every ship will have to enter into an agreement with every seaman, to be drawn in a form prescribed by the Board of Trade; and signed, in the case of foreign-going ships in the presence of a Shipping Master, who is to explain the terms to the seamen, and take duplicates thereof. In the case of substitutes for deserters and other emergencies, the agreement is to be attested as soon as possible. The following particulars are to be stated in these agreements :- “1. The nature, and, as far as practicable, the duration of the intended voyage or engagement. “2. The number and description of the crew, specifying how many are engaged as sailors. “3. The time at which each Seaman is to be on board or to begin work. “4. The capacity in which each Seaman is to serve. “5. The Amount of Wages which each Seaman is to receive. “6. A Scale of the Provisions which are to be furnished to each Seaman. “7. Any regulations as to conduct on board and as to fines, short allowance of provisions, or other lawful punishments for misconduct, which have been sanctioned by the Board of Trade as regulations proper to be adopted, and which the parties agree to adopt.”

Provisions are also made for running agreements for short voyages, (two or more,) provided the agreement does not extend beyond the next 30th of June or the 31st of December following, or the first arrival in port after either day. In home-trade vessels the agreement may be entered into before a Shipping Master or other witnesses. Changes in the Crews of foreign-going Ships are to be reported, and the engagement of Seamen abroad must be executed before a Shipping Master or Commissioner of Customs in the Colonies, or with the sanction, and in the presence of the Consul. No ship is to be cleared or permitted to sail, or Seamen engaged, unless the Master's or Mate's certificates of competency, or service, are produced. Agreements for home-trade ships are to be made half-yearly, and alterations to be attested. Stipulations for the allotment of any part of the wages of a Seaman daring his absence, which are made at the commencement of the voyage, must be inserted in the agreement, stating amounts and times of payment to be made; allotment notes must be in forms sanctioned by the Board of Trade, and may be sued on summarily by certain persons and under certain conditions. The discharge and payment of wages for foreign-going ships are to be made before a Shipping Master, to whom the Master must deliver an account of such wages 24 hours previously. On discharge, the Seaman will receive certificates of discharge and certificate of competency, or service, will be returned: the Shipping Master may decide questions referred to him in writing, and his decision is binding. The release of wages is to be attested before a Shipping Master, and no other receipt is a discharge. On every discharge the Master shall make a report of character and capacity, which is to be transmitted to the Registrar-General of Seamen; and the Sailor may have, if he please, his character endorsed on his certificate of discharge. Facilities will be given for remitting Seamen's wages to relatives, &c., and Savings' Banks for Seamen may be established. The right to wages and provisions commences either with the time specified for the commencement of work in the agreement or with presence on board whichever first happens. The Seamen are not to forfeit by any agreement their lien upon the ship or their right to recover wages, all agreements to the contrary being void. Wages are not to depend on the earning of freight, nor to accrue during refusal to work or during imprisonment; wages must be paid within two days after the termination of the agreement or at the time of the discharge, in the case of home-trade Ships; but in all others, except where by the agreement the Seamen are wholly compensated by shares in the adventure, within three days after the cargo has been delivered, or within five days after the Seaman's discharge. In all cases the Seaman is entitled, at his discharge, to one-fourth of the balance due to him. Seamen may sue for wages in a summary manner, but not abroad, unless in cases of discharge or of danger to life. Masters have the same remedies for wages as Seamen. Relief to seamen's families out of poor rates is chargeable on a certain proportion of their wages. Ample provisions are made for the safety of the effects and wages of deceased Seamen, which are to be entered in the Log-book, paid over to the Consuls or Shipping Masters, and remitted to the Board of Trade; and if under £50 may be administered without probate by by the person entitled to do so. On the discharge of Seamen abroad by sale of the ship, or otherwise, the Seamen are to be sent home at the expense of the Owner. Forcing Seamen on shore is a misdemeanour, and they are not to be discharged abroad without the certificate of some functionary, proof of which lies upon the Master. Wages are to be paid when Seamen are left behind on the ground of unfitness or inability to proceed, subject to the expense of subsistence and passage home. Distressed Seamen found abroad are to be relieved and sent home at the public expense, and Masters may be compelled to take them — one for every 50 tons burden; and if discharged contrary to the provisions of the Act, the amount advanced for relief is recoverable from Master or Owner. With respect to volunteering into the Royal Navy, Seamen are to be allowed to leave their ships for that purpose, and all stipulations to the contrary are to be visited with a penalty not exceeding £20. Clothes are to be delivered up at once to the Seaman, and his wages, either in money or bill, to the Queen's officer on his account; but re-payment will be made to the Owner of advance paid by him and not duly earned; and if substitutes are engaged, at extra expense. the Owner may apply for the re-payment of such to the Registrar of the High Court of Admiralty, when a decision will be made in the case. With respect to Provisions, Health, and Accommodation, on the complaint of three of the Crew to the Officer who commands a Queen's ship, or other officials under this Act, examination shall be instituted, and the proper Provisions, &c., provided, under penalties; but a forfeiture of one week's wages can be made for frivolous complaints. Allowance for short or bad provisions must be made. Medicines, lime-juice, sugar, and vinegar, must be provided, and the Board of Trade may appoint inspectors of medicines. Medical expenses for injuries and other casualties whilst on duty are to be defrayed by the Owner, but in all other cases, expenses to a reasonable amount may, if proved, be deducted from the wages. Foreign-going ships, having 100 persons on board, must carry a Medical Officer. Every Seaman sleeping in hammock is to be allowed a space of 9, and in other cases 12 superficial feet on the deck. The place apportioned to Seamen must be kept free from stores, &c., be properly caulked and well ventilated. Every such place shall be either 6 feet high, or the Seaman, if in hammock allowed 54 cubic feet, and in other cases 72 cubic feet. Seamen are to be allowed to go on shore to make complaints. Sales of and charges upon wages are invalid, and debts exceeding 5s. not recoverable until the end of the voyage. Penalties are awarded for overcharges by Seamen's lodging-house keepers, and for detaining effects of Seamen. No persons unauthorized can go on board before the final arrival of the ship. As respects Discipline on board ship, misconduct endangering life or limb is a misdemeanour. The Board of Trade may investigate cases of alleged incompetency or misconduct, and cancel or suspend the Master's or Mate's certificate. Desertion is punishable with 12 weeks' imprisonment, with or without hard labour, and forfeiture of wages and effects on board. Absence within 24 hours of sailing, or neglecting to join, with 10 weeks', with or without hard labour, and the forfeiture of 2 days' pay; and, in addition for every 24 hours' absence, a sum not exceeding six days' pay, or the expenses of procuring a substitute. Leaving ship without leave, before secured, is to be met with the forfeiture of one month's pay; wilful disobedience with four weeks' imprisonment, and continued disobedience with twelve weeks', with or without hard labour, and at the discretion of the court, forfeiture of two days' pay in the first case, and six days' pay for every twenty-four hours' continuance of such disobedience in the second. Assault upon officers, combination to disobey, and acts of wilful damage are similarly punishable with twelve weeks' imprisonment; and in the last case payment equal to the amount of loss. The Owner will be recompensed out of wages for losses entailed by smuggling on the part of the crew. Offences must be entered in the official log-book. Seamen whom Masters of ships are compelled to convey, and persons going in ships without leave, are subject to the same penalties for breach of discipline as if members of the crew. Deserters may be recovered without a warrant, and sent on board in lieu of imprisonment, as may Seamen imprisoned for breach of discipline before the termination of the sentence. Cost of imprisonment, to the extent of £3, and fines, may be deducted from the wages. Officers commanding H.M. Ships and Consuls may bold naval courts, to consist of not more than five or less than three members to hear complaints and investigate wrecks, of which court one member must be a Queen's officer, not below the rank of lieutenant, one a consular officer, one a British Merchant Master, and the rest any of the above or British merchants, and their duties are to carry out the provisions and enforce the penalties above described, and if necessary may supersede the Master. The proceedings, however, must be reported to the Board of Trade. Crimes on the high seas are within the jurisdiction of the Admiralty. A General Registry and Record-office of Seamen is to be established in London, under the Board of Trade, at which the Registrar-General shall keep a Register of Seamen. Lists of crews, with full particulars of the voyage, tonnage, and changes of the crew, are to be made in respect to foreign-going ships on arrival in port, and by home-trade ships half-yearly: and in all cases of loss or transfer, the lists to be sent home within six months. Official log-books must be kept in the form prescribed by the Board of Trade.

Part 4. Safety, and Prevention of Accidents. Life-boats and Buoys, in fixed proportions, must be carried by all decked ships, exception being made for steam tugs and whalers, under penalties not exceeding £100 for the Owner and £50 for the Master. No decked ship shall proceed to sea from any place in the United Kingdom, unless she is provided, according to her tonnage, with boats duly supplied with all requisites for use, and not being fewer in number nor less in their cubic contents than the boats the number and cubic contents of which are specified in the table for the class to which such ship belongs. No ship carrying more than ten passengers shall proceed to sea from any place in the United Kingdom, unless, in addition to the boats herein-before required, she is also provided with a life-boat furnished with all requisites for use, or unless one of her boats herein-before required is rendered buoyant after the manner of a life-boat. Clearance is not to be granted until these provisions are complied with. Rules are laid down to avoid collisions, a breach of which forfeits all right to recover losses. Whenever any ship, whether a steam or sailing ship, proceeding in one direction, meets another ship, whether a steam or sailing ship, proceeding in another direction, so that if both ships were to continue their respective courses they would pass so near as to involve any risk of a collision, the helms of both ships shall be put to port so as to pass on the port side of each other; and this rule shall be obeyed by all steam ships and by all sailing ships whether on the port or starboard tack, and whether close-hauled or not, unless the circumstances of the case are such as to render a departure from the rule necessary in order to avoid immediate danger, and subject also to the proviso that due regard shall be had to the dangers of navigation, and, as regards sailing ships on the starboard tack close-hauled to the keeping such ships under command. Every steam ship, when navigating any narrow channel, shall, whenever it is safe and practicable, keep to that side of the fairway or mid-channel which lies on the starboard side of such steam ship. Rules are given in respect to the building and equipment of steam ships and the building of iron steamers. Passenger steamers will be surveyed by engineer or shipwright surveyors appointed by the Board of Trade. Every sea-going steam ship employed to carry passengers shall have her compasses properly adjusted from time to time; such adjustment, in the case of ships surveyed as herein-after mentioned, to be made to the satisfaction of the shipwright surveyor, and according to such regulations as may be issued by the Board of Trade. Every home trade steam ship employed to carry passengers by sea shall be provided with such shelter for the protection of deck passengers (if any) as the Board of Trade, having regard to the nature of the passage, the number of deck passengers to be carried, the season of the year, the safety of the ship, and the circumstances of the case may require. And if any steam ship as aforesaid plies or goes to sea from any port in the United Kingdom without being so provided as herein-before required, then for each default in any of the above requisites the Owner shall (if he appears to be in fault) incur a penalty not exceeding £100, and the Master shall (if he appears to be in fault) incur a penalty not exceeding £50. Such ships are to be surveyed were practicable twice a year and no ship is to sail without a certificate signed by the inspector a copy of which is to be placed in a conspicuous part of the vessel and in which the condition capabilities and number of passengers which the ship is fit to carry must be specified Accidents are to be reported to the Board of Trade This portion applies to all British ships and to foreign ships carrying passengers between places in the United Kingdom Provisions are made in respect to dangerous goods

Part 5. Pilotage. The jurisdiction of the Pilotage authorities, as at present, is continued, subject to the provisions of this Act, for the purpose of determining the qualifications of Pilots, and making regulations for Pilot boats and rates of Pilotage, by bye-laws, under an Order in Council. Powers are also given to make and extend exemptions from compulsory Pilotage, to arrange Pilotage districts, grant local powers, and to establish funds for superannuated Pilots. A power of appeal lies to the Board of Trade. Masters or Mates, when examined and passed, may act as Pilots to particular ships, receiving annual certificates; and the Board of Trade may examine for and grant such Pilotage certificates, if the Pilotage authorities refuse to do so. Compulsory Pilotage applies to home-trade passenger ships between any place in the United Kingdom and the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man, and within the limits of any district for which Pilots are licensed, unless the Master or Mate have a Pilotage Certificate within the district. Qualified Pilots unable to board are entitled to pilotage if they lead the ship in a boat or other ship. No Pilot can, except on emergency, be taken out of his own district, without his consent, and if so taken, he is entitled to half-a-guinea a day extra payment. In certain cases, unqualified Pilots may act. Provisions are made for the conduct of Pilots both at home and on board. The above provisions refer to general Pilots. With respect to Trinity-house Pilots, the Trinity-house has the same general powers as other pilotage authorities, and may license Pilots in the London district, the English Channel district, and the Trinity-house Outport districts. The Trinity-house Pilots shall give a bond of £100, to which amount and the Pilotage their liability is confined. Subject to exemptions granted by the Trinity-house, Trinity-house Pilots must be employed in the London and Outport districts, when they offer themselves. But ships not carrying passengers, below 60 tons burden, employed in the Coasting Trade, or trading to Boulogne, or places north of that port, or laden with stone from the Channel Islands, &c., or navigating within the limits of the port to which they belong, are exempted. Where Pilotage is compulsory, no Owner or Master is answerable to any person for loss or damage occasioned by the fault or incapacity of any qualified Pilot when in charge.

Part 6. Lighthouses. The Management of Lighthouses, Buoys, and Beacons, is vested in the Trinity-house, in the Corporation of the Port of Dublin, and the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses. The Trinity-house may inspect Scotch and Irish Lighthouses, for which purpose the Board of Trade may also appoint inspectors. Lighthouses may be transferred from local authorities. The Light Dues are to remain as at present fixed, subject to revision under an Order in Council. The dues and regulations are to be published, and ships are not to be cleared without production of the receipt for the Light Dues. Powers are given for the construction and alteration of new Lighthouses, &c.

Part 7. Mercantile Marine Fund. A common fund, under this title, is to be established, into which all fees and other sums, except fines, received by the Board of Trade, Light Dues, Lastage and Ballastage monies, and all rates in the Thames received by the Trinity-house, are to be paid. The account is to be kept by the Paymaster-general. Salaries and other expenses of Local Marine Boards, Examinations, Shipping Offices, Surveyors, and Inspectors, under the various parts of this Act, expenses of the general Lighthouse authorities, and for the establishment of Life boats, &c., along the coast, as the Board of Trade may direct, are to be paid out of this fund. The accounts to be laid before Parliament every year.

Part 8. Wrecks, Casualties, and Salvage. This portion provides for investigations into Wrecks and other casualties; defines the duties of Receivers of Wreck, and the nature of Salvage.

Part 9. Liability of Shipowners. This portion applies to the whole of Her Majesty's dominions. No Owner or part Owner is liable for any loss or damage which may happen without his fault or privity to goods or merchandise by fire on board ship, or to money or jewellery by robbery, unless inserted in the Bill of Lading, with a true description of the nature and value. Nor shall he be liable to any extent beyond the value of the ship and freight due for loss and damage to goods, &c., on board his own ship, or to any other ship, or goods on board it, without his fault or privity. The value of the carriage of goods and passage-money to be considered as freight. The Owner is liable in respect to every such loss of life, personal injury, &c., arising on distinct occasions to the same extent as if no other loss, injury, or damage had arisen. Nothing, however, in these provisions takes away the responsibility of the Owner when acting as Master or Mate.

Parts 10 and 11, relate to the Legal Procedure, the Punishment of Offences, the Recovery of Fines and Penalties, and other Miscellaneous Matters, as Contracts, Expenses, and what other Acts are affected or otherwise by this Act.