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Tuesday, November 07, 2017

History Rhymes: U.S. Navy Ship Collides With Merchant Vessel in Tokyo Bay

Just a reminder that going to sea in ships is an inherently dangerous business, often made more so by human error. Thus, the tale of USS Oneida, one of fleet of ships involved in clearing the Mississippi River during the U.S. Civil War and eventually finding its way to the U.S. Asiatic Squadron
USS Oneida
. . .Recommissioned in May 1867, she was attached to the Asiatic Squadron and continued in that capacity until January 1870.

Sailing out from Yokohama, Japan on 24 January 1870, Oneida was struck by the British Peninsula & Oriental steamer City of Bombay, at 6:30 pm near Saratoga Spit. The starboard quarter was cut off Oneida and she was left to sink, as the City of Bombay steamed on without rendering assistance. Oneida sank at 6:45 pin in 20 fathoms of water with the loss of 125 men, 61 Sailors being saved in two Japanese fishing boats. . .
More at Forgotten Stories which begins this part of the Oneida tale with a report of the ship's Captain, Wiliams< being under a doctor's care as the ship was getting underway to proceed back to the U.S.
From Library of Congress Oneida Sinking
Captain Williams conducted a brief inspection of the ship before {Dr}Suddards sent him below decks to the cabin the Captain shared with his clerk, William Crowninshield. Williams barely managed to light a candle before sinking down into a sleeping chair. Stewart ordered sails set, arranged lookouts, and set the course south by east, one quarter east. Secured for sea, he turned the deck over to Master Isaac Yates.
Yates disturbed the ship’s officers at dinner to ask Lt. Commander Muldaur, the navigation officer, to verify Oneida’s course. Muldaur’s lone concern was the Saratoga Spit, a small piece of land jutting into Yokohama Bay from the East. If she kept to her present course, Oneida would be safe. Off to West, the distant lights of an approaching ship glimmered on the water, but Muldaur saw no need to worry. “That steamer will pass to the starboard of us,” he told Yates then headed back down to dinner.

Yet, with each passing minute, the steamer drew closer. Her green starboard light could be seen clearly now, and in an profusion of caution, Yates ordered Oneida’s helm to starboard; turning the ship to port. He again called for Mulduar, who insisted Saratoga Spit posed a threat, not the approaching steamer. The bay was three and a half miles wide, more than enough room for both ships. Besides, Naval Rule 14 stated that if two ships saw each others’ green starboard lights, they were to remain well clear of each other by helming to starboard. Oneida already had helmed to starboard as far as was safe, were the distant steamer to do the same, all would be well. Muldaur ordered the course resumed, and joined Frothingham, Copp and the rest at dinner.

Bombay drew closer. Inexplicably, she seemed to be recklessly attempting to round Oneida and get on her port side, in between Oneida and the western shore. With only a few feet between the ships, Yates ordered helm hard starboard. For the briefest of moments, it seemed the steamer would go around Oneida’s stern. It was not to be. On January 23, 1870, at 6:50 PM, the Peninsular and Orient steamship Bombay collided with the USS Oneida.

Bombay’s iron hull sliced off the entire rear quarter of Oneida just aft of her mizzen chains.
A Board of Inquiry found Oneida to be at fault in the collision, though the Captain of the Bombay seems to have been punished, too.

So, if recent events seem unique, they are not.

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