The SS Darro was a twin-screw steamship, British built in 1912, owned by the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. She was 500 feet (152 meters) in length, 62 feet (19,5 meters) in the beam, gross tonnage of 11 484 tons.
She left Buenos Aires on 10 December 1916, under command of her master, Henry Winchester Stump, with passengers and a cargo of frozen meat, homeward bound via Lisbon to Falmouth, arriving there on 28 January, landing her passengers. She left the afternoon of the next day for Spithead, leaving on the same evening for La Havre, where she arrived on the 31st of January.
The following day the chief officer called the master and reported 28 feet (8,5 meters) of water in No. 2 hold. This was eventually kept under by the pumps, the undamaged portion of the cargo was discharged, and on the 8th of February she was dry-docked. It was then found that she had a large hole, about sixteen or seventeen feet (5 meters) long and open three to four feet (1 meter) in places, in her starboard bilge under No. 2 hold, apparently due to her striking some submerged obstacle. Temporary repairs were made and she was surveyed on the 15th of February by the surveyor of Lloyd’s Register at the same port, who gave her a certificate of seaworthiness to enable her to proceed to Liverpool.
On the 18th of February Stump received certain verbal instructions from the French naval authorities, supplementary to the general instructions issued by the British Admiralty. On the evening of the 20th the Darro, drawing 19 feet 6 inches (6 meters) forward and 21 feet 6 inches (6,5 meters) aft, and carrying by way of cargo only the damaged portion of the frozen meat, left the French port bound for an English Channel port, with a crew of 143 hand all told.
The weather on leaving was dull, overcast and misty, with a light air and a calm sea. Shortly it became clearer and remained so until 11 pm. Various courses were steered at full speed, the master intending to make the English coast before daylight. Her speed was given in the ship’s register at 13 knots (24 Km/h), but what her actual full speed was that night is not easily ascertained, particularly as some entries in the deck log were subsequently altered. There was no change in orders from the bridge from the time ‘Ahead full’ was given, apart from a ‘Stand by’ order, when fog was first encounter, without any reduction of speed, until the final order ‘Stop’ was given.
The weather remained foggy throughout the night and became even thicker at around 5:00 am the next morning, yet the SS Darrow maintained full speed, disregarding regulations for sailing in thick fog. Several lookouts were placed around the ship and the electric side lights and masthead light were exhibited, yet her whistle was still not sounded.
Suddenly they saw a green light, some 200 feet (60 meters) distant, on the port bow. Orders were at once given to stop the engines and put them full speed astern, but no sound signals were made. No order was given as to the helm. Immediately afterwards, the SS Darro struck the SS Mendi a heavy right-angled blow on the starboard side, cutting 20 feet (6 meters) into her from deck to keel.
SS Darro Specifications
The SS Darro was a British twin-screw steamship, built of steel at Belfast, in 1912, by Messrs. Harland & Wolff, Limited. She was owned by the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. She was clincher built, schooner rigged, with two masts, a straight stem and an elliptical stern; she had eight water-tight bulkheads, including her collision and after-peak bulkheads; and there were 12 water-ballast tanks, with a total capacity of 2,440 tons. Her respective dimensions were: Length, 500'7"; breadth, 62'35"; depth of hold, 44'5"; gross tonnage, 11,483,92 tons; and registered tonnage, 7,291,5 tons. She was fitted by her builders with two sets of inverted, direct-acting, quadruple-expansion, condensing engines of 1,140 nominal horse power; the diameters of the cylinders being 23 inches, 34 inches, 48 inches and 69 inches, respectively, and the length of stroke 51 inches.
She had two shafts; and her engines were supplied with steam by 2 D.E. and 2 S.E. British, horizontal, cylindrical, multi-tubular boilers, built of steel in 1912 with a loaded pressure of 215 lbs. Fitted with steam-steering gear, she was steered from the wheelhouse on the flying bridge. No plan of the vessel was produced in Court during the formal investigation; but she was described as having two complete decks and three partial decks.
Her passenger certificate expired on the 10th of November, 1916, and at the time of the casualty it had not been renewed. A temporary passenger certificate, issued by the Board of Trade from the port of Liverpool on the 23rd November, 1916, expired on the 21st December, 1916. In accordance with this certificate, she was then re-licensed to carry 111 first, 42 second and 829 third-class passengers, with a crew of 195 all told; making a total of 1,177 passengers and crew. She had 14 class Ia life-boats in davits, swung out when in a danger area, certified to accommodate 713 persons, and 10 class He Engleheart boats, not in davits, having a certified capacity of 464 ; thus providing boat accommodation for the whole of the 1,177 persons whom she was, in 1916, licensed to carry.
In addition to these boats, 10 Perry & Chambers' life-rafts were provided, each capable of supporting 20 persons in the water. There were also on board 18 life-buoys, 9 of which were fitted with Holmes' lights, 1,220 life-belts for adults and 120 life-belts for children; all of these being disposed as required by the Board of Trade. Sufficient and satisfactory compasses and other equipment were also provided, and in every respect the vessel was well fitted and found for the voyage on which she was engaged.