Vessel type: Passenger ship
Official No: 118043
Harland & Wolff Ltd,
Queen's Island, Belfast
Yard No: 345
Laid down: 21 September 1901
Launched: 26 February 1903
Handed over: 12 September 1903
Port & Date of Registry: Liverpool, 4 September 1903
Managing Owner & Address:
John Eddowes Willett,
Harvey Buildings, 24 James Street, Liverpool
Number of Decks: 5
Number of Masts: 4
Framework & Description of Vessel: Steel
Number of Bulkheads: 10
Number of water ballast tanks: 12
Length: 570 ft
Breadth: 67.8 ft
Depth: 47.7 ft
Gross Registered Tonnage: 15,378.18
Engine Builder: Harland & Wolff Ltd, Belfast
Engine Type: 2 X quadruple expansion inverted direct acting surface condensing
Cylinders: 2 X 29; 2 X 41½; 2 X 61; 2 X 87 inches
Stroke: 60 inches
Nominal Horse Power: 1,616
Description: Cylindrical multi-tubular
Number: 4 double ended and 4 single ended
Iron or Steel: Steel
Pressure when loaded: 215 lbs
Speed: 15½ knots
Signal Letters: V. F. P. K.
Republic was launched in 1903 as Columbus for the British & North Atlantic Steam Navigation Company Limited (Dominion Line). In October of the same year the ship’s name was changed to Republic and a month later, on 28 November, she was sold to the White Star Line. Republic spent most of her career sailing on the Company’s Liverpool-Boston service and in the winter months sailing to the Mediterranean out of New York with large numbers of American tourists.
On 23 January 1909, en route from New York to Naples, via Madeira Republic came into collision off Nantucket about 175 miles from the Ambrose Light with the Lloyd Italiano liner Florida inbound for New York. There was dense fog at the time and both ships were proceeding slowly. Florida struck Republic on the port side aft of amidship flooding the engine room. For the first time in a major incident at sea, at 6am, the wireless signal CQD (CQ meaning ‘attention all stations’ and D for ‘danger’) was broadcast. The Marconi station at Siasconsett relayed the message to the White Star liner Baltic (Yard No. 352) which, at 6.02am turned and sped to the rescue. Republic’s passengers and crew, apart from a skeleton crew of 47, had been transferred to Florida, whose bows were stove in but was otherwise watertight. At the time the rules governing the number of lifeboats on a vessel related to the tonnage and not the actual number of passengers a vessel could carry. lifeboats were looked upon as a means to transfer passengers from one vessel to another, rather than the last place of safety. In the case of the abandonment of Republic the system worked perfectly and all the passengers and crew were transferred to Florida without incident. Other ships were called up by wireless and Furnessia (Anchor), La Lorraine (French Line), Lucania (Cunard) and New York (American Line) all rushed to the last recorded position of Republic. US Coast Guard vessels put out from New York. On the arrival of Baltic, still in dense fog, she took off all of Florida’s 900 passengers and those from Republic, again using the ships lifeboats to ferry between both liners. A line from the US Coast Guard Revenue Cutter Gresham was put aboard Republic which was lying dead in the water without lights and listing to port. Furnessia also put a line on the stern to help steerage, this was handed over at daybreak on 24 January to the US Coast Guard’s Seneca. The two Coast Guard cutters attempted to tow Republic into shallow waters where she could be beached but at 8.05pm Republic suddenly started to settle and before the skeleton crew could be taken off she sank rapidly by the stern; Captain Inman Sealby and his remaining crew had to be rescued from the sea. Republic sank in 38 fathoms of water off Martha’s Vineyard Island. A total of six lives were lost by the collision.
In 1909 Republic was the largest liner yet lost at sea. The Oceanic Steam Navigation Company, owners of Republic filed a claim in the United States District Court against the owners of Florida for $1m for the ship and $500,000 for her cargo. The claim was later settled with the owners of Florida being forced to sell their vessel for about $40,000 which was paid in compensation.
The value of wireless was proved beyond doubt to have saved many lives and Jack Binns, Marconi Wireless Officer onboard Republic, hailed a hero; Marconi’s share price soared and every steamship line was convinced of the value of wireless. However, the most significant change to safety of life at sea concerned the lessons Harland & Wolff learnt from the disaster. On the busy shipping lanes, particularly across the Atlantic, collisions between vessels in fog were common. Harland & Wolff in future designed and built large passenger vessels to their ‘special specifications’ to withstand the impact of another vessel at the point between two of the largest compartments in a vessel. This worst case scenario, where the engine and boiler rooms would flood out of control and disable the onboard pumps, would not longer pose a treat to the safety of a vessel. In future all their large passenger liners were designed with this protective measure and one which was incorporated into the design of the ‘Olympic’ class liners. The ‘special specifications’ however, did not allow for a vessel to remain afloat if more than two of the largest compartments were to flood as was the case in the Titanic disaster.
In a twist of fate on 12 December 1917 Florida, the cause of Republic’s loss, was also lost through collision.