CRUISE HISTORY – The S.S. Vestris was a passenger and cargo liner built by Workman Clarke & Co. Ltd. of Belfast, Ireland, for the Lamport & Holt Line. She weighed 10,660 gross tons, had twin screw propulsion, a speed of 15 knots, and could carry 280 first class, 130 second class, and 200 third class passengers with a crew of 250. Launched on May 16, 1912, Vestris made her maiden voyage on September 19, 1912, and was chartered in 1922 to Royal Mail, sailing between New York and Buenos Aires.
Vestris left New York November 10, 1928, with 129 passengers and 196 crew. The next day she ran into a severe storm and developed a starboard list, caused by a partially open coal port four feet above the water line according to testimony later given during the inquiry. The list worsened as first the cargo and then the coal bunkers shifted. An SOS was sent out on November 12, some 200 miles off Hampton Roads, Virginia, and the ship was abandoned. At 1400 hours she fell on her side and sank. Some 112 of the 325 onboard were lost.
Adverse press publicity and public outcry caused Lamport & Holt, already feeling the effects of the deepening depression, to withdraw from the New York service and lay up many of their vessels. It did, however, have its benefits for future seamen and passengers as it influenced life preserver development. It led to the convening of an International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) in London in the following year. Rescuers who responded to the Vestris sinking testified that they found many bodies floating face down, even though they were wearing cork life vests. As a result, a U.S. Navy Captain urged that kapok life jackets be required for the merchant marines, because they kept an unconscious individual’s face and head above the water. This resulted in the first SOLAS, agreed in 1929, to win general acceptance by all seafaring nations of any importance.
DISASTER AT SEA
NEW YORK, Nov. 15. – Fred W. Puppe, the first witness at today’s Federal investigation of the Vestris disaster, said that when he went aboard the steamer last Saturday at this port he was informed his cabin steward would be unable to attend him because the steward was drunk. Latest figures indicate that 127 of the 338 persons aboard the Vestris are missing or dead. Seventy of those unaccounted for were passengers. Puppe declared members of the crew took the best boats for themselves. “They winked to their friends to join them,” he testified.