Tuesday, 29 October 2013


CHAPTER 12 –  29 Oct 13

The long-awaited documents finally arrived from the National Archives – well the first batch anyway. We did not expect these to be helpful in resolving the puzzle of whether Cormorant was the same vessel as the one in the Belfast Pilot Station photo, however they were fascinating in their own right.

Firstly, the origin of the paperwork was a request from the Belfast Harbour Commissioners to have the Cormorant registered as a British ship and to have her surveyed and measured. The Cormorant was obviously still in Dublin at this point in time. I assume the nationality distinction arose because the body responsible for  ‘lights’ (lighthouses and lightships) around Ireland has always been combined north and south (and still is). Now that Belfast Harbour was going to use the ship for purely Belfast purposes, they wanted it ‘properly’ registered. On the face of it there was no problem, but a question arose as to whether the term ‘ship’ was appropriate! The Merchant Shipping Act 1894 stated that if a vessel is not used in navigation, it is not a ship within the meaning of the Act and, if solely employed as a lightship, would fall under the definition of a lighthouse!

However, it was accepted for registration on the grounds that a Ministry of War Transport 21 (a derrick pontoon) has been accepted, so why not this lightship? This was in no way to settle the question of whether it could be called a ship – “… this being a matter for the courts”.

There was also a question of fees for the Belfast surveyors visiting Dublin. In the end ‘normal’ fees and expenses were charged (but not listed) as Dublin could be considered as not being ‘abroad’ ‼

Although many records state that Cormorant was 91 ft long, these documents have her at 98ft 6in, with a beam of 20ft. Her Gross Tonnage was 182.98 and Register Tonnage 136.33, although I have not yet determined the reason for the difference. Her Official Number was 168531. She had no means of propulsion, but did have a rudder.

Finally, the alterations to the vessel were to be carried out in Dublin. She was to become a combined lightship and pilot station, with a crew of 10 and accommodation for 9 pilots.

The second batch of documents should be here next week. I can hardly wait!