I was asked to attend a sailing ship in the North Atlantic, where it was believed some illicit alcohol was being carried. On November 7, 1872, the 282-ton brigantine Mary Celeste had set sail from New York on its way to Genoa. On board were the ship’s captain, Benjamin S. Briggs, his wife, Sarah, and their 2-year-old daughter, Sophia, along with eight crewmembers

My bosses were concerned that Sophia might come to some harm if the crew started sampling the booze on board. I landed on the ship and sought out the captain.


“Do I have the pleasure of addressing Mr Benjamin Briggs, captain of the Mary Celeste?”


“You do, sir, and who might you be?”


“My name is Brian Snape and I am from the Health and Safety Time Executive.”


“Health and Safety – never heard of it; I’ve never had much time for unions myself, but I suppose they’re a necessary evil.”


“We ensure that accidents don’t happen by pointing out to people how they can improve their working environment. Such as here for example on board this ship, there is a lot of illicit alcohol aboard and I have been asked to remove it before some harm comes to your child Sophia.”


“How do know my daughter’s name and just how did you get on board my vessel?”


“It is my job, so please show me where this alcohol is kept and I can do something about it.”


“The alcohol is for sale in Genoa, a private transaction for the crew to make more money from their crossing.”


“They have already started drinking the alcohol, so I am not sure how much of it will be left to sell in Genoa or anywhere else for that matter. I am worried that your family’s life is in danger.”


“They are drinking just a few bottles of rum – there’s nothing wrong with that. Sailors will be sailors. It will be one long party all the way to the Mediterranean.”


“Aren’t you worried things might get out of hand especially if they get used to drinking on a daily basis – what happens if they take a fancy to your wife and child?”


“That won’t happen.”


“No it won’t, because I am going to throw the alcohol over the side – into the drink as it were – and save yourselves from a larger problem. If you don’t allow this, I will issue you with a ticket of violation – L21A-LSW2.”


“Alright, I wasn’t aware that we were breaking the law of the seas, so go ahead. Oh what’s that I hear?”


I headed into the forward galley to seize the first few boxes of alcohol and saw a line of people shouting loudly coming up the steps from below. At the front was the captain’s wife holding her young daughter in one hand and an open bottle of rum in the other. When they all reached the deck, they formed a conga line and started to dance around the ship. I took the chance to go into the hold and remove the remaining boxes of hooch. I threw them over the side as the conga line moved around the deck. The captain joined and the whole crew was cavorting this way and that. Eventually the crewman at the front of the line took a slightly wrong turn and headed over the side, closely followed by all the members of the crew, leaving me alone on board. I did what I could, I lowered the yawl and rowed around for a while, but all the people had disappeared from view. I had tied the yawl to the boat and so I was able to haul myself back to the Mary Celeste and return back to base to make my report.


I was advised to leave the ship alone because it would soon be discovered and all sorts of theories would be put forward as to what had happened.

Extract from the Diary of a Health and Safety Executive