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Will we know, if ever

Monday, June 22, 2009

IN October this year it will have been 54 years since the Joyita a ship referred to as the Pacific's ghost ship disappeared, to reappear a month later, listing heavily and without a soul onboard.

Twenty five people had disappeared without a trace and to this day there has been no sign of what may have happened to any of them.

There are many people for whom the Joyita disaster holds memories it was a mystery that was to hold world attention and imagination for decades.

One such person is Captain Lawrence McCaig. Throughout his years he had heard all about the Joyita from his father Captain Robert McCaig, the man who captained the Degei Number 1, the ship which salvaged the Joyita and towed her back to Fiji waters.

Lawrence McCaig turned up at the Fiji Times with photos of the salvage operation and the Joyita's sextant a piece of the mystery ship his father kept.

He said there were many stories about what might have happened to the ship but three remained constant over the years. These were that there was a feud with the captain Dusty Miller, that there was a dispute amongst the crew and that the souls onboard had been taken by pirates.

There have been many books and articles written about the Joyita, but only one written by David Wright, a relative of one of the passengers who went missing has claimed to have found a definite answer to the mystery.

Joyita: Solving the Mystery is an intensive search of the history of the vessel, its owners, people connected with its crew and those who may have in some way had a connection with Joyita's fateful 1955 voyage.

"At 5 a.m. on 3 October 1955 the MV Joyita, a 69-foot unsinkable wooden fishing boat, slipped out of the harbour at Apia, Western Samoa, heading for Fakaofo in the Tokelau Islands," it says.

"There were 25 people on board, and the voyage should have taken just under 48 hours, but the Joyita never arrived at its destination.

"Yet no distress message was received from the boat, and an extensive search by the Royal New Zealand Air Force failed to find any sign of it.

"Five weeks later, on 10 November, the Joyita was spotted by a passing ship near Fiji, 600 miles from its scheduled track, abandoned, waterlogged and adrift. Four tons of cargo were missing.

"Officially, not a trace of the people on board has ever been found. A commission of inquiry investigated the case thoroughly, and heard a range of detailed evidence.

"But in their published report the commissioners nevertheless regarded 'the fate of the passengers and crew as inexplicable on the evidence submitted at the inquiry'. Subsequent speculations about what happened have remained inconclusive, and the Joyita case has often been seen as a classic marine mystery of Mary Celeste proportions."

Wright's research looked at all the factors involved. He says all his research pointed towards the explanation and it's an explanation that would have been available to the commission of inquiry that investigated the Joyita mystery.

Wright says evidence showed that a corroded pipe in the engine cooling system had leaked water into the vessel, but that by the crew would have noticed it would have been too late to fix.

The ship's clock had also stopped at after 10, and with Joyita taking in water heavily at night, a decision would have been made to abandon ship in small rafts.

He believes the crew and passengers were forced into the rafts after a distress signal was sent. But problems with wiring meant that the radio was not working and the distress signal was not heard - meaning help would not be forthcoming from the Royal New Zealand Air Force Sunderland flying boats at the Laucala Bay base in Fiji.

He says the passengers and crew would have all drowned or been killed by sharks.

But why abandon ship if the Joyita was considered "unsinkable" because of its cork lining and fuel tanks?

Wright believes the captain may have been forced off Joyita because firearms were missing. He says Captain Miller would not have left Joyita which was a "wooden vessel he personally regarded as "unsinkable"."

The fact that the leak happened at night also helped push the person responsible (not Miller) towards abandoning ship.

"If whatever went wrong, had gone wrong in daylight, I think the outcome could have been quite different," according to Wright.

"My belief is that they had thought they had sent a distress message, which made it more logical to climb onto the tiny rafts," Wright told the New Zealand Herald. "They certainly didn't get off the boat in a bid to reach Tokelau."

The Joyita was found still afloat North of Vanua Levu by a passing cargo ship - 1000 kilometres from its scheduled route.

But for the whole mysterious tale, you'll have to read the book.

Source: Joyita: Solving the Mystery by David G. Wright

* Click here for related story, An ill-fated jewel

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