Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Rust in Peace

The Kinei Maru No.10 was a Japanese fishing boat that was wrecked at Denham Bay in rather mysterious circumstances. It ploughed at full speed into the very steep beach early in the morning of 12 August 1986. Raoul Island is about 6km wide from the angle of approach that the ship’s course had taken; you would have thought it would have been reasonably easy to miss in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean.

It’s hard to say whether the rather gloomy history of settlement in the bay has coloured people’s perceptions of what took place, but the first account we heard suggested that a crewman had committed suicide on board and his shipmates then decided that the vessel was cursed and resolved to get off it “with extreme prejudice,” as they say in the movies. DOC people on the island at the time apparently looked down from the top ridge and noticed a group of 15 to 20 Japanese seamen wandering aimlessly along the beach, looking lost.

My attempts to discover the truth that I knew was out there were initially rather fruitless. Two links to Lloyds Shipping Register went into automatic internet loops and ultimately failed. The only other reference I could find to the boat was that one of its portholes had been sold on TradeMe in 2008. A user called “SubMaureen” was quite interested in the purchase, but missed out.

Eventually we tracked down a book called ‘New Zealand Shipwrecks’ which had a rather more prosaic explanation for the disaster. The captain had been the only person on the bridge at the time and had elected not to use any of the navigation equipment or warning devices, despite it being pitch dark. He was described by the investigators as “negligent and incompetent.”

Perhaps a little too much Suntory whisky had been consumed that night?

Footnote: November 2009

Just before we left the island a document arrived detailing the Team Leader's memories of the stranding of the Kinei Maru No 10. It makes fascinating reading, not least because the subtext is that the group on the island at the time had some tensions between them. Most of these were exacerbated by the departure of the ship's salvors with their task unfinished. That led to a decision by the island's residents to get stuck in themselves.

First, the boss and one mate slipped across the island in the dead of night, intending to be first on the boat with all the attendant rights to what could be salvaged. Then the captain of the ship presented a magnificent bottle of cognac to his counterpart - apparently worth thousands of dollars. This led to so much resentment from the troops that a compromise solution was arrived at - give the grog to someone back in NZ who had been supportive of the programme.

I was intrigued by the list of what was on the boat. Apparently the catch of tuna was worth more than the ship itself, safely frozen to -50 degrees in the hold until the engines stopped working. And then there were the electronic goods, 300 cartons of cigarettes, 20 dozen crates of spirits (mostly whisky and brandy), wine saki and liquers and let's not forget the 100 dozen cans of beer.

I imagine they had quite a party with that lot!

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