PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT

Pacific Islands Development Program/East-West Center
With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies/University of Hawai‘i


MYSTERY OF 1955 DISAPPEARANCE OF MV JOYITA ON VOYAGE TO TOKELAU REPORTEDLY SOLVED

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (March 30, 2002 New Zealand Herald/PINA Nius Online)---A new book claims that one of the great shipping mysteries of the Pacific Islands, the 1955 disappearance of the MV Joyita's passengers and crew, has been solved.

"Joyita: Solving the Mystery" will be launched in Auckland on April 9, the New Zealand Herald reported.

The Joyita was found drifting north of Vanua Levu, Fiji 37 days after setting off from Apia, Samoa. It disappeared on what should have been a trip north to the New Zealand-administered Tokelau atolls.

But for nearly 47 years what happened to the 25 people on board remained a mystery.

Now the New Zealand Herald reports Auckland academic David Wright, who has spent years researching the mystery, is about to reveal his findings in the book.

Wright's mother's cousin, the New Zealand administrator for Tokelau, was among the Joyita passengers and crew who disappeared.

The New Zealand Herald said Wright did not want to detail his findings until his book is launched. But he did refute some of the theories, which kept the Joyita mystery in the headlines for months.

The New Zealand Herald said headline-grabbing theories he has sunk include:

The proposition that the vessel's occupants were kidnapped by a Soviet submarine, with the world at the time in the midst of the growing Cold War.

Rumors the crew were slaughtered by Asian fishermen.

Wright also discounted reports of later sightings of Joyita's captain, Dusty Miller, in Singapore, the West Indies and Honolulu.

The New Zealand Herald said Wright's theory - yet to be detailed publicly - is simple and terribly tragic.

He says there is evidence that the boat was taking on water leaking from a corroded pipe in the engine cooling system for a long time before anyone noticed.

While it was disabled and taking on water at night its occupants abandoned ship in tiny rafts, or "carley floats," his theory says.

Someone incorrectly believed they had sent out an emergency signal on a radio -- which was actually not working. The crew and passengers were "persuaded" to wait on the rafts.

Wright says the person responsible expected rescue to come from a Royal New Zealand Air Force Sunderland flying boat from the squadron then based at Laucala Bay, Fiji. But no distress signal was received and passed on to the air force.

One by one the passengers and crew would then have drowned -- there were only a few lifejackets aboard -- or been killed by sharks, the New Zealand Herald reported.

Important clues to the "abandon ship" scenario include that the chronometer and logbook were taken, along with a couple of firearms Miller kept aboard.

Wright believes the firearms may have played a key role in forcing Miller off a wooden vessel he personally regarded as "unsinkable."

When Joyita was found, enough fuel had been used to take the boat 243 miles. It was probably abandoned within 50 miles of Tokelau. The leak probably started after 9 p.m. on the second night of the voyage, with nine hours of darkness ahead of them.

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

Instead, somebody "transmitted" an emergency message, and then put everybody -- including the captain -- overboard on the floats, the New Zealand Herald reported.

"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 newspaper.

"They certainly didn't get off the boat in a bid to reach Tokelau."

Joyita never arrived at its destination, and no distress message was received from it. A subsequent extensive search by the Royal New Zealand Air Force failed to find any sign of the boat or its passengers and crew.

The Joyita turned up -- listing but still afloat -- drifting north of Vanua Levu, on October 3, 1955. When found by a passing cargo ship, Joyita had drifted 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) from its scheduled route.

A Commission of Inquiry reported the fate of the passengers and crew as inexplicable, the New Zealand Herald said.

Wright told the newspaper: "The evidence that the Commission of Inquiry heard ought to have been sufficient for them to have been able to resolve the whole case, and it remains a puzzle why they didn't."

His own careful reconstruction of the ill-fated voyage revealed the explanation for the tragedy, which will be revealed officially when his book is launched, he told the New Zealand Herald.

For additional reports from The New Zealand Herald, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/ New Zealand Herald.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA)
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