On October 3rd 1955, the MV Joyita left the port of Samoa heading for the Tokelau Islands. But something terrible was about to happen during the journey and the ship was to never reach its final destination. Instead, she was found on November 6th, drifting in the South Pacific Ocean and almost 600 miles away from her original route. There was no sign of the 16 crew, 9 passengers or cargo.
So, what really happened to the 25 people on board the vessel – and how could they and the cargo disappear so mysteriously?
Let’s look at what happened. The ship departed from Samoa’s Apia harbour at around 5am local time. The boat was originally supposed to leave the previous day but due to an engine clutch failure the departure was put back a little. She eventually left on one engine and was scheduled to arrive into Fakaofo on October 5th after a 41-48 hour crossing.
When the Joyita failed to show, the port reported that the ship was overdue – but no distress signal had been received.
Immediately a search and rescue missions was launched, lasting for 6 days and covering an area of 100,000 square miles – but no evidence of the ship was found.
It was several weeks later, on November 10th, that the captain of another ship spotted the Joyita whilst cruising between Suva and Funafuti. The ship was listing heavily and there was no sign of the crew, passengers or any cargo.
So what had happened?
In truth, nobody knows – and it remains today as an unsolved mystery. It is often referred to as “the Mary Celeste of the South Pacific.”
Perhaps the most widely accepted explanation is that the Joyita was attacked by pirates and that the crew and passengers were murdered and the cargo stolen – or that the Joyita passed through a fleet of Japanese fishing boats and “had observed something the Japanese did not want them to see.”
Another theory is that the boat was taking in water that was leaking from corroded cooling pipes in the engine cooling system, causing the crew to abandon ship.
Other suggestions have included insurance fraud and injury of the captain.
At the time, an inquiry into the incident found “the fate of the passengers and crew as inexplicable on the evidence submitted.” It was however accepted that the ship was in a poor state of repair and that engine failure and damaged communication equipment was to blame.
Nobody will probably ever know what really happened to the MV Joyita – and it will most likely remain one of the great-unsolved maritime mysteries.