NEW ZEALAND's FAR NORTH
The Foundering of the KAITAWA
Of all the losses in the Far North it
is perhaps the foundering of the collier
"Kaitawa" that epitomises the true essence of a maritime tragedy. The "Kaitawa"
Westport, New Zealand, May 21 1966, loaded with 3000 tons of coal on
Portland, Whangarei. Her course would take her north up the West Coast,
most northern tip of New Zealand, before heading down the East Coast to
destination. At the same time she cleared Westport a complex depression
in the western Tasman sea, gathering strength as it advanced steadily on
Zealand. Come evening of May 23 the ship and storm converged near the
tip of the country, the "Kaitawa" labouring in the westerly gale and heavy
At 9:00pm a weak "MAYDAY" call was picked up by
Auckland Maritime Radio .....
"MAYDAY, ZMVC. Kaitawa - require immediate assistance". This faint call
was the last
thing ever heard from the vessel and her crew.
Over the next two days mute evidence of the ships fate began
to come ashore. Broken
timber, life-buoys, shattered doors, a partially inflated life-raft. All
of these were to
become pieces of a complex jigsaw puzzle in the following inquiry into
the vessels loss.
The true events of her sinking will never be fully known but it was
concluded that while
deep in a trough the "Kaitawa" was swept by one or more great waves. The
and shattered teak doors from their fittings allowing tons of water to
enter the ship
causing a sudden list of 30˚. From that point on the vessel would have
human control and merely drifting. It was concluded that sometime after
"Kaitawa" would have drifted on to the Pandora Bank. In a seaway already
in a state
of wild turbulence, the Pandora would have been an area of inconceivable
fury. On striking, it is likely that the vessel then capsized but due to
trapped in the hull. she would eventually drift off the Bank to a point
some 2 miles off
Cape Maria van Dieman where she then plummeted to the ocean floor taking
all but one
of her compliment with her.
It is not easy to dive the "Kaitawa", the remote
location, tide races and depth
make her difficult and dangerous to reach. Lying upside down at 144 ft.
she is an eerie
scene and in the stillness her two big propellers sit motionless, a bizarre
memorial to the
entire crew of 29 mariners who lost their lives over 40 years ago.