MV Joyita

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MV Joyita partially submerged and listing heavily to port side
United States
Name: Joyita
Namesake: Jewel Carmen[1]
Builder: Wilmington Boat Works[1]
Fate: Acquired by the United States Navy, October 1941
United States
Name: YP-108
Namesake: United States Navy[2]
Port of registry: United States Pearl Harbor, Hawaii
Acquired: October 1941[2]
In service: 1941[2]
Out of service: 1948[2]
Fate: Sold to Louis Brothers, 1948[2]
Name: Joyita
  • Louis Brothers (1948–1950)[3]
  • William Tavares (1950–1952)[3]
  • Dr Katharine Luomala (1952–1955)[3]
  • David Simpson (1956–1960s)[4]
  • Robin Maugham (1960s–1966)[4]
  • Major J. Casling-Cottle (1966-1970s)[4]
Fate: Broke up in Levuka in 1970s
General characteristics
Type: Luxury yacht, yacht charter, merchant vessel
Length: 69 ft (21 m)[1]
Beam: 17 ft (5.2 m)[5]
Draft: 7 ft 6 in (2.29 m)[5]

MV Joyita was a merchant vessel from which 25 passengers and crew mysteriously disappeared in the South Pacific in 1955. It was found adrift in the South Pacific without its crew on board. The ship was in very poor condition, including corroded pipes and a radio which, while functional, only had a range of about 2 miles due to faulty wiring. Despite this, the extreme buoyancy of the ship made sinking nearly impossible. Investigators were puzzled as to why the crew did not remain on board and wait for help.

Vessel description and history[edit]


The 69-foot (21 m) wooden ship was built in 1931 as a luxury yacht by the Wilmington Boat Works in Los Angeles for movie director Roland West, who named the ship for his wife, actress Jewel Carmenille — joyita in Spanish meaning "little jewel".[1] In 1936 the ship was sold and registered to Milton E. Beacon.[2] During this period, she made numerous trips south to Mexico and to the 1939-40 Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco. During part of this time, Chester Mills was the skipper of the vessel.

The ship's hull was constructed of 2-inch-thick cedar on oak frames. She was 69 feet (21 m) long, with beam of 17 feet (5.2 m) and a draft of 7 ft 6in (2.3 m); her net tonnage was 47 tons and her gross tonnage approximately 70 tons. She had tanks for 2,500 gallons (US, 9 500 Litres) of water and 3,000 gallons (11 400 L) of diesel fuel.[5]

U.S. Navy service in World War II[edit]

Ship's wheelhouse 1942.

Just before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Joyita was acquired by the United States Navy in October 1941 and taken to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, where she was outfitted as Patrol Boat YP-108. The Navy used her to patrol the big island of Hawaii until the end of World War II. In 1943 she ran aground and was heavily damaged, but the Navy needed ships, and she was fixed. At this point, new pipework was made from galvanized iron instead of copper or brass. In 1946, the ship was surplus to Navy requirements and most of its equipment was removed.[2]

Private purchase[edit]

In 1948 the Joyita was sold to the firm of Louis Brothers. At this point, cork lining was added to the ship's hull along with refrigeration equipment.[2] The ship had two Gray marine diesel engines providing 225 HP, and two extra diesel engines for generators.[3] In 1950 William Tavares became the owner; however, he had little use for the vessel, and sold it in 1952 to Dr Katharine Luomala, a professor at the University of Hawaii.[3] She chartered the boat to her friend, Captain Thomas H. "Dusty" Miller, a British-born sailor living in Samoa. Miller used the ship as a trading and fishing charter boat.

The incident at sea[edit]

Overdue and disappeared[edit]

Planned route and where Joyita was found.

About 5:00 AM on October 3, 1955, the Joyita left Samoa's Apia harbor bound for the Tokelau Islands, about 270 miles (430 km) away. The boat had been scheduled to leave on the noon tide the previous day but her departure was delayed because her port engine clutch failed. The Joyita eventually left Samoa on one engine. She was carrying 16 crew members and nine passengers, including a government official, a doctor (Alfred "Andy" Denis Parsons, a World War II surgeon on his way to perform an amputation), a copra buyer, and two children. Her cargo consisted of medical supplies, timber, 80 empty 45 gallon (200 l) oil drums and various foodstuffs.[6]

The voyage was expected to take between 41 and 48 hours. She was scheduled to return with a cargo of copra. The Joyita was scheduled to arrive in the Tokelau Islands on October 5.

On October 6 a message from Fakaofo port reported that the ship was overdue. No ship or land-based operator reported receiving a distress signal from the crew. A search and rescue mission was launched and, from 6 to 12 October, Sunderlands of the Royal New Zealand Air Force covered a probability area of nearly 100,000 square miles (260,000 km²) of ocean during the search. But no sign of the Joyita nor any of her passengers or crew was found.

Sighted off-course without passengers or crew[edit]

Five weeks later, on November 10, Gerald Douglas, captain of the merchant ship Tuvalu, en route from Suva to Funafuti, sighted the Joyita more than 600 miles (1,000 km) west from her scheduled route, drifting north of Vanua Levu.[7] The ship was partially submerged and listing heavily (her port deck rail was awash) and there was no trace of any of the passengers or crew; four tons of cargo were also missing. The recovery party noted that the radio was discovered tuned to 2182 kHz, the international marine radiotelephone distress channel.

Condition of the vessel[edit]

Wreck seen from port side.
  • Barnacle growth high above the usual waterline on the port side showed that the Joyita had been listing heavily for some time.
  • There was some damage to the superstructure. Her flying bridge had been smashed away and the deckhouse had light damage and broken windows. A canvas awning had been rigged on top of the deckhouse behind the bridge.
  • The starboard engine was found to be covered by mattresses, while the port engine's clutch was still partially disassembled, showing that the vessel was still running on only one engine.
  • An auxiliary pump had been rigged in the engine room, mounted on a plank of wood slung between the main engines. However, it had not been connected.
  • The radio on board was tuned to the international distress channel, but when the equipment was inspected, a break was found in the cable between the set and the aerial. The cable had been painted over, obscuring the break. This would have severely limited the range of the radio to about 2 miles (3.2 km).
  • The electric clocks on board (wired into the vessel's generator) had stopped at 10:25 and the switches for the cabin lighting and navigation lights were on, implying that whatever had occurred happened at night. The ships' logbook, sextant, mechanical chronometer and other navigational equipment, as well as the firearms Miller kept in the boat,[7] were missing.

There was still fuel in Joyita's tanks; from the amount used, it was calculated she made some 243 miles (391 km) before she was abandoned, probably within 50 miles (80 km) of Tokelau. The leak had probably started after 9 p.m. on the second night of the voyage, with nine hours of darkness ahead.[7]

Although the Joyita was found with her bilges and lower decks flooded, her hull was sound. When she was moored back in harbour at Suva, investigators heard the sound of water entering the vessel. It was found that a pipe in the raw-water circuit of the engine's cooling system had failed due to galvanic corrosion, allowing water into the bilges. The first the crew would have known about the leak was when the water rose above the engine room floorboards, by which time it would have been nearly impossible to locate the leak. Also, the bilge pumps were not fitted with strainers, and had become clogged with debris, meaning that it would have been very difficult to pump the water out.

Maritime inquiry[edit]

A subsequent inquiry found that the vessel was in a poor state of repair, but determined that the fate of the passengers and crew was "inexplicable on the evidence submitted at the inquiry." An especially inexplicable point was that the three liferafts the Joyita carried were missing, but it would not make sense for the crew and passengers to voluntarily abandon the vessel. Fitted out for carrying refrigerated cargo, the Joyita had 640 cubic feet (18 m3) of cork lining her holds, making her virtually unsinkable. In addition, further buoyancy was provided by a cargo of empty fuel drums.

The inquiry was only able to establish the reasons for the vessel becoming flooded. It found that the vessel would have begun to flood due to the fractured cooling pipe. The bilge pumps were unserviceable due to becoming blocked. The Joyita lacked watertight bulkheads or subdivisions in the bilges. The water would have gradually flooded the lower decks. As the vessel began to sink lower into the water, the one remaining engine would not have been able to maintain enough speed to steer. The Joyita then fell beam-on to a heavy swell and took on the heavy list it was found with. While flooded to an extent which would sink a conventional vessel, the Joyita stayed afloat due to her cork-lined hull and cargo of fuel drums.

The inquiry also placed much of the responsibility for the events on Miller. They found him reckless for setting out on an ocean-going voyage with only one engine and numerous minor faults, and negligent for failing to provide a working radio or properly equipped lifeboat. He was also in breach of maritime law, since he had allowed Joyita's license to carry fare-paying passengers to lapse.

The inquiry made no mention of the used medical equipment found on board. [8]


The Joyita is sometimes referred to as the "Mary Celeste of the South Pacific" and has been the subject of several books and documentaries offering explanations that range from rational and conventional to supernatural and paranormal.

Numerous hypotheses for the disappearance of the Joyita's crew and passengers have been advanced. Many were circulated at the time of the event, and several others have been put forward since.

Given the fact that the hull of the Joyita was sound and her design made her unsinkable, a main concern of investigators was determining why the passengers and crew did not stay on board if the events were simply triggered by the flooding in the engine room.

Captain injured hypothesis[edit]

Captain Miller was well aware of the vessel's ability to stay afloat, leading some to speculate that Miller had died or become incapacitated for some reason (someone on board was injured—hence the bloodstained bandages). Without him to reassure the other people on board, they had panicked when the Joyita began to flood and had taken to the liferafts. However, this in itself would not account for the missing cargo and equipment, unless the vessel had been found abandoned and had her cargo removed.

A friend of Miller's, Captain S. B. Brown, was convinced that Miller would never have left the Joyita alive, given his knowledge of her construction. He was aware of tension between Miller and his American first mate, Chuck Simpson. Brown felt that Miller and Simpson's dislike of each other came to blows and both men fell overboard or were severely injured in a struggle. This left the vessel without an experienced seaman and would explain why those remaining on board would panic when the ship began to flood.

The "Japanese did it" and other hypotheses[edit]

Newspaper headlines supposed "japs did it"

The Fiji Times and Herald quoted at the time from an "impeccable source" to the effect that the Joyita had passed through a fleet of Japanese fishing boats during its trip and "had observed something the Japanese did not want them to see."

The Daily Telegraph hypothesized that some still-active Japanese forces from World War II were to blame for the disappearances, operating from an isolated island base. There was still strong anti-Japanese feeling in parts of the Pacific, and in Fiji there was specific resentment of Japan being allowed to operate fishing fleets in local waters. Such theories suddenly gained credence when men clearing the Joyita found knives stamped 'Made in Japan'. However, tests on the knives proved negative and it turned out the knives were old and broken- quite possibly left on board from when the Joyita was used for fishing in the late 1940s.

Also there was a 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."[7]

Others hypothesize that modern sea pirates attacked the vessel, killed the 25 passengers and crew (and cast their bodies into the ocean), and stole the missing four tons of cargo.

Insurance fraud hypothesis[edit]

It was also revealed that Miller had amassed large debts after a series of unsuccessful fishing trips on Joyita. However, it would have been difficult to see the events surrounding the Joyita as insurance fraud, given that no seacocks were found open and the ship would be almost impossible to scuttle. Also, Miller was relying on Joyita being chartered for regular runs between Samoa and Tokelau—these government charters would have quickly cleared his debts.

Mutiny hypothesis[edit]

One of Joyita's owners after the events of 1955, travel-writer Robin Maugham, spent many years investigating his vessel's past, and published his findings as The Joyita Mystery in 1962. Maugham agreed that events were started by the flooding from the broken cooling pipe and the failure of the pumps. The mattresses found covering the starboard engine were used either in an attempt to stem the leak or to protect the electrical switchboard from spray kicked up by the engine's flywheel as the water level rose. At the same time, the Joyita encountered increasingly heavy swells and squally weather.

Miller, knowing the Joyita to be unsinkable and desperate to reach his destination to clear his debt, pressed on. However, Simpson, and possibly other crew members, demanded that he turn back. This effectively led to mutiny and Miller and the crew struggled, during which Miller sustained a serious injury. By now the ship was entering heavier weather, with winds around 40 mph (64 km/h), and with one engine and a flooded bilge, was beginning to labour. The flooding in the engine room would have eventually caused the starboard engine to fail, also cutting all the vessel's electrical power. Simpson was now in control and made the decision to abandon ship, taking the navigational equipment, logbook and supplies, as well as the injured Miller, with them.

It still seems unlikely that Simpson would choose to abandon a flooded but floating ship to take to small open rafts in the Pacific Ocean. Maugham proposed that they sighted a nearby island or reef and tried to reach it, but in the strong winds and seas the rafts were carried out to sea, leaving the Joyita drifting and empty. The damage to the lightly built superstructure was caused by wave damage while the vessel was drifting in heavy seas.

Joyita after 1955[edit]

In July 1956, Joyita was auctioned off by her owners for £2425 to a Fiji Islander, David Simpson. He refitted and overhauled her and she went to sea again that year. However, she was surrounded by legal disputes over the transfer of her registry from the USA to Britain without permission. In January 1957 she ran aground while carrying 13 passengers in the Koro Sea. She was repaired and in October 1958 began a regular trade between Levuka and Suva.

She ran aground on a reef again in November, 1959 at Vatuvalu near Levuka.[4] She floated off the reef assisted by high tide, but while heading for port, began to ship water through a split seam. The pumps were started, but it became clear that the valves for the pump had been installed the wrong way, meaning that water was pumped into the hull, not out. Now with a reputation as an 'unlucky ship' and with a damaged hull, she was abandoned by her owners and beached. She was stripped of useful equipment and was practically a hulk when she was bought by Robin Maugham, who wrote the book The Joyita Mystery (1962), in the early 1960s. He sold the hulk in 1966 to Major J. Casling-Cottle who ran a tourist and publicity bureau at Levuka. He planned to turn it into a museum and tearoom, but the plan never saw daylight. The hulk disappeared piece by piece and the process of disintegration appears to have been complete in the late 1970s.[4]

On March 14, 1975 The Western Samoa Post Office released a set of five stamps dealing with the mystery of the Joyita.[9]

In 2009 a walkway was named after Dr Alfred Denis Parsons near his former Torbay home in Auckland, New Zealand.[10][11]

In 2012 two memory stones in honor of the event were erected in Apia, Samoa and in Fakaofo Village, Tokelau.[6][12][13]

Crew and passengers[edit]

In 2012 all these were still declared as "missing".[6] See also note.

Crew (16) [4][14]
Name Rank Country
MILLER Thomas Henry (Dusty) Captain (aged 41) Britain
SIMPSON Charles R. (Chuck) Mate (28) U.S.A
TEEWEKA Tekokaa (Tekolo) bosun (25) Kiribati
TANINI Aberaam Tanini engineer (24) Kiribati
McCARTHY Henry jr. engineer (27) Samoa
PEDRO Penaia Kolio seaman (22) Tokelau
FARAIMO Ihaia Kitiona seaman (24) Tokelau
LEPAIO Tagifano Latafoti seaman (27) Tokelau (Atafu)
HIMONA Haipele Fihaga seaman (28) Tokelau (Atafu)
APETE Ioakimi Iapeha seaman (23) Tokelau (Fakaofo)
MOHE Himeti Falaniko seaman (31) Tokelau (Fakaofo)
ELEKANA Tuhaga Hila greaser(26) Tokelau (Fakaofo)
KOLO Leota Telepu greaser (24) Tokelau (Atafu)
PELETI Mohe Maota cook (24) Tokelau (Fakaofo)
WALLWORK James William supercargo (44) Western Samoa
WILLIAMS George Kendall[15] supercargo (66) New Zealand

Passengers: (9)

Pharmacist Bert Hodgkinson, NZ
  1. PEARLESS Roger Derrick (Pete), District officer (30), New Zealand
  2. PARSONS Alfred Dennis (Andy), Dr. Apia hospital (41), Ireland[Note 1]
  3. HODGKINGSON Herbert T. (Bert), dispencer Apia hospital (49), New Zealand
  4. PEREIRA Joseph Hipili, radio operator (22), Tokelau (Fakaofo)
  5. TEOFILO Tomoniko (30), Tokelau (Fakaofo)
  6. LAPANA Takama, dispencer, Fakaofo hospital (51)
  7. LAPANA Tokelau (Fakaofo) Tekai, wife of Tala (40)
  8. TALAMA Founuku Uluola, their adopted son (11)
  9. FAIVA Liua Noama Rosaiti, their adopted daughter (3)


  1. ^ "Alfred Denis Parsons - Date of Death 03/10/1955, Granted on 19/06/1961 - State Records NSW". Retrieved 13 March 2015.


  1. ^ a b c d e David Wright: "Joyita: Solving the mystery" pages 1&3.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i David Wright: "Joyita: Solving the mystery" page 4.
  3. ^ a b c d e f David Wright: "Joyita: Solving the mystery" page 5.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Joyita: Solving the Mystery by David Wright Showing pages: vii-x; xii-xvi; 1-9; 14-17; 32; 91-92; 121; 123-124 Google books preview
  5. ^ a b c d e David Wright: "Joyita: Solving the mystery" page 2.
  6. ^ a b c "Joyita tragedy remembered ‹ Savali News". Retrieved 13 March 2015. 
  7. ^ a b c d e Mystery of 1955 dis appearance of MV JOYITA on voyage to Tokelau reportedly solved
  8. ^ New Zealand. Commission to Inquire into the Casualty to the Motor Vessel Joyita; Marsack, C. C (1956), Report, Govt. Printer, retrieved 3 September 2013 
  9. ^ " • View topic - Joyita". Retrieved 13 March 2015. 
  10. ^ "Doctor lost at sea given permanent memorial". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 13 March 2015. 
  11. ^ "Parsons Walkway Torbay, Auckland 0630 NZ - Google Maps". Retrieved 13 March 2015. 
  12. ^ Apia service. Taken in Apia, Samoa Facebook photos
  13. ^ Tokelau service — in Fakaofo Village, Tokelau. Facebook photos
  14. ^ "Remembering the MV Joyita's Photos - Remembering the MV Joyita - Facebook". Retrieved 13 March 2015. 
  15. ^ George Albert Kendall Williams (b. 17 Jul 1890, d. Oct 1955)
  • John Harris (1981) Without Trace: the Last Voyages of Eight Ships. London: Methuen ISBN 0-7493-0043-4
  • Robin Maugham (1962) The Joyita Mystery. London: Max Parrish & Co ISBN 0-906754-59-3
  • Stephen Noakes (1965) "The Marie Céleste [sic] of the South Pacific (Joyita)", in: Wide World Magazine, January 1965
  • John Pinkney, World's Greatest Mysteries. Five Mile Press ISBN 978-1-74211-664-8
  • David G. Wright (2002) Joyita: Solving the Mystery. Auckland: Auckland University Press ISBN 1-86940-270-7

External links[edit]