Friday, April 28, 2006

History - Rejang River Mouth Shipwrecks

Rejang River flowing into South China Sea
2006; view from Rejang village wharf

In the mid 60-70's, the easiest way from Sarikei to Kuching was overnight by ship thru the Rejang River out to the South China Sea and then back into a river to Kuching. 2 famous ships ruled the seas (Pulau Kidjang and Rajah Mas). Most travelling towkays (businessmen in Hokkien) use them. There were no bullet shaped ships then like the Concorde in the 80's.

I recall travelling with grandma on Rajah Mas to Kuching. When the ship went into the rough sea at night, I could see waves that looked like claws pounding on the porthole. The food in my stomach wanted to defy gravity but grandma saved the day with Axe brand medicated oil. The water came into our room through the door. Sleep overcame the fear factor and bingo, the next day we had reached Kuching.

Rejang River Mouth: The ghost of Pulau Kijang?
2006; view from Tanjung Manis wharf.

No one had thought of shipwrecks because going to Kuching was a big deal in the old days. Then the worst marine tragedy in Sarawak's history struck. The 227-ton Pulau Kidjang (Kijang) sank off the mouth of Rejang River near Tanjung Jerijeh during the monsoon season on 27 Dec 1973 (source: 1; updated) while travelling from Kuching to Sarikei. It was the talk of the town. Helicoptors landed at the padang (field in Malay) in town with corpses in nets and Dr. Yap and his colleagues went to examine them.

According to the newspapers, a buoy marking the shifting of dangerous sandbars off Sarikei towards the sea had become adrift and in the darkness of dawn, the captain could not see the direction. So when the ship went aground, chaos broke out. Then huge waves came upon them as the winds suddenly changed and Pulau Kidjang sank. (Source: 2)

159 were on board with 38 saved (including 18 sailors). Only 41 bodies were found. (source: 4) Sarikei people stopped eating seafood for months due to rumours that some fishes may be eating the corpses.

The Sarikei General hospital was very busy and a radiologist, Daisy Harry, from Sibu Lau King Howe Hospital was directed to Sarikei to x-ray dental identification. (Source: 2). Besides those identified, 20 bodies were unidentified and were buried in an empty plot at Repok Road. (source: 1)

Rajah Mas sank in bad weather on 18 Feb 1997 at the Rejang River mouth. 1 drowned, 3 went missing and 19 clung onto the sinking ship for 5 hours before swimming to a lighthouse and was later rescued by helicopters. Most older Sarikei folks can not swim because there's no swimming pool in town then (source: 3)... Click here

1. Reminiscences. Recollections of Sarawak Administration Service Officers. By James Chin and Jayl Langub
2. Sarawakiana
4. Book by Sarawak Tribune Journalist


G Wong said...

In the 1973 tragedy I remember the corps were kept in the "old hospital" for identification. I doubt any one can remember where is the "old hospital". For the benefits of people reading this blog it is actually the location where the wet market selling pork is located now.

Daniel Yiek said...

G Wong, It was eerie. I still remember watching the corpses been brought down from the helicopters.

Chen said...

I dunno about these sad tragedies.. :(

Jess said...

Hi!! i'm a journalist who wish to write up an article on MV Pulau Kidjang Tragedy recently. And I'm rushing to get an interview with those survived and drowned family members, and of course the related photos of the tragedy, too. Anyone who can provide me the information on this? Thanks a lot for your kindly help!! contact me at 013-8021129 Jessica. I'm looking forward to hear from ypu soon!!

clementt said...

I just saw this article.. Today, 15/6/09 my dad's story about Pulau Kidjang Tragedy was published in a local chinese newspaper UNITED DAILY NEWS. My mum & eldest sister lost their life and their pictures were on the paper as well. I could only afford to read abit & tears started to flow out.. How I miss them...

Cynthia said...

I'm one of the few younger generations who are aware of the tragedy as, unfortunately, my maternal late grandparents were among those who perished. Even if grandad's body was unrecognisable (some of his body parts are missing, I heard), my relatives were able to claim him, if not for the belt of my uncle's which he wore. Sadly, grandma was, either, among the missing or unidentified ones...
Anyway, thanks a lot for sharing...

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