Thursday, October 28, 2010

History - Sarikei - The Pulau Kidjang Tragedy - A watery grave

The MV Pulau Kidjang shipwreck is the biggest maritime disaster of Sarawak. I blogged about it 4.5 years ago and have updated that post regularly. In June 2009, the Chinese language based United Daily News did a series of articles by interviewing the families of the victims. It's time to reproduce my previous post here with updated insights for future generations because there are very few online articles on this.

In the mid 60-70's, the easiest way from Sarikei to Kuching was overnight by ship through the Rejang River mouth out to the South China Sea and then into Sarawak River towards Kuching. Two famous ships ruled the seas then (Pulau Kidjang and Rajah Mas). Both sank off the Rejang River mouth but it was Pulau Kidjang that terrorised the memories of Sarawakians. Rajah Mas sank on 18 Feb 1997 with 1 dead and 3 missing.

MV Pulau Kidjang article of 1999
Submitted by Abg Bollhasan Abg Alli to Sejarah Sarawak facebook

Pulau Kidjang was bought in Indonesia for MYR320,000. It was believed to have a capacity of 150 passengers. It had served the Sarikei-Kuching route since 1965, 8 years before the fateful day.

No one had thought of shipwrecks because going to and from Kuching was a big deal in the 1970s. Then the worst marine tragedy in Sarawak's history struck. The 227-ton Pulau Kidjang (Kijang) left Kuching at 6.30pm on 26 December. It sank off the mouth of Rejang River near Tanjung Jerijeh (3.5 nautical miles west of Sarikei) during the monsoon season on 27 Dec 1973 (sources: 1 and 3) while travelling from Kuching to Sarikei. It was the talk of the town. Helicopters landed at the padang (now the Sarikei Civic Centre) in town with corpses in nets and Dr. Yap and his colleagues went to examine them.

Rejang River flowing into South China Sea, 2006
View from Rejang Village Wharf
For location of the shipwreck (near the right of this picture), 
see the picture below (after Sources).

At 2.30am on 27 December, a thunderstorm and huge waves rocked the ship at Tanjung Jerijeh. In the chaos, the light house at Jerijeh village could no longer be seen. The rope tying the 3 cars and cargo at the cargo area snapped and simultaneously titled the ship to the right. The ship sank at 3am. (source: 3)

According to the newspapers, a buoy marking the shifting of dangerous sandbars 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. Huge waves pounded them as the winds suddenly changed and Pulau Kidjang met its watery grave. (Source: 2)

The timber carrying ship, M.V. Hornbill, was on its way from Selalang town when she chanced upon the victims. The shocking news reached Sarikei at 7am.

 Rejang River flowing into South China Sea, 2006
View from Rejang Village Wharf
Note: This is not the wreck of Pulau Kidjang. 
This is an abandoned boat.

Operations Pantu with 1 officer and 8 divers were flown from Singapore to the site. The divers found the ship lying on her starboard side in 4 fathoms of water with the ship's hull partly embedded in mud. 1 week plus after the tragedy on 4 Jan 1974, 2 Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) frogmen lost their diving gear and was nearly swept away by strong undercurrents as they tried to recover bodies trapped in the bow of the vessel. RMN patrol craft (KD Sri Kelantan) has been assigned to help the divers. (Source: 4)

159 were on board with 38 saved (including 18 sailors). Only 41 bodies were found. (Source: 3) Sarikei people stopped eating seafood for months due to rumours that some fishes may be eating the corpses. The corpses were kept at the old Sarikei general hospital (now the raw meat market at Nyelong Road) for identification through whatever means possible - clothing, body features, dental records, etc. There was no DNA testing available then.

A radiologist, Daisy Harry, from Sibu's Lau King Howe Hospital was sent to Sarikei to x-ray the teeth of the decomposed corpses for dental identification. (Source: 2). 20 unidentified bodies were buried in an empty plot at 2.5 mile Repok Road (now overgrown with tall grass). May they rest in peace.

1. Reminiscences. Recollections of Sarawak Administration Service Officers. By James Chin and Jayl Langub
2. Sarawakiana
3. Book by Sarawak Tribune Journalist
(Forum pages from Source 3 is reproduced below because the link seems to be broken)
4. New Straits Times. 5 January 1974

Click to enlarge. Click back arrow to come back.



chatterbox said...

I thought the the boat sank on Christmas Eve, It was overload with more than 200 plus passengers and many of them were soldiers.. One nurse from Sarikei hospital ( a fat nurse apparently heard people screaming that the boat was sinking and she got so angry that she shouted at the people to shut up and went back to her cabin.she went down with the boat. Yes bodies recovered were hanging in large net under the helicopters and they even flew pass over our house.... I know of one family who lost a father and daughter.. . they were neighbor to my uncle's shop Hong San Tong.... It sank because the first wave hit from the side of the vessel and it tilted , the second wave sank it. Had the skipper just headed straight on into the waves, it may not have sunk

Augustine Wong said...

I was in St. Anthony's Branch Primary School. I remember the incident well. Two members of our family friends perished leaving their two young children parentless. From memory, it sank at night.

Daniel Yiek said...

The ship left Kuching at 6.30pm on 26 Dec and sank on 27 Dec. I added more translation from the Malay based article.

Nelson Yap said...

the titanic of sarikei. time for sarikei to have its own museum to teach its people. anyway, thanks for the job Daniel! =) My family always talked about p.kidjang too, with nets of corpses carried by the helicopter to the current civic centre site and water dripping down from the net and fell on top lucky ppl's heads. every time my dad went home, grandma will ask him to change his clothes outside the house (the old wooden house along barrack road which had been razed) and soaked them in detergent ('omo') for days.

Daniel Yiek said...

For those who can read Bahasa Malaysia, the pages after "Sources" is a very good read including input from a survivor.

I only translated some key points.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Some Sarikei people may remember the Divisional Engineer of that time. Mr. Timothy Liaw Aik Hon...a brilliant guy who went on to be Acting Director of JKR if I am not mistaken. He did have many tales to tell. So when Sarikei people meet up with ask him...He and his men worked very hard and so did many others.
My uncles (now long gone into another world) used to sob when telling the stories of was a sad day not only for SArikei but the whole of Sarawak. Unfortunately after so many years have passed we are still not so aware of water safety and safety rules...

Sarawak as a land of rivers should have a whole crop of the best water safety (and others) consultants in the world!!

Yan said...

I remember seeing line-up of bodies in the old library, not the hospital. Could my memory serve me wrong?

Anonymous said...

replied to chatter box: The fat nurse as u rudely referred to was my Aunt. Based on some of the survivors, she was the one that went knocking on the doors to wake the people up, not the other way round. She then went back to get my 3 cousins, one of them was her own, one and only daughter. Sadly all of them perished. we believed, out of her goodness of her heart, she chose to raised awareness of the sinking boat instead of fleeing to safety first.

春吉 said...

My wife's entire family, which is my mother in law and her entire 3 siblings were supposed to travel back to Sibu from Kuching with her uncle on the ship, however, truly thanks God that my mother in law called my wife's grandmother for advice, she told her that the weather is not good in Dec month, and asked her to take a flight with the small kids. She proceed with the advice and God safe the entire family. Her uncle proceed with the ship. he was among the 38 people survived in the Pulau Kidjang.

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