Sunday, March 13, 2011

History: Sarikei shipwreck - Rajah Mas, the Rajah of the Rejang

 MV Rajah Mas. aka MV Rejang

Toot! Toot! Toot! The booming sound of the big ships broke the silence of the evening air in Sarikei as they issued notification of impending departure. In the mid 60-70's, the easiest way from Sarikei to Kuching was overnight by ship through the Rejang River out to the South China Sea and then back into a river to Kuching.
MV Rajah Mas

2 famous ships ruled the seas and the Rejang River: MV Pulau Kidjang and MV Rajah Mas. They did not depart on the same evening - most likely based on mutual business understanding. MV Rajah Mas was formerly known as MV Rejang. Do you remember how much was the fare from Sarikei to Kuching?

The MV prefix stands for Motor Vessel (for ships with fuel-burning engines).

MV Rajah Mas at Bintangor wharf. 1960-1970s

Most travelling towkay (businessmen) used them for commuting. You could see these sea warriors with their briefcases and an abacus tugged under their arms. These two ships also carried cargo and vehicles so it was important to balance the weight on the ship in rough seas. There were no bullet shaped ships then like the Concorde in the 80's.

  MV Rajah Mas at Sarikei Rejang Wharf T1.
Chen Ko Ming's farewell in 1971
Source: Ease Chen

Rajah Mas foundered in bad weather on 18 Feb 1997 off the Rejang River mouth. It sank at 1.5 nautical miles off Pulau Jerijeh lighthouse. 1 drowned, 3 went missing and 19 clung onto the sinking ship for 5 hours before swimming to the lighthouse and was later rescued by helicopters. 

  MV Rajah Mas at Sarikei Rejang Wharf T1.
Father Rotiinghuis' farewell in 1973

By 1997, Rajah Mas was used more for cargo transportation because passengers preferred the bullet shaped speed monsters that could reach Kuching in about 3.5 - 4hours. Hence this sinking did not result in huge loss of lives compared to the maritime disaster of Pulau Kidjang in 1973 with 121 dead.

  MV Rajah Mas at Sibu? Kuching? Do you recognise the wharf?

Long live the Rajah in the watery graves of South China Sea. 


Anonymous said...

Looking at the two MVs, I must have taken the Rajah Mas to Kuching when I left Sarikei on August 20, 1970.

What happened to MV Giang Ann?

Daniel Yiek said...

Not sure about MV Giang Ann but MV Soon Bee II had sunk in Jan 2011

Daniel Yiek said...

Found some info which may not be teh same Giang Ann as yours because it sank in 1950.

Giang Ann (557 NRT) is a steamer ship. Owned by a Singapore company. Net registered tonnage (NRT) is the volume of cargo the vessel can carry.

Built by Nederlandsche Scheepsbouw Mij., Amsterdam | 1931 sold to Heap Eng Moh S.S. Co., Singapore renamed Giang Ann, 1949 sold to Hong Kong renamed Jeep Hee, 1950 struck mine in Yangtze river and sunk.

Ting Teck Ho said...

MV Rajah Mas had three distinct class for passengers namely 1st, 2nd and third. The fare for 1st class was 60 ringgits twin share. It was located on the middle section of the ship and the top level was used exclusively for them total 12 passengers as they are only 6 cabins twin share.For dinner they had a table sitting whereby the dishes are prepared by a chef.The spoons and forks are really make of silver hence the word silver spoon for the lucky fewer. There are different sizes of spoons for different purposes and bigger spoons for soup etc and one can really feel the weight as it was a fair bit heavier than a stainless steel one.For breakfast it was toast sandwich spread with a bit of butter and eggs with coffee or tea. For 2nd class they charged 20 Ringgits and all they got was a bunk bed which was located at the stern of the ship to sleep in. For third class you sleep anywhere you can find on the floor of the ship. The most popular was the front section of the ship as the floor was wooden and then the rest was on top of the hatches as they covered it with water proof canvas.The fare for third class passengers was 10 Ringgits either way regardless of boarding from Sibu , Bintangor or Sarikei. When heading to Kuching they started to collect the fare around the time just before the ship arrived at Tanjung Manis by blocking of section by section to prevent passengers from moving around the ship during that time.One can literally get a free passage from Sibu to Sarikei and vice versa if time was no issue. Some passengers would even liked to get off Sarikei and paid extra by taking Express Boat to Sibu as it was a lot faster.The style the ship operated for passengers was like mini RMS Titanic whereby the 1st class passengers didn't mix with the res, as the style was very British. The passenger side of business was very lucrative for the company until the sinking of MV Pulau Kidjang and people start using aeroplanes and later Express Boats.

Daniel Yiek said...

Nice comment. Thank you.

If your family has old pics of Rajah Mas, please email me at

It will be used in a future book on Sarikei for fund raising (maybe for a school).

I have a rare pic of MV Pulau Kidjang from the company which I will also put inside the book.

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