The mystery of the Joyita has never been definitively solved. And there are many, many theories.
The merchant ship Joyita was found adrift in November 1955, five weeks after she sailed from Apia heading for the Tokelau Islands, a trip that was supposed to take a couple of days. There had been 25 passengers and crew on board.
Now there was no one and nothing to indicate exactly what happened.
Originally a luxury yacht, the Joyita had been taken by the American Navy after Pearl Harbour and pressed into service. In 1948, she was sold and refitted, ending up in the hands of Katherine Luomala, a professor at the University of Hawaii who chartered it to Captain Thomas H “Dusty” Miller.
Miller was the captain on October 3, 1955, when the ship left Apia.
On board were Charles Simpson, Tekokaa Teweeka, Aberaam Tanini, Henry McCarthy, Penaia Pedro, Ihaia Kitiona Faraimo, Tagifano Lepaio, Haipele Himona, Ioakimi Apete, Himeti Mohe, Tuhaga Elekana, Leota Kolo, Mohe Peleti, James Wallwork and George Williams as crew.
The passengers were Dr Alfred Dennis Parsons, from Auckland, who was on his way to perform an amputation, husband and wife Takama and Tokelau Lapana, their adopted son and daughter, Founuku Talama and Noama Faiva, radio operator Joseph Pereira, Tomoniko Teofila and New Zealanders Herbert Thomas Hodgkinson and Roger Pearless.
The ship was declared over due but it wasn’t until November 10 that another merchant ship found her, 970km west of her last known location. No distress signal had ever been received.
It was partially submerged and drifting. The ship had some damage, the radio was turned to the frequency of the international distress channel, the dinghy and lifeboats were gone, the starboard engine was covered in mattresses and the port side engine’s clutch was partially dismantled, a pump had been rigged but not connected, the clocks had stopped at 10.25 and the logbook was missing.
A doctor's bag - likely Parsons’ - was found with blood stained bandages in it.
An inquiry found the boat was in poor repair, a pipe in the cooling system had failed, and water would have been flooding the lower decks.
Theories have been put forward, including that Japanese forces still active in the Pacific were to blame, or that they were kidnapped by a Soviet submarine, that pirates attacked, that it was insurance fraud, or a mutiny.
To this day it's speculation.
The Joyita was sold, refitted and overhauled but in 1957 ran aground then was put to sea again after being fixed. She ran aground again in 1959 and gained the reputation as unlucky. She was beached until sold as a tourist attraction but it never happened. Bit by bit the beached boat was stripped away.
A walkway in Auckland was named after Parsons near his former home.
A grave stone in Motueka Cemetery memorialises Roger “Pete” Pearless.
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