Thursday, 30 June 2016




Type:Five-masted barque
Tonnage:3,965 GRT
Length:430 ft (130 m) o/a
Propulsion:Auxiliary diesel engine
Sail plan:
  • Barque
  • 56,000 sq ft (5,200 m2) sail area
Crew:26 crew and 45 cadets

København was a Danish five-masted barque used as a naval training vessel until its disappearance after December 22, 1928. Built for the Danish East Asiatic Company in 1921, it was the world's largest sailing ship at the time, and primarily served for sail training of young cadets.
The København was last heard from on December 21, 1928 while en route from Buenos Aires to Australia. When it became clear the ship was missing, a lengthy search ensued, but turned up no trace. The disappearance has become one of the greatest maritime mysteries of the modern era, and led to much speculation about the ship's ultimate fate.
A number of theories for the København's disappearance have been advanced. The most commonly accepted is that the ship struck an iceberg in the dark or fog. If so, the ship may have sunk too quickly for the crew to react. The lack of wreckage found later may have been the result of the ship's particularly secure loading and rigging, a necessity against the strong winds known as the Roaring Forties. An alternate theory is that the ship, which was in ballast with no cargo, may have been capsized by heavy winds, disabling the lifeboats for survivors.[1]
For the next two years after the København's disappearance there were a number of sightings of a mysterious five-masted ship fitting its description in the Pacific, fueling further speculation about the vessel. Early reports came from Chilean fishermen, then in July 1930, the crew of an Argentine freighter sighted a five-masted "phantom ship" during a gale. The captain took their statements and wondered if this was the "wraith of the Copenhagen". Further sightings came in the following weeks from Easter Island and the Peruvian coast. Later some wreckage, including a piece of stern bearing the name "København", reportedly was found off West Australia.[3]
Tentative evidence for the ship continued to emerge. In 1934 The New York Times reported that a København cadet's diary had been found in a bottle on Bouvet Island in theSouth Atlantic.[4] The supposed diary indicated that the ship had been destroyed by icebergs and abandoned, the crew taking their chances in lifeboats.[1] In 1935, human remains and the remains of a lifeboat were found partly buried in the sand along the southwest coast of Africa. These may have come from København.[2]
In 2012, divers found a wreck off the south west coast of Tristan da Cunha. The wreck has not yet been identified. The island's authorities are working with the Danish Maritime Museum, the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Danish East Asiatic Company to work out if this is the København

The Mercury (Hobart) Wednesday 4 May, 1932.

(From a Tasmanian to London.)
LONDON, March 31.
The tragedy of the Danish training
ship Kobenhavn, with her missing 45
cadets - now believed dead this three
years or more has been recalled by the
proposal of the parents of the lost boys
to finance a further search for their
Although it is perhaps natural that
relatives should cling to the hope that
the lads have not gone for ever, few
sallormen share the faith that proposes
to search anew the Islands of the South
Atlantic, and if necessary, the Indian
Ocean. For they believe that it is 
impossible that, were any of the crew of
the great Danish five-master alive, they
could all these days have been so long
cast away.
The Kobenhavn mystery is one of the
most inexplicable tragedies of the sea.
She sailed from Montevideo for Melbourne 
in ballast on December 15, 1928.
She was chartered to land Australian
wheat for Europe, and was to have 
participated in the 1929 wheat race. She
was seen by a steamer a few days out
of the River Plate and since then nothing
has been heard of her. According
to one report she sent out Christmas
greetings for 1928 by her wireless, but
this may be only one of the frills that
gather about a legend as time goes on.
Many of the best families in Denmark had 
their lads training on the Kobenhavn, 
and no expense was spared when lt was 
realised that disaster must have befallen 
the vessel, the largest and best-found 
sailing ship afloat. A gleam of hope seemed 
to come when after weeks of anxiety a 
report was received from Tristan da-Cunha 
that a ship in distress, believed to be the Kobenhavn,
was seen near that island on January 21, 1929. 
The date would have fitted in. It might 
well have been the Danish five-master, 
except that there was no record of any 
wireless message of distress having been 
received, and, according to this report, 
the Kobenhavn was derelict, showed only 
a wisp of sail, and yet had her masts standing. 
If it were she In such a plight surely she could
have wirelessed an S.O.S. On the other
hand, the vessel appeared to be unmanned, 
which would suggest that she had been abandoned. 
Yet, if she floated, why abandon her? And, again, why
no wireless call for help?
Seafarers believe that whatever the
vessel seen by the missionary at Tristan da Cunha, 
it was not the Kobenhavn.

Fascinating mystery in the league of the Waratah. Extensive searches to no avail. Theories and the tantalising possibility that the wreck off Tristan da Cunha could be the Kobenhavn. What a magnificent vessel and desperate tragedy.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016


"With great waves seething over the sunken rocks,
however, it was impossible to approach
the doomed steamer, which took a series
of lurches to starboard, and finally, about
noon, disappeared into the sea."

Chinese steamer Tak Yui, 1914.

If the Waratah did founder 0.5 miles off the St John reef, there was good enough reason for the Harlow not to have gone back to investigate. It was night, the currents notorious and the extent of reefs off the Wild Coast poorly documented on charts. It would have been 'impossible to approach the doomed steamer'.

St John Reef - Bluff Point


The Mail (Adelaide) Saturday 3 January 1920.

Karatta's Eventful Voyage.
While the steamship Karatta (Capt. C.
J. Barry) was proceeding to Kangaroo
Island on Saturday last a very unusual
phenomenon in the form of a huge water
spout was observed from the deck of the
vessel. At the time— about 5.38 p.m.—
the Karatta was steaming across Back
stairs Passage. The sea was fairly rough,
and a strong south-westerly wind was
blowing. The uncommon spectacle 
resembled a large whirlpool, with dense
columns of steam rising to the sky, and
was estimated to be about three miles
from the boat, in the vicinity of Cape
Not far behind the vessel was a long
tapering white cloud connecting the sea
with the clouds. The whirlpool, which
was plainly visible to the passengers,
seemed to be gathering in force and
ascending at a tremendous pace, but as the
white cloud lifted the whirlpool gradually

These facts were verified by Mr. A.
Le Messurier (secretary to the Coast
Steamships, Limited, which owns the
Karatta) in an interview with the 'Mail '


'I was travelling on the same boat
said Mr. Le Messurier, and I saw the
whirlpool myself. It seemed to be between 
Cape Jervis and Hog Bay, about
two or three miles away from the vessel,
which was in a direct line with the
phenomenon. The spout was travelling
from a north-westerly to a South-easterly
direction, and after a little while it disappeared 
towards land and got out of the
range of vision. It looked a magnified size
of the tail of a comet.'
'What theories have you for such occurrence?' . ,
'There may be many. It just looked
like a whirlwind that we see on land
except that on the sea there was nothing
to stem its progress, and it must have,
been gathering great force and power.'
'Do you think it would have caused
disaster had it struck the boat?'
'If it had got our upper works it might
have made a short job of them, or if it
had struck something solid damages could
have been done. It is hard to say. One
of the members of the crew of the
wrecked Warilda who was on board the
Karatta remarked to me that when he
was on a vessel of about 300 tons some
where in the eastern seas she was struck
by one of these spouts and just narrowly
escaped disaster.''


'Do you know whether this phenomenon 
has ever before occurred in South Australia?'
'No,' said Mr. Le Messurier; 'not in
gulf waters.'
There was a. large number of passengers
on board the Karatta, and the extraordinary 
incident aroused great interest and speculation. 
It was recalled that some time ago the ketch 
Trucannai just missed a waterspout outside 
Kingscote. It was considered possible that 
if a vessel were caught in one of these the 
water descending would speedily swamp it, 
and that such mysterious disasters as 
overtook the Waratah, Yongala, and 
Koombana might be attributed to this cause.

The above description is more in keeping with a tornado at sea:

The video suggests that serious damage if not total destruction of a vessel could be the end result. 

Have such tornadoes ever been described off the South African coast?


SS Sumatra:

typecargo ship
date built1889
is nicknameno
tonnage584  grt
dimensions52.2 x 8.3 x 3.7 m
enginetriple expansion engine
power61  n.h.p.
speed10  knots
yard no.187
about the loss
cause lostgale/storm
date lost26/06/1923  [dd/mm/yyyy]
casualties max.45rank: 624
about people
Howaldtswerke A. G.Kiel
next owners
[1]New Guinea Administration
SS Sumatra (+1923)
period 1914 ~ 1923
last owner
[2]Norddeutscher Lloyd - Ndl - North German Lloyd,Bremen
period 1889 ~ 1914
captainBell, Edward
no. of crew44
no. of passengers1

The Argus (Melbourne) Tuesday 3 July, 1923.

Unseaworthiness Denied,
SYDNEY, Monday

- From all appearances the loss of the 
steamer Sumatra will add to the secrets 
of the sea. No additional bodies have come 
ashore, and time has been no more evidence 
that would throw light on the disaster. 
Sensational charges have been made 
regarding the seaworthiness of the vessel, 
but these have been repudiated. 
It was stated to day that the Commonwealth 
Ministry would probably appoint a Royal 
commission to investigate the condition 
of the vessel, and that the lnquiry is being 
requested by Government officials who
desire that their position be vindicated.

There is no definite clue as to how the
vessel was lost, and the disaster has aroused
keen discussion in shipping circles. It is
generally accepted that the vessel met her
doom in the night, and the fact that only
two bodies, those of the captain and the
chief officer, have come ashore, has led to
the conclusion that the Sumatra was engulfed
by huge seas, and that those below did not 
have a chance to escape. From a mass of 
conjecture, the most tenable is that the 
chief officer was on the bridge when 
the storm broke over the vessel and 
that the situation was so alarming tha
he sent for the captain. This is supported
by the fact that Captain Bell was clad in pajamas
with his ordinary apparel hastily donned over them. 
In the terrible seas which buffeted all the shipping
along the coast, the remainder of the complement
would be kept below, and this would also apply
to the native boy, from whom, in the presence 
of danger, one or more of the officers would have taken the
Allegations and Denials.
Sensationial charges were to day made
against the seaworthiness of the Sumatra
by Mr V A B Willis, a member of the
Sydney Stock Exchange, who volunteered
for Benlee with the expeditionary force to
Rabaul. Mr Willis, who left Sydney as a
captain in the force, stated that while he
was in Rabaul he was in charge of the
militia, and that he was twice ignored in
complaints made to the authorities concerning 
the seaworthiness of the vessel.
These complaints were made against the
Sumatra in 1915, only 12 months after
Lloyds Register, the highest authority on
seaworthiness, had marked the Sumatra as
been given a classification of seaworthiness
by the Germanischer Lloyd, which is the
corresponding body in Germany.

The Mercury (Hobart) Monday 2 July, 1923.

All Hope Now Abandoned.
The Captain's Body Identified.
SYDNEY, July 1.
All hope for the safety of the unfortunate 
crew which left Sydney on Monday afternoon 
in the steamer Sumatra has been swept 
away by the events of the week end. 
The second body which came ashore 
near Crescent Head has been identified 
as that of the master, Captain E. (Edward) Bell. 
A message from South West Rocks on Saturday 
announced that a third body had been washed ashore,
but it had not been identified. Wreckage is coming 
ashore along the north coast, which is believed to 
have come from the steamer.
Along the beaches of the north coast
from Port Macquarie northward many
parties were out to day searching for
traces of wreckage or more bodies. The
wreckage picked up established beyond
all doubt that the Sumatra has been
lost. Pieces of a boat, chairs, companion way, 
and of the galley amidships,
and timber accompanied by three bodies,
made it certain that the steamer foundered 
in the gale which swept along the
coast on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Word was received by the Secretary
of Navigation on Saturday that the tug
Undaunted, which left Port Macquarie
on Friday had returned after a fruitless search.
The police of the north coast have
been supplied with a full description of
each of the white people on board in order 
to assist with the identification of
any bodies that might come ashore. One
of the most difficult tasks was communicating 
with the relatives and families
of the people on board, and answering
anxious heart rending inquiries, which
were prompted by the news that the
steamer was missing.
The statement that the vessel was
overloaded was denied by Mr W C Harvey, 
manager in Sydney of the New
Guinea Trading Agency, the agents for
the vessel. "I was particularly careful," 
said Mr Harvey, "to see that
everything was all right in connection
with the steamer before she sailed, and
on Monday afternoon I went down my-
self to go over the boat before she left
the wharf. The Plimsoll mark was
then six inches above water, and the
vessel was riding appreciably higher at
the bow " Mr Harvey added that Captain 
Bell was a most careful and scrupulous man
An eye-witness, who was close to the
Sumatra as she proceeded down the 
harbour on her last voyage, also said that
the vessel was not overloaded. The
Plimsoll mark was above water, and the
mark forward was about two feet above
Important information was gained on
Saturday morning regarding the life-
boats and life saving gear. During the
stay in Sydney, not only was the vessel's 
hull thoroughly overhauled and repaired and 
engines inspected and over-hauled, so as 
to gain a certificate from the Department of Navigation, 
but the life saving apparatus was scrupulously
attended to. The Superintendent of
navigation (Captain Morse) was particularly 
careful with the lifeboats of the
vessel, and before granting a certificate
he ordered one of the lifeboat's to be
overhauled This was done, and when
the vessel sailed her two lifeboats were
as seaworthy as it was possible for boats
to be. The two lifeboats carried were
considered ample for the whole complement 
of the vessel The lifebelts were
also inspected and brought up to the
standard required by the Department
of Navigation Three new regulation
belts were shipped, and this fact may
account for the belt round the body of
the second officer (Mr Fewtrell) bearing no name.
The value of the cargo on board was
£5,500. It was consigned to the Expropriation 
Board at Rabaul but was not covered by insurance, 
and did not exceed 300 tons.

Another mystery of the sea and no concrete explanation as to the cause of the loss. Rumours of unseaworthiness abounded, promptly refuted by the agents and officials. 

Sounds familiar?  

One thing is clear, the Sumatra, like the Waratah, was not a SPOTTED ship - insurance cover would have been high if the owners were 'expecting' a total loss at sea - which suggests that the rumours were unfounded.