1939: Waikouaiti wrecked

Steamer Waikouaiti aground at Dog Island

The Union Steam Ship company steamer Waikouaiti ran aground in calm seas at Dog Island in Foveaux Strait on 28 November 1939. All the crew were rescued, but the 3926-ton ship broke up.

Although there is a lighthouse on Dog Island, the crew of Waikouiti could not see it due to thick fog.

The ship’s master chose to proceed at full speed despite having virtually no visibility. A court of enquiry found that he had committed an error of judgment but allowed him to keep his master’s licence.

The crew of the steamer Waikouaiti about to leave in the ship's lifeboat, towed by the pilot launch

The crew of the steamer Waikouaiti about to leave in the ship’s lifeboats, towed by the Bluff Harbour Board’s pilot launch. Photo: Evening Post

Crew leave the stranded steam ship Waikouaiti

Crew leave the stranded steam ship Waikouaiti

Role of radio

A Southland Times report, the day after the grounding, includes:

The first word that something was wrong was contained in a wireless message from the master, Captain J. Bruce, to the harbour master at Bluff, Captain N.W. Haszard, who happened to be on his way back from Dunedin at the time. The message was passed on to the board’s secretary, Mr R.N. Porter. Captain Haszard arrived at Bluff just after the harbour board’s launch had set out to look for the Waikouaiti and the launch was recalled by morse signal.

By 1 a.m. the stranded ship had evidently been located and Captain Haszard was aboard, as a message was received from him by Mr Porter to send for the tug Awarua…

…About 2.10 a.m. a wireless message was received from Captain Haszard by Mr Porter cancelling his previous message asking for the despatch of a tug from Port Chalmers.

Tugboat Awarua in drydock

The tugboat Awarua was in drydock when Waikouaiti ran aground.

Two months after stranding, Waikouaiti succumbs to the sea

Two months after stranding, Waikouaiti succumbs to the sea. Evening Post, 20 Feb 1940