Shipwreck Databases Western Australian Museum

Chofuku Maru (9910)

Point Cloates

On 5 February 1931 after running on to a reef described as being ‘about 3–4 miles
north of the North West Whaling Station’, the 7939 ton SS Shunsei Maru owned
by the Tomamohosaji Kisen Kaisha (Shipping Company) of Kobe sent out distress
signals. These radio signals were answered by the 4498 ton SS Chofuku Maru owned
by Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha ( KK Line) also of Kobe. Both ships were carrying a
cargo of bagged wheat to Japan.
On reaching the coast the Chofuku Maru initially mistook SS Fin which was
aground at Fraser Island for the Shunsei Maru and headed in towards it before
anchoring offshore. A heavy southerly wind caused the anchors to drag and the ship
struck a reef with its stern, damaging a propeller blade. On realising that the Shunsei
Maru lay further north the ship moved up the coast despite the vibration caused by
the damaged propellor. Though safely anchored outside the reef in deep water, the
anchor chain caught on a ledge or reef and the cable parted. Another anchor was let
go, but it was lost and the ship drifted onto the reef in strong south-westerly winds.
An attempt was made to lower a lifeboat and it too was lost. For a while the two
ships remained on the reef less than a mile apart, both salvable until a fire broke out
on the Chofuku Maru causing its complete abandonment. The Shunsei Maru was
got off and the Perth-based West Australian newspaper carried the story thus:
The two Japanese freighters Shunsei Maru and Chofuku Maru ran on the reefs
within a short distance of each other, near Point Cloates. The first was the Shunsei
Maru. In answer to her wireless calls the Chofuku Maru rendered assistance but
got out of hand in a heavy swell which forced her onto the reef. A fire which
broke out on the Chofuku Maru destroyed much of the superstructure. Captain
R.J. Sinclair, in charge of salvage of the Shunsei Maru after surveying position of
Shunsei Maru and outcrops of rocks and reefs nearby, moved his party on to the
still smouldering Chofuku Maru to salvage what gear that they may need to assist
in salvaging to Shunsei Maru. Much of the gear taken off had to be doust into the
sea for a few minutes to cool it off so it could be handled, due to fire. Port side of
Chofuku Maru awash, starboard side still afire or smouldering. After 5 days work,
2 anchors each of 3 1/2 tons, a smaller anchor and several fathoms of chain and steel
rope was removed, with the assistance of a Punt from the local whaling station
and a ship’s lifeboat now fitted with a mo0tor engine by a Mr M.M. McBolt,
an engineer from the Whaling Station. Eventually gear was taken to the Shunsei Maru or to positions near reef about the ship for salvage. Mr Frank Ball was the
diver employed to work about the hull and blasting off rock outcrops.
After successfully salvaging Shunsei Maru anchored nearby, because of exhaustion
of salvage crew (3 days without a sleep), and ship under own power made
Carnarvon Harbour and whilst alongside jetty, suffered broken lines and being
blown off jetty in a gale and had to anchor clear of jetty. Weather abated a ship
temporarily repairs to bottom, then sailed for Sonrabaya. (West Australian 1931
A full account of the events that transpired (with some important observations about
the Indigenous people then inhabiting the region) were recorded some forty years
later when Maurice McBolt gave a presentation to the Augusta Historical Society
(MacBolt 1976). In a transcript of his lecture entitled ‘The Story of Two Ships’ McBolt
recalled that an Aboriginal man the Europeans called ‘Long Tommy’ and his wife
‘Mary Ann’ first reported the stranding of the Shunsei Maru to the whaling station.
McBolt the Chief Engineer at the whaling stations and two workers then went out
to the stranded ship in a small launch. On boarding the ship they found that the crew
of around fifty men were, in MacBolt’s words, ‘not happy about coming ashore as
they could see about twenty Aborigines—they had spears as they had been fishing
and getting turtles’. When MacBolt went ashore and related this to the Aborigines,
they treated the fears of the Japanese who they called the ‘Jerridy-Jerridies’ [ Rice
eaters. ‘Jerridy’ apparently meaning rice in the local dialect] as a ‘huge joke’. McBolt
subsequently returned to the ship and after allaying their fears piloted the crew in their
lifeboats to the beach. The Captain apparently remained on board and according to
MacBolt was later found in his cabin contemplating suicide. After MacBolt threw his
pistol overboard, the Captain went ashore and joined the crew where they remained
for a short time before returning to the ship (MacBolt 1976).
When Chofuku Maru also got into difficulties, it was ‘Long Tommy’ and his
wife ‘Mary Ann’ who again reported the event to the whaling station. In another
important observation MacBolt records that their group was led by a man known
as ‘Dingo Charlie’ and that all twenty in the group were ‘full-blood’ and all could
speak English. Again McBolt went to the rescue, finding a ‘much happier captain and
crew’ than those who were on board the Shunsei Maru. All were subsequently taken
ashore where they were cared for at the whaling station, though their supplies were
bolstered by food taken from the ship augmented with clam meat which the Japanese
found in the shallows. During their absence a fire broke out in the coal bunkers of
the Chofuku Maru. It had also taken on a list to port destroying the superstructure
and leaving the exposed starboard side either in flames or smouldering in the heat.
MacBolt reboarded the ship soon after and went down into the engine room to try
and recover a small lathe only to be forced out by rising waters in the engine room.
Apparently water also got into the wheat causing it to swell and ferment. According
to MacBolt, ‘…extreme pressure had been building up, completely distorting the
decking of the ship above and around the holds. Some time after she had keeled
over and sunk, gases were rising and an unpleasant smell was around’. The crew of
the Chofuku Maru remained at the Station for around two weeks and after customs
and immigration officials had completed their work they were all transported to
Carnarvon, and went from their by ship down to Fremantle and then back home to
The salvage of Shunsei Maru : ‘One of the outstanding feats of salvage on the
Australian coast’ (West Australian 26/5/1931)
In the interim the Shunsei Maru crew assisted the Dutch Tug Kraus which had
been sent down from Batavia (Jakarta) in an attempt to free their ship. When this
failed, with the exception of ‘two or three’ who had been left onboard ‘to prevent
the Shunsei Maru being claimed as salvage’ and to act as watchmen, they were all
taken off and went down to Fremantle in the tug. From there, they boarded another
Japanese ship for the voyage home (West Australian 10/3/1931). In the interim a
marine surveyor Captain R. Sinclair had been sent up from the Fremantle Office
of Lloyds of London, the ship’s Underwriters. After electing to proceed on a ‘no
cure no pay basis’ rather than to take a retainer and bonuses, Macbolt surveyed the
inside of the ship, finding it did not look at all promising. The frame was twisted in
places, rivets had sprung along the bilge, and ‘in the engine room the water was waist
high, reaching to the level of the bottom fires and all the holds were nearly full of
water’. The engine’s bearings, the dynamo and other machinery had to be examined
underwater and over a number of weeks were repaired and made ready by MacBolt’s
team. A diver Frank Ball, who had been sent up with his equipment from Fremantle,
commenced a survey of the hull at this same time. He found that the ship was not
holed and began inserting bolts to replace the sprung rivets. He also applied cement
(presumably ‘hydraulic cement which sets underwater) to repair the damaged seams.
In order to haul the ship off using its own steam powered winches, chains and
blocks were sourced from the whaling station and a number of anchors and further
lengths of chain were recovered from the Chofuku Maru. Anchors and chain that
had been recovered from the wreck of the SS Lygnern which stranded at Fremantle
in 1928 and a number of pumps were brought up by the State Shipping Service. A
total of seven anchors and a large amount of chain were laid around the Shunsei
Maru to assist with manoeuvering the ship clear of pinnacles and reefs. Ball also
blasted outcrops to produce a clear channel to the open sea and about 300 tons of
coal and heavy materials were jettisoned in order to lighten the ship (MacBolt 1976).
By ballasting various compartments to raise and lower its draft at each extremity
during a six hour operation and by using the ship’s winches the Shunsei Maru was
successfully refloated during the spring tide of 5 April after three weeks of work.
The Shunsei Maru was then slowly steamed out and anchored offshore to allow the
salvors, who had not slept for three days, some rest. Even then they almost lost
the ship as it began to drift back towards the reef while they lay exhausted. A crew
of twenty men from the station under Captain Sinclair with MacBolt as engineer
took the ship down to Carnarvon for minor repairs. Then after being joined by a
radio operator and two experienced Scottish engineers who were sent up to assist
Macbolt they proceeded to a dry dock in Surabaya under her own steam arriving
three months after the initial stranding. There it was handed over to her original
Japanese crew who had been sent down to take over the ship. Later in the year
Macbolt received a letter of thanks from the Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha Line, another
from the Sydney branch of the ship’s agents Yamashita & Company of London, and
also a money order to Åí50, then a considerable sum. This was sent from the Captain
of the Chofuku Maru ‘for services rendered’. One letter read
We are writing you this letter to express and convey our sincere thanks for your
best endeavours and kindness you showed toward the unfortunate crew to
comfort them or to give them facilities for salvage and repatriation. Although the
ship and the cargoes were to be abandoned the crew was very happy and grateful
that none of them had any accident and all safely arrived at Japan toward the
end of March and went back to their respective happy home[s] ( Reproduced in
Macbolt, 1976).
Tenders were called for the purchase of Chofuku Maru, but none were received (West
Australian, 2/5/1931).
A tragic sequel to these events involved the well known ex U.S. Navy submariner
Tom Snider. He was lucky to been invalided off the USS Harder during the war and
he was apparently devastated when it was lost with all hands off the Phillippines.
After the war Snider stayed on and married a West Australian to eventually become
famous for his work on many wrecks around the coast including the Liberty Ship
Michael J Goulandris (1944). He also searched for the wreck of the SS Pericles (1910)
off Cape Leeuwin and recovered much of its cargo of lead ingots. Later Snider lost
his life in a plane crash near Exmouth. He had flown there with the intention of
examining the former American submarine refuelling base at Onslow, to recover the
copper and copper alloys on the Chofuku Maru and possibly to salvage the anchors
and chain from the Shunsei Maru. MacBolt, though keen to accept Snider’s invitation
to join them on the survey was prevented from doing so and appears lucky not to
share his fate ( MacBolt, 1976). Partly because of Snider’s untimely death, Chofuku
Maru and the Shunsei Maru anchors and chain were never salvaged. They remained
virtually untouched until the Shunsei Maru anchors were located by W.J. Moffett in
1972. In September 1974 they were inspected by Museum photographer Pat Baker
assisted by P. Barrett-Lenonard who described the ‘most notable feature of the site’
a length of heavy barred chain lying E–W across the seaward side of the reef top
and some distance further comprising 100 metres. On the reef top, or East end, of
the line the chain was found attached to an iron-stocked Admiralty patent-type
anchor in 4m of water whose shank length was approximately 2.45m. At the west
end a larger anchor (approx 3m shank) with hinge type flukes [a close stowing
anchor] was attached lying in 9m depth . . . The chain has been overgrown in
places by the living coral. Two additional anchors were located lying in line with
the aforementioned anchor on the reef top, one to the south and one to the north.
Also on the reef top near the anchors coils of heavy wire rope were noted. No
evidence of other ships fittings was noted.
In May 1977 D.J. Morrissy and G.A. Rykers reported a steamship wreck in the
Point Cloates vicinity to the Museum. They described it as 50–60m long, lying in
15–20 feet (c.6m) of water approx 3–4 km offshore. It was described as being on the Ningaloo Reef broken up with no superstructure, a large propeller having a 4m
diameter with 4 blades, drive shaft, steam engine, with 4 winches and 2 boilers. Two
years later, in 1979 a team led by Barry Paxman reported a steamship wreck at the
entrance to Norwegian Bay. It became known as the ‘Norwegian Bay Unidentified’
and for a while the two reports were believed to be of the same vessel.
Both wrecks were inspected in May 1980, by a team led by M. McCarthy and
reports were filed. The different sizes of the remains, the location of each wreck
and the number of boilers and grates per boiler recorded in the Lloyds registers
led to the identification of the Morrissy and Rykers find as the Chofuku Maru and
‘The Norwegian Bay unidentified’ as the SS Zvir. It was lost in 1902 while in a cargo
of sugar (McCarthy, 1980a &b). The wrecks which had been ‘fixed’ using sextant
bearings and angles from shore were subsequently relocated and then fixed to
modern GIS and DGPS parameters by J. Green. In 2009 both wrecks were inspected
by a team led by Ross Anderson and the reports filed (Anderson, this volume).

Ross Anderson
The remains of the Chofuku Maru are extensive and make for an interesting dive. As
it is in deeper water off the outside reef it can be dived in conditions unsuitable for
the Ningaloo UNID, Benan and Correio da Asia with swell up to 1.5–2.0 m. The
overall length of the wreck site is 98m oriented with the bow 45. northeast, and it
has its starboard side lying against two large coral bommies on the outer reef. The
stern area in 8m depth has the rudder, sternpost and steering quadrant, four-bladed
propeller (with only three blades visible) and propeller shaft with its plummer blocks
and thrust block near the engine. The propeller shaft has broken in two places at the
plummer blocks. The double bottom of the vessel has broken into at least three main
‘platforms’ over the uneven reef bottom with scattered hull plating and deck beams.
The amidships section has the collapsed triple expansion engine lying on its port side
and the two boilers, one of which has eroded and collapsed and the other is intact.
A donkey boiler is visible on the starboard side just astern of the engine area. The
forward section and bow is in deeper water up to 10m, and features deck winches,
capstan and a steam windlass, hawse pipes and the partially intact stem/ bow.
The site was inspected on 11, 12 and 18 May 2009 with GPS points of bow and
stern recorded and a site plan, video, photogrammetry and photomosaic of the site
The wreck site and associated relics of the Chofuku Maru, and anchors related
to the SS Shunsei Maru stranding and salvage are protected by the Commonwealth
Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976.
Ex Pendragon Castle, ex Inverkip


Ship Built

Owner Kowashi Kisen, Kobe (Kawasaki Kisen)

Master Capt Murrai

Builder Russell & Co.

Country Built Scotland

Port Built Glasgow

Port Registered Kobe

When Built 1908

Ship Lost

Gouped Region Mid-West

Sinking Anchor chains broke and forced onto reef in heavy swell while attempting to assist stranded Japanese vessel SS Shunsei Maru, cargo caught fire and damaged superstructure, vessel abandoned and sunk

When Lost 9910

Where Lost Point Cloates

Latitude -22.51755

Longitude 113.6629833333

Position Information GPS 2004

Port To Kobe, Japan

Cargo 6123 tons bagged wheat

Minimum Depth of site 710.00

Length of site 115.00

Ship Details

Engine Triple Expansion 410NHP, 3 cylinders 26”-42”-70” x 48” built Ramkin and Blackmore, Greenock

Length 117.40

Beam 14.90

TONA 4498.00

TONB 3287.00

Draft 5.50

Bearing to Bow 45.00

Museum Reference

Official Number 28936

Unique Number 100

Sunk Code Burnt

File Number 2009/0092/SG _MA-46/07

Chart Number 1055, 330

Protected Protected Federal

Found Y

Inspected Y

Date Inspected 2009/05/11

Confidential NO