KAIWARRA, steamer: In poor visibility, due to heavy rain, the steamer stranded about 600 yards from the shore, opposite Black Birch Creek, and about a mile and a half north of Motunau Island, North Canterbury, shortly after midnight on the night of December 3-4, 1942. Efforts were made to refloat the steamer, but at daybreak on December 6 her crew of 45 were rescued by the Sumner lifeboat Rescue II, an attempt made by a fishing boat the previous day having failed owing to the heavy breaking sea. Up to Saturday, December 5, it had been hoped that the Kaiwarra might be refloated, but a south-easterly roll set in, and the vessel took such a pounding that her position became hopeless. In the afternoon the sea increased with the ebb tide, and the vessel, heavily laden with coal, was being picked up and then dropped on the rocks with a grinding motion, so that it quickly became holed. During the morning a military party of signallers end engineers, members of the Lyttelton Harbour Board’s staff, a naval rating, and Captain J. E. McClelland, the Union Steam Ship Company’s superintendent, set out to the scene with the Harbour Board’s linethrowing rocket apparatus. Communications were established with those on board the Kaiwarra by lamp and semaphore, and at 3.30 p.m. those on board the doomed steamer signalled that the Sumner lifeboat was coming to take the crew off, as the sea was then at its worst. However, those on shore decided to try and get a rocket line aboard, preparatory to rigging a breeches buoy to take off the crew. Three attempts were made, but each time the line fell short, and the attempt was abandoned.
The lifeboat Rescue II left Sumner at 4 p.m. on Saturday, December 5, on its 36-mile journey to Motunau. A heavy swell was encountered in Pegasus Bay, but at 9 p.m., before the lifeboat had reached Motunau, the sea had moderated considerably, and the Kaiwarra signalled the lifeboat to wait till daylight before coming alongside. At 4.30 a.m. on Sunday, December 6, the lifeboat made its first attempt. One of the Kaiwarra’s boats was lowered and filled with men, and with a full load of men on its own decks the Rescue if successfully transferred the men to one of the assisting yessels. A second trip was made with another boat in tow, and then a third trip. Not only were all the men safely transferred, but also the crew’s personal gear and kits, as well as the ship’s papers, compasses, instruments and radio set. The lifeboat Rescue II was in charge of Mr. C. Bowman, and in addition to her regular crew of nine carried Mr. J. E. Tait, Mayor of Sumner.
The finding of the Court of Inquiry into the stranding and wreck of the Kaiwarra was delivered in Wellington on February 8, 1943. The court completely exonerated Captain W. H. D. Gardiner, master of the vessel, and handed him back his certificate without a blemish. It was found that the second officer, Mr. J. S. Melville, was guilty of an error of judgement and dereliction of duty in failing to report a material change in the weather, but the court announced that it saw no justification for the cancellation or suspension of his certificate. The findings were:-(1) The cause of the casualty was a strong set running in a northerly and northwesterly direction and unknown and not anticipated during the hours of darkness between 9 p.m. and 1 a.m. on the night of December 3, 1942, which threw the vessel off her course for some miles, causing her to strand and subsequently to be wrecked three-quarters of a mile off shore north of Motunau Island. (2) The casualty was not caused or contributed to by any wrongful act, default or dereliction of duty on the part of the master or any of his officers or crew other than the second officer. (3) The second officer was guilty of an error of judgement and dereliction of duty in failing to report a material change in the weather which occurred after midnight on December 3-4, when he was on duty. It is impossible for the court to determine whether the default of the second officer contributed to the final casualty, since any change in the navigation of the ship after such material alteration in the weather would have become the responsibility of the master. What the master would have done had the change in the weather been reported to him it is impossible to say.
The Kaiwarra, No. 143,324, was a steel, screw steamer of 3,051 tons gross and 1,847 tons net register, built at Sunderland in 1919 by J. Blumer and Company, and her dimensions were : length 331.3 ft., beam 46.8 ft., depth 23.2 ft. Her engines were of 358 h.p. The steamer was owned by the Union Steam Ship Company, and was under the command of Captain William Henry Dee Gardiner. (See plate 114.)