TUVALU, motor vessel: At 3.45 a.m. on January 11, 1967, the vessel ran aground on a rock and sand beach about 60 yards from jagged Honeycomb Rock, on the Wairarapa coast. The hull was ripped open near the engineroom and the Tuvalu was subsequently abandoned as a total wreck.
Under charter to the American firm United Geophysical, then engaged in conducting a seismic oil survey in Cook Strait, the Tuvalu was on a passage from Noumea, New Caledonia, to Nelson. En route the vessel had put into Gisborne where the second mate left the ship and a quantity of cargo was transferred to the freighter Rosalind Star. The voyage was resumed on January 8 in extremely bad weather but it gradually. improved and when the ship struck, visability was good.
Repeated MAYDAY calls were not acknowledged and apparently the only ones to hear them were the pilots of two US. Navy helicopters which reached the scene in 45 minutes. The pilots’ efforts were directed to saving the crew and all 12 – the master, Captain Frederick Anthony Barrett, the mate, Mr. G. Brown (both of Nelson), and 10 Fijian crew members – were winched on to the beach. The cargo of 129 tons of high explosives and detonators was later landed by the same method. At one time a beacon light was mounted on Honeycomb Rock but in 1961 the light was removed because driving sea spray damaged the beacon, making frequent servicing trips necessary.
The Tuvalu was registered in the New Hebrides and was a motor vessel of 245 tons gross and 140 tons net register.
Following a formal inquiry into the stranding of the Tuvalu, the Court reported: “It is a matter of some regret that the inquiry cannot produce any more definite result. The Court has made every effort to arrive at a conclusion as to what caused the casualty and as to the exact course or courses steered, but it is reluctantly compelled to face the fact that it is simply not possible, on the evidence available, to reach clear conclusions.
“It would appear that by New Zealand standards, the Tuvalu was poorly manned and a poorly equipped vessel to be undertaking a journey from New Caledonia to New Zealand. The helmsman before the casualty had only nine months’ experience at sea and it was obvious from his evidence that he was an inexperienced hand. The Court considers that some responsibility rests upon the owner of the vessel. He [the owner] appears to be outside jurisdiction.” (See plate 126.)