Mystery in History The Abandoned Samoan Derelict Joyita

About the abandoned Samoan derelict ship Joyita, history and possible solution to the mystery of the missing crew.


The Event: The Abandonment of the Derelict Joyita

When: 1955

Where: Western Pacific

The Mystery: The 70-ton Joyita, a twin-screw motor vessel, left the port of Apia in Western Samoa for the Tokelau Islands, 270 mi. to the north, at dawn on Oct. 3, 1955. Thirty-seven days later it was found waterlogged and drifting 167 mi. from the Fiji Islands, 450 mi. west of Samoa. Of Capt. "Dusty" Miller, the passengers, and the crew--25 people in all--there was no trace. The vessel's provisions, the captain's logbook and instruments, and pound 1,000 that was to have been used to buy copra at Tokelau were missing. A doctor's scalpel, a stethoscope, and four lengths of blood-stained bandage were found lying in the scuppers. They had belonged to one of the passengers, Dr. A.D. Parsons. For some reason, the front of the bridge had been "roofed" with a canvas awning.

The fate of the Joyita's crew and passengers was a complete mystery--another Mary Celeste. It rated worldwide headlines--headlines that screamed accusations. The vessel had been rammed by a Japanese fishing vessel whose crew had looted it and then murdered all on board. Or it had encountered an insidious submarine of unknown nationality. Or it had been overwhelmed by a tidal wave. Or by a volcanic eruption. Or, more wildly, those aboard had been kidnapped and transported into space by extraterrestrial visitors.

One relatively prosaic theory suggested that the captain and mate had fought. The mate had fallen overboard and the badly injured captain had been patched up by Dr. Parsons. Threatened by a heavy storm and high seas, and unable to navigate the ship, the passengers and crew had taken to the life rafts, but not before they had rigged an awning above the wounded captain, who had refused to abandon his vessel. They had all perished at sea.

The Joyita had been built in 1931 at Los Angeles for a wealthy film director. It had been chartered by the U.S. Navy during W.W. II as a patrol vessel. "Dusty" Miller, a 36-year-old former Royal Naval officer, took it over in 1952 for trading between the islands. By 1955 he was in desperate financial straits and owed money to nearly everyone he knew. In that year he secured a contract, at pound 70 a day, to bring copra from Tokelau. Although not licensed to carry passengers on the fatal voyage, he had taken nine on board--three Europeans and six islanders. His mate was Amerind "Chuck" Simpson, who was known as "the Gorilla" due to his physique.

Possible Solutions: The Joyita was unseaworthy. Both engines were cranky and worked spasmodically. The radio did not work, owing to a broken lead. A 1-in. pipe in the port bilge had become corroded and leaked, sometimes to the point of flooding the hold. Miller knew his vessel's defects. He consoled himself by saying the night before the Joyita sailed: "Don't worry. It will be all right. Besides, if anything did happen to this boat, a man would be a fool to leave her, because she is unsinkable." He referred to the fact that the Joyita carried 640 cu.ft. of cork in its hold.

The Joyita's condition may account for its becoming waterlogged, but not for its being abandoned. It is surmised that, after the passengers and crew had left, the vessel was found by Japanese crewmen, who looted it and threw the body of the dead or dying captain overboard. The Joyita was finally wrecked on Nov. 20,1959.

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