On the 14th of March 1975, the Western Samoa Post Office released a set of five stamps dealing with the Joyita mystery.

The MV Joyita was a 69-foot (21m) wooden ship built in the USA in 1931 as a luxury yacht. On the 10th of November 1955, now a cargo ship, the Joyita was discovered drifting some 600 nautical miles off course with nobody onboard. The ship had been expected in the small New Zealand dependency of Tokelau, but it had never arrived. The mystery of what happened to those on board has been called “The Mary Celeste of the Pacific.”


At daybreak on the 3rd of October 1955, Joyita left Samoa on a 48-hour voyage through New Zealand territorial waters to the Tokelau Islands, about 270 miles (430 km) away. The ship had been scheduled to leave on the noon tide the previous day but her departure was delayed because the port engine was not working. Joyita eventually left Samoa on one of her two engines. Three days later, the ship was reported as overdue. A search mission was launched by the Royal New Zealand Airforce who covered an area of nearly 100,000 square miles (260,000 kms) of ocean, but no sign of Joyita or any of her passengers or crew was found.

Five weeks later, on the 10th of November, Gerald Douglas, captain of the merchant ship Tuvalu, heading to Tokelau, sighted the Joyita drifting on a calm sea. The ship was partially submerged and listing heavily with her port deck rail under water and there was no trace of any of the passengers or crew; four tons of cargo were also missing.


Barnacles were high above the usual waterline on the port side indicating the little vessel had been listing heavily for some time. Her wheelhouse had been smashed away and the deckhouse had broken windows. Joyita had left port carrying a dinghy and three life rafts but all were missing. Echoing the Titanic disaster, there were not enough lifejackets for everyone on board. The port engine’s clutch was partially disassembled, showing that the vessel had still been running on only one engine. An auxiliary pump had been rigged in the engine room but had not been connected. A break was found in the cable between the radio and the aerial. This would have limited the range of the radio to about 2 miles (3.2 km). The recovery party noted that the radio was tuned to the international marine distress channel. The electric clocks had stopped at 10:25pm and the switches for the cabin lighting were on, implying that whatever had occurred happened at night.

There had been 16 crew members, two were New Zealanders, and nine passengers on board. The Joyita’s cargo included medical supplies, food, and empty oil drums, but most of that was missing. The ship’s logbook, sextant, and other navigational equipment were gone, along with all three lifeboats as well as the firearms that were known to be onboard. Also, there were some sinister indications of possible violence. The ship’s bridge had been smashed, and an open doctor’s bag was found on the deck containing several bloody bandages.


There was still fuel in Joyita‘s tanks and from the amount used, it was calculated she had sailed some 243 miles (391 km) before being abandoned, probably within 50 miles (80 km) of Tokelau. Although Joyita was found with her bilges and lower decks flooded, her hull was sound and once the water was pumped out she floated on an even keel and was easily towed to Suva. At her mooring, investigators heard the sound of water entering the vessel. It was found that a pipe in the auxiliary engine’s cooling system had failed allowing water into the bilges. The first the crew would have known about the leak was when the water rose above the engine room floorboards, by which time it would have been nearly impossible to locate the leak. The Joyita still had plenty of fuel, and the cork-lined hull and 80 empty oil drums on board pretty much made it unsinkable. The missing cargo may have been taken by opportunistic vessels that had come across the abandoned vessel. Others theorized that it might be pirates or possibly insurance fraud. Some even suggested it was an attack by a Japanese fishing party who wanted to hide their illegal activities in the area.

MV Joyita


Joyita has been the subject of several books and documentaries exploring a range of answers from rational to supernatural and paranormal. Numerous hypotheses for the disappearance of all those onboard have been discussed. Many were circulated at the time of the event, and several others have been put forward since. Given the fact that the ship’s hull was sound and her design made her almost unsinkable, the mystery remains as to why the passengers and crew did not stay on board if the events were simply triggered by the flooding in the engine room. Rather creepily the Joyita was repaired and went back into service as a cargo vessel. However, after twice running aground on a reef, it was at long last deemed an unlucky ship. It was stripped and broken down and now nothing remains of this unfortunate vessel. To this day, no bodies or lifeboat wreckage have ever been found and the baffling event remains an enduring New Zealand mystery.

Ceidrik Heward

Speak Your Mind