Malaita (Burns Philp)

Part of the ‘fleet’ evacuating civilians from Pacific islands during 1941in recognition of the Japanese threat, Malaita spent the first months of 1942 carrying troops and equipment from eastern Australia to Papua New Guinea.

One voyage concluded with her arrival and anchoring in Port Moresby on 23 August 1942. Having disembarked her troops promptly, Malaita was not able to berth at the wharf until late on 27 August. She completed discharge on the morning of 29 August and sailed for Australia under escort of the destroyer HMAS “Arunta”. Japanese submarine RO.33 had taken up position off Basilisk Reef and as Malaita passed, torpedoed her. Though heeling over seriously and following the crew abandoning and then re-boarding the ship, she was towed by three vessels, Arunta, Matafele and Potrero, to shallow water. HMAS “Arunta” sank the submarine the same day.

Two days later the ship was moved to a safe anchorage and assisted by others to replenish lost water and stores. Power and wireless capabilities were restored. The extensive below-waterline damage indicated that repairs were beyond local capacity and it was resolved these must be effected in Australia. In the hope of favourable weather, Malaita again left Port Moresby on 15 September with Cairns its objective. Five days and 790 miles (nearly 1300 kilometres) later she reached there.

After some hull-strengthening in Cairns, she commenced the hazardous voyage south still coping with her severe damage and sheltering from heavy weather along the New South Wales coast. High quality of seamanship led to her reaching Sydney on 13 November where damage was regarded as so great that her wartime duties were now at an end. Repairs, commenced in October 1945, were not completed until April 1947.