The wreck of the Glasgow built M.V. Kathiawar sits in about 6m of water off Ilha De Goa, at the entrance to Mozambique Harbour/Mossuril Bay. It ran aground on the 30th of October 1937 without loss of life. Now the wreck makes a fantastic snorkel site that can be visited with Ilha Blue as part of the Island Hop dhow safari.
The story of this shipwreck
The M.V. Kathiawar was on a voyage from Majunga, Madagascar, to Mozambique laden with 4,270 tons of general cargo and carrying four passengers and manned by a crew of 62 hands all told. The vessel ran aground on a clear night in fine conditions. An enquiry was was held at the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, Storey’s Gate, Westminster, London. May 1938.
At the inquiry everything was reported to be in good order: the ship was in sound condition, there were compasses and appropriate charts and no issues with the weather. It was a routine voyage, both the master and chief officer had entered Mossuril Bay before and, even though it was considered a dangerous approach it was well equipped with aids to navigation in the way of lights.
So what happened?
The ship’s log records that Goa Island Lighthouse, which marks the entrance to the bay, was sighted at 6.35 pm when the Kathiawar was 17 miles distant and bearing true west at full speed of a little over 10 knots. At this time the course was adjusted to the North to line up better with the entrance to Mozambique Harbour, immediately after this adjustment the master and chief officer went below for dinner.
At 7pm the master returned to the bridge and observed that the Goa Lighthouse had “broadened somewhat on the bow” (in plain speak that means “got a lot closer”). Still no action was taken and master and chief officer went back below deck (for pudding?). This left the 3rd officer who had never entered this harbour before in charge. He noted that the Goa Island light “continued to broaden somewhat” but took no action to raise an alarm.
Attempt to avoid catastrophe.
The chief officer returned to the bridge at 7.40 and observed the leading lights to Mossuril Bay which he says were open but were coming more in line. He claims to have then made a northward adjustment to the vessel’s course but the Court did not accept this to be true.
When the master returned to the bridge at 8pm the vessel was already within half a mile of Goa Island light. For the first time the master appreciated they were in trouble and ordered “stand by” on the engines and the wheel to be put hard-a-starboard.
The vessel answered her helm but by the time she had swung some 3 to 4 points to the starboard she grounded on the reef in a position about 2 cables N.E by E. of Goa Island light.
Over the following two weeks attempts were made to refloat the vessel. Some cargo was off-loaded but still she remained fast and was eventually abandoned by her crew on 16 November 1937.
The investigation focused on navigational matters and concluded that the vessel was lost through the negligence of the master of the vessel, Joshua Haddock Holmes and of her Chief officer, David Kidd. The court considered that the master should have stayed on the bridge in charge of the navigation of the vessel, if not from 6.35 when the Goa Island light was first observed, than at least from 7.pm onwards. He should not have entrusted the navigation of the vessel to the third officer, who had no previous experience of this harbour, or the chief officer who had only entered Mozambique Harbour once before.
The court found that Captain Holmes was gravely at fault. He entrusted the vessel’s navigation to an officer who had no experience or familiarity with this particular port. Having failed to realise his responsibility, Captain Holmes also failed to take a grip of the situation during the last few minutes when catastrophe could still have been avoided.
As for the chief officer Mr. Kidd, having been left in charge of the bridge at 7.30 he showed a lamentable lack of appreciation that the vessel was, at least from 7.40 onwards, running into serious danger.
Captain Holmes had his master’s certificate suspended for six months. First Officer Kidd was severely censured.
The wreck now
The Kathiawar remains in the position it was stranded. The bow which is clearly visible to snorkellers points to the north, the direction it was steering in an attempt to avoid grounding, the stern is less than 100m from the rocky shore.
Snorkelling the Kathiawar
Snorkellers can easily identify the bow, the 2 enormous diesel engines, 3m fly wheel, propellor shaft, winches, steel cross members and riveted plates. Coral has formed on the wreckage and there are more fish and other sea-life than any other site in the area. Even experienced snorkellers consider this one of the most rewarding sites they have dived anywhere.
If its so great why doesn’t everyone go there?
There are legal reason – most boats are not licensed to go there, but also, depending on the height of the tide, inexperienced operators have difficulty locating the wreck. Our crew are the most experienced, they’ve done this activity countless times and can always anchor in a good position.
Also there are safety issues. Because the wreck is on the ocean side of the island waves can make snorkelling difficult. That’s why we always include a range of safety features that no other operator has, including a longline with floats and lifebuoy and a kayaker in the water to offer assistance if required. We also know when conditions are not suitable and will advise swimmers accordingly.
Ilha Blues Island Hop snorkelling departs daily.