Expedition to find the mystery ship Waratah that vanished off the eastern coast of South Africa. September, 1987.
The Waratah was one of the most baffling mysteries of the sea. In July of 1909, the 500 foot steamer, on her return maiden voyage from Australia to Capetown, went missing with over 200 passengers and crew somewhere in the Indian ocean off the rugged eastern coast of South Africa.
For 79 years she rested lost, but not forgotten. Her loss was the subject of numerous books, articles and endless speculation as to he fate. Rather than write another redundant report, I’ve simply added newspaper accounts on her loss and testimony of a handful of witnesses.
My own involvement came in April of 1985 when my British publisher sent me to South Africa on tour to plug my then latest book, “Deep Six”. I had often read of the Waratah and was most interested in her tale, but brushed off any thought of an expedition to find her since flying a NUMA crew and our equipment 8000 miles to South Africa and back was simply too damned expensive. Then, add to the fact the search area was not easily accessible by air or car.
Fortunately, after a talk I gave in Capetown on shipwrecks, I was approached by Mr. Emlyn Brown, a native South African who had spent ten years researching the lost ship. We had a drink together and formed a partnership to find the Waratah. Brown would be search director, put together and lead the expedition, while I through NUMA would fund and consult.
In the end we contracted with a marine survey firm by the name of Sistema Ltd., near Capetown. I’d like to say that Emlyn Brown did a Herculean job of overcoming obstacles of local incompetence and uncaring interest. All credit for the discovery of the wreck must go to Emlyn. The results of the survey for the Waratah come behind the newspaper accounts of the liner’s loss.
The readings by the South Africans were hardly what we’ve come to expect during our own expeditions. Gary Kozak of Klein & Associates studied the sonar readings and found them too vague to draw solid conclusions.
There definitely is a shipwreck in the area the witnesses described, especially Joe Conquer, who watched the ship disappear on the correct date, and D. J. Roos, an airmail pilot, who spotted a large wreck on the bottom in the same position during a flight to Durban.
Records show no other iron steamer on the bottom within sixty miles, and those are accounted for.
Odds favor our find being the Waratah, but until we get an ROV down on her, we can only assume we’ve finally solved the enigma of her disappearance. Another expedition plus a documentary is in the making. So it should be only a question of a year or two before we actually see her up close.
UPDATE – January 17, 2001
CAPETOWN, SOUTH AFRICA-Emlyn Brown, head of the South Africa National Underwater & Marine Agency (NUMA), announced today that the remains he found in July, 1999, and identified as the WARATAH, were not actually the remains of the elusive vessel. “…Although the submarine dive to the wreck was flawless, the wreck we thought was the Waratah, is in fact not, repeat not the Waratah,” a distressed Dr. Brown e-mailed to Clive Cussler. “It is a cargo ship carrying military hardware, tanks, tires, trucks, etc. that we now know was sunk by a U-boat in 1942. I, and all involved are stunned beyond belief, and almost speechless at what was finally seen on the ocean floor.”
The search and exploration for the wreck of the legendary SS Waratah by author Clive Cussler and his intrepid NUMA (National Underwater & Marine Agency) crew led by Brown and Dr. Peter Ramsay of NUMA’s South African sister organization will resume later this year.
We have already searched for the WARATAH on nine separate expeditions since 1983,” Cussler reported. “I guess she is going to continue to be elusive a while longer but Emlyn and I refuse to give up.”
The WARATAH was lost in 1909 with all hands on board.
January 17, 2001