Saturday, January 26, 2008

MV Pulau Kijang Tragedy

It was towards the end of the school holidays and families were rushing from Kuching towards home : Sarikei, Sibu, Kanowit,Bintangor, after spending a good holiday away from home. Travelling in Sarawak from town to town was possible only by the more expensive plane, a Twin Otter, or a Fokker, or by the rough, untarred road, or by the more traditional coastal steamer.

Personally I knew what it was like to travel by sea along the coast of Sarawak . In 1968 my Geography teacher Mr.David Watts,and his wife took my sixth Form class for a field trip to Kuchig and Bako National Park. It was a most memorable eye opening trip to study the coastal features and vegetation. I had my first taste of salty sea wind, and my first night experience at sea. there were beautiful stars in the dark sky, and the waves were just too gentle. It was a beautiful trip.

The Kuching-Sibu route was covered by MV Rajah Mas andMV Pulau Kijang, and for a long time, no mishap had happened. Sea vessels had always been very safe and the coastal waters of Sarawak never treacherous: no dangerous waves, no pirates,no dangerous spots. The coastal ship would leave Kuching or Sibu at about noon, and the passengers would spend a lovely night on board. The ship would arrive in Sarikei in the morning, and by noon in Sibu. So wharf labourers would have one whole afternoon to carry all the goods to the waiting lorries or simple trolleys. By evening the ship would be cleared and the next day, the ship would sail again to Kuching if there was nothing to hold it back with its cargo and new load of passengers. The route was so well charted and systematic.

On that fateful December day, hundreds of passengers bought tickets from Kuching and some had return tickets in their hands. Most were travelling as families, parents and their school going age children of different races - Chinese, Malay, Melanau,and Iban.

The MV Pulau Kijang was a handsome coastal boat which was built in the fifties and had plied the waters for sometime, carrying both cargoes and humans. The deck was usually full of passengers, and the cargo down below in the hull. There were a few cabins for the first class passengers and second class passengers. The ordinary passengers slept everywhere possible, and many just on top of the gunny sacks of rice, corn or boxes of tinned food in the hull. People were very simple and they were happy just to have a ticket and a place to lay their head for a night. They had brought their own food in a basket, some buns, some bottled water, and perhpas even a flask of hot water.

A relative who had already bought tickets for the fateful trip found his son to have very high fever and decided not to travel that day. He rushed his wife and child to the General Hospital in Kuching. He also told us that he felt that there were just too many passengers and that his child might be too sick on the sea journey. But again no one really paid any attention to sea safety then.

I heard another story that a woman had a bad dream and she decided to stay on in Kuching for the next ship or take the aeroplane. She sold her ticket at the wharf . She could not get any air ticket that day as it was the end of December and so she took a plane out of Kuching the next day, arriving in Sibu just to know there had been a terrible tragedy.

According to the newspaper report, a buoy marking the shifting and dangerous sandbars off Sarikei towards the sea had become adrift and in the darkness of the early morning the Captain could not see the direction. So when the ship went aground, chaos broke out. Then were huge waves coming upon them as the winds suddenly changed and Pulau Kijang started to sink.

So in the darkness, before dawn broke, a few hundred souls were lost.

The Police Personnel, the Navy and the Army came on hand to help but it was too late. The helicopters air lifted the dead bodies to Sarikei and the pilots said that they could sea bodies floating in every direction on the water. They made so many trips that they lost count. The Navy was called to help but they could only find dead bodies. They worked non stop for two days, and for a week they were still looking for dead bodies and survivors. the people of Sarikei had never seen such activity before. So many stayed at the wharf to wait for good news but they were disappointed.

The Sarikei hospital was extremely busy and a radiologist, Daisy Harry , from Sibu Lau King Howe Hospital was directed to Sarikei to x-ray dental identification. She must have had a terrible time during this exceptional call of servie. I learn from a friend that she is now in Gold Coast Australia. Many doctors, nurses and hospital staff had related horror stories of this tragedy. It was a horrific and unforgetable event.

this was the worst sea tragedy ever in Sarawak and that day, 26 December 1973 was indeed a dark day. So many kampongs, longhouses, and towns mourned their dead. Some said that there were more than 200 victims.Some families were completely wiped out leaving no descendants. Some said there were 150. But we would probably never know the real figure. How many actually did the Pulau Kikang carry on board on that fateful trip?

All the dead were buried together in a mass grave and later the government build a small memorial in Sarikei for the tragic victims.

Sea travel was never the same after this tragedy.

22 memories:

Unknown said...

The MV Rajah Mas also sank much later in the 1990's, if I am not mistaken.

I Am Sarawakiana said...

Any river or sea tragedy is a heavy burden on all loved ones. Sometimes whole families can be wiped out.

I just hope that as we progress and become more developed, we could avoid such unnecessary loss of lives and property.

Happy New Year.

Daniel Yiek said...

I have added your post as a reference in my old post on Pulau Kijang.

By the way, Raja Emas sank in bad weather on 18 Feb 1997 at the Rejang River mouth. 1 drowned, 3 missing and 19 survived.

I Am Sarawakiana said...

Dear Daniel,

I am honoured to be read by you. I would like to put your blog on my Reading Arcade.

I would like to add that there was a Tie family which was struck by the tragedy. There are not many Ties around now. So we must remember all these people. Ching Ming is near.

I really like your postings. Thank you.

I Am Sarawakiana said...

Dear REaders
recently I met a friend who told me that her uncle had wanted to board the Pulau Kidjang in Kuching but when he saw rats leaving the boat,he immediately took it as an omen not to board. He did not tell any one about his apprehension.

He thought that people might laugh at him for being superstitious. When he learned of the tragedy he was very saddened.

Unknown said...

Hi! I'm a journalist who intent to write an article on MV Pulau Kidjang Tragedy, and I'm rushing to get an interview with those survived or drowned family members. And also the related photos of the tragedy, too. Anyone who can provide me the information? Thanks a lot for your kindly help!! Please contact me at 013-8021129 Jessica.

Greenspot said...


There is actually a book written on the tragedy by a Sarawak Tribune journalist.

Unknown said...


the friend who told u that her uncle had wanted to board the Pulau Kidjang in Kuching, may i know how to contact her, so i can know much about the story?

And, Greenspot,

Thanks a lot for your comment. But what's the title of the book actually? it's a book or an article written by Sarawak Tribune Journalist? Do u still remember what's the name of the journalist mentioned?

Thanks all!!

Unknown said...

It was a book in Bahasa Malaysia. I cannot remember the name of the author but try the Sraawakiana collection at the State Library -Pustaka Negeri


I Am Sarawakiana said...

She is a Tie (Lisa Tie) and you could contact her via email as she is in New Zealand now.

But I am not sure if she has the time to reply you.

Could you email me at and I will forward your mail to her? I will write a note to her tonight.

mayau_cantik said...

hie sarawakiana,

Thankx for writting abt the pulau kijang ship tragedy.apprwciate u for remembering abt the sad tragedy.actually my mom was 7 years old at that time.she saw the funeral at that night.she said it was quite frightening with lots of army, police n crops in a big lorry.but then i heard rumours abt that tragedy from the old folks aroud my grandma's home.they said that its not just abt the waves ,the weather nor the captains mistakes abt the tragedy but its abt a black cat that leads to that inccident.sounds abit mystic.dunno wether its true or not coz im 85 born...some of the bodies are burried beside my grandma's house near masjid bhgn kuching.

anis said...

dear jess..
hasssan anggas..he was one of the unfortunate victim n his body was the first one found..n u know wat..if u want some "creepy" stuff(it's true,not fake one!)in your journal,u can contact me,khairunnisa ramli,,late mr.hassan was the land lord of the house where my mother live once during her childhood.

Peter Lu said...

My father was on of the unfortunate one on board. My mom just gave birth prematurely to my little sister on 17-Nov-1973 and was still in warded in the hospital. Having read the incident in the newspaper and unable to claim my father's body buried together with all the unclaimed bodies. Now my mother has passed on 21 Nov 2009, my brother and I now trying to locate for any information about my father. We want to put him next to my mother's burial site. Anyone with information such as the name list of the deceased or anything, please write to me at

bujang sibu said...

my uncle was save in this tragedy..many corpse was lethal and helicopter was bring them using a biggest net..

Unknown said...

Unfortunately, the younger generations who are aware of this tragedy, are of the affected family members. My maternal late grandparents were among the deceased. My relatives were able to claim my late grandfather's unrecognised body if not for my uncle's belt which he wore on that fateful day. Sadly, my late grandmother was among the unidentified corpses.
My friends are only aware of the tragedy after I've told them about it. It is unfortunate that not many know about the tragedy. Thanks for sharing...

Daniel Yiek said...

Pls see Malay article at

musa copter said...

I was flying one of the 2 RMAF Nuri helicopters that morning looking for survivors, All we saw were bodies floating and bodies on the beaches !! Still fresh in my mind till today.

musa copter said...

I was flying one of the 2 Nuri helicopters that morning doing Search And Rescue. All we saw were bodies floating and bodies on the beaches !!

Ensurai said...

Musa...could you give an interview for an excellent newspaper article? It would mean a lot to the survivors and the victims' family....Thank you in advance. Contact me - May God bless you richly.

musa copter said...

I was one of the Pilots of the Nuri helicopter deployed for searched and rescue of this fateful ship the day after the tragedy. Probably the print that said there were bodies floating all over the water was extracted from my voice over the radio, on that day. WE flew for hours from morning till late, looking for any survivor, but saw only bodies..... Truely I still remember that day. I also remember the 2 days of continuous super heavy rain where we had to stay indoors at the Sibu Airport RASCOM Military Officers Mess, and by the time the rain subsided, were told to get airborne in search & rescue of the MV Pulau Kijang. I have since retired from TUDM, and come back to my home State, Johor.

Unknown said...

Peter lu...i have full list of victim..kindly pls contact/whatsapp me 012 8368616.I also researcher and writer book title Tenggelamnya Pulau Kidjang.

Unknown said...

Peter lu...kindly pls contact/whatsapp me 012 8368616....i have full list of victim.Tqvm.


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