SS Morinda

Morinda, a passenger cargo ship of 1971tons gross was built in 1913 by the Grangemouth Dockyard Co. England. She had a length of 260ft. and a beam of 38ft.

Her long career with Burns Philp & Co. Ltd. covered both the World Wars. In the former, Papuan locations and for a time Rabaul ( which had earlier been part of the German Mandate) comprised her ports of call. Between the wars her trading area covered Australian ports and the various island groups in the Pacific extending from New Ireland, New Britain, New Guinea to the Solomon Islands, the New Hebrides, Lord Howe and Norfolk Islands.

As with other ships, she came under Commonwealth Government control upon Japan's entry to the war in December 1941.

Early in 1942 as the Japanese advance (and allied awareness of atrocities) continued, Morinda under the command of Captain S.(Stinger) Rothery, especially selected to undertake this voyage, was tasked to evacuate the women and children from Tulagi and Gavutu in the Solomon Islands. Coming under attack from Japanese aircraft Captain Rothery well vindicated his selection by positioning himself in the starboard wing of the bridge and using his binoculars to observe when the bomb bay doors opened and the bombs detached from the aircraft. He would then order an alteration of course and manoeuvre the ship to avoid the stick of bombs, which would land in the water clear of the ship. Using this tactic many times he undoubtedly saved Morinda and those on board from becoming casualties. During the exodus of civilians from the Solomon Islands and New Hebrides, the Morinda eventually provided the last opportunity for evacuation to Australia. Contemporary reports (unofficial) noted that with the numbers far exceeding the safety regulations for passenger requirements, Captain Rothery notified the Chief Officer "I am going for a stroll ashore, when I return in an hour the ship sails". It cannot be known how many extra lives were aboard his ship and spared, by the actions of this exceptional Master Mariner when they sailed. Many then and later would attest to his fine seamanship and example.

At Vila New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) in July 1942 Morinda came under control of the U.S. Navy. It was ordered to discharge all cargo into the copra hulk "Dupetit Thours", the ex sailing ship "Star of Russia". On completion of discharge two 20mm Oerlikon guns were mounted on deck on each side of Number 3 hatch and U.S. Navy Gunners were placed on board to man them, along with U.S. Army Signallers. She was then despatched to Nukualofa Tonga. At Tongatapu, berthed alongside an American Liberty ship, she loaded 50- to 500- pound aerial bombs, incendiary and mortar bombs, and proceeded to Suva Fiji, where further munitions were loaded. The Burns Philp passenger/cargo ship Morinda had now become an Ammunition Ship, seconded to the U.S.Navy, sailing under the British Red Ensign, with an Australian Merchant Navy crew aboard.

From Suva under the escort of two American Yard Mine Sweepers (Y.M.S.) she sailed for Noumea New Caledonia, where on arrival she found in port Victualling Stores Issuing Ship (V.S.I.S.) Merkur another of Burns Philp's mainline ships, and also with a Merchant Navy crew aboard it had also been seconded to the R.A.N. for fleet supply. From Noumea Morinda sailed to the New Hebrides Segond Channel (Santo Island), where much of her cargo was loaded aboard old converted World War 1 four stack destroyers of the U.S.Navy, for transport on to the Solomon Islands to be used in the campaign against the occupying Japanese forces. Ammunition was also loaded on to the New Zealand ship S.S. Kakapo, then under U.S. orders.

Morinda made a significant contribution as an ammunition supply ship during this most critical period of the Pacific Campaign.

The ship returned to Vila after a period of time and was de-requisitioned and back loaded with copra for Sydney. En route, at Norfolk Island she was faced with a critical shortage of bunker coal and the possibility of running into bad weather. It was decided that the risk of going on was too great and the decision was made to return to Vila. This proved most fortunate for personnel of the Royal Australian Air Force who had escaped the Japanese advance south by sailing a schooner and walking overland from Bougainville, Guadalcanal and the Solomons to Noumea and whose future would have been very bleak indeed if captured.The ship now carried a large number of civilian and servicemen evacuees, and after bunkering coal and taking on fresh water, Morinda sailed for Sydney.

She continued her supply runs and on another occasion she again entered the Segond Channel, whilst under the Command of Captain (Wild Bill) Wilding. Here a large part of the American Naval force occupied the whole Channel. It included battleships, cruisers, destroyers, floating docks, ("you name it the Yanks had it") and dozens of Liberty cargo ships discharging equipment to set up the base. Without priority the dilemma was how to unload. Wild Bill had the answer: he went out on the wing of the bridge and waved a bottle of Scotch Whisky (Macleay Duff Liquor Scotch Creme) at a passing U.S. Navy tug towing a barge. The barge was placed alongside the nearest Liberty ship and the tug was quickly back alongside the Morinda. The tug skipper was told he could have as much Scotch Whisky as he wanted if he placed an empty barge alongside the ship and more after he towed the loaded barge ashore. Mission was accomplished, and that set the pattern for Morinda's later calls at Segond Channel.

Morinda carried on trading to the same area with the Burns Philp Co. post war until 1952 when after 39 years of service she was sold and steamed to Japan to be broken up for scrap in 1953.