The mysterious disappearance of the crew of the MV Joyita is a very thought-provoking event which has gone under the radar for many years, despite the range of unanswered questions this case has caused.
MV Joyita was a merchant vessel which was holding 25 people at the time of its disappearance in 1955. It was found adrift in the South Pacific with no one on board.
While the ship was damaged, investigators concluded that the chances of the ship sinking were “nearly impossible”. This resulted in questions regarding why the crew departed, and what happened to them.
This article looks at this disappearance. At the end of the article, there is a reader’s poll, which we invite our readers to complete. This way, we will see what people think truly happened.
The MV Joyita was a 69 foot-long ship made from wood. It was built in 1931 – initially serving as a luxury yacht for a movie director, who named the ship after his wife.
Over the next three decades, the vessel had a colourful history. In 1936, the MV Joyita was sold on for the first time, and subsequently underwent several trips around Northern America.
The ship was then acquired by the United States Navy for World War II, which led to some damage. After the conclusion of the war, the vessel was sold and then modernised.
Several other ownership changes took place. By the time of 1955, it was being used to transport goods from one nation to the next. In October 1955, the ship set voyage as it normally would, though its voyage turned out to be doomed.
The MV Joyita left Samoa on 3rd October 1955, bound for the Tokelau Islands. This was a 270-mile trip, with a forecasted journey time of between 40 and 48 hours.
Captain Thomas Miller led the crew, which was made up of 16 crew members and 9 passengers. The cargo largely featured nondescript items – mainly food.
The vessel had problems from the outset. Engine problems delayed its departure, and eventually the vessel left with just one functioning engine.
72 hours following departure, operators from the Tokelau Islands raised the alarm after MV Joyita had not arrived – despite three days passing.
No distress signal had been received by operators, which led to confusion. A search and rescue mission was launched, with approximately 100,000 square miles of ocean searched.
However, there was no sign of the vessel, nor its passengers, resulting in total bewilderment for all. There was also significant concern of the welfare for the 25 people on board.
But a breakthrough in the case followed five weeks after the original departure. Another merchant ship which was heading to the nation of Tuvalu spotted the MV Joyita.
The MV Joyita was over 600 miles away from its scheduled route – explaining the search team’s inability to find it. The other merchant ship went to investigate.
They found that the MV Joyita was partially submerged, some of the cargo was missing, and that there was no sign of passengers or crew. The MV Joyita was brought to land, and a thorough investigation started.
The investigators noted that while the ship had been tilted for some time, the MV Joyita was not at risk of sinking. The large amount of cork in the hold lining and empty fuel drums meant that the vessel could not reasonably sink.
The investigators also found that at no point was the engine fixed, so the MV Joyita spent their entire voyage with just one engine. This led to criticism of Captain Miller.
The state of the ship led investigators to initially believe that an evacuation had occurred. The dinghy, life-rafts and navigational equipment were all missing.
The radio had been tuned to an internationally recognised marine distress channel. But investigators found that this equipment was faulty, which would have limited the range of the radio to just 2 miles. This explained the lack of distress call.
Calculations on fuel consumption suggested that the ship had travelled around 250 miles before being abandoned – just 20 miles away from its destination. Another concerning finding was that blood-stained bandages were found on board.
These various elements led to investigators concluding that an evacuation had taken place. But it didn’t explain where the 25 people were.
Despite searches taking place on a wider area, no trace of the passengers were ever found, leading to the rise of several theories as to what happened to them.
Over the following decades, frequent attempts were made to search for any sign of the crew, or their bodies. But they were never found.
The vast nature of the Pacific Ocean, along with confusion on where the search grid should be focused on, made it almost impossible to find them.
After investigations had concluded, the MV Joyita was refitted and was used again for commercial purposes. A crash in 1959 unceremoniously resulted in its destruction.
Two memory stones were constructed in honour of those on board. One stone is in Samoa, with the other on an Island in Tokelau. This serves as a permanent reminder of this disappearance.
The strange nature of the disappearance of MV Joyita means there are multiple theories. While all are plausible, some are more likely than others.
We take a look at the evidence for all of the theories:
Theory One: Voluntary ship evacuation
Perhaps the most realistic theory is that the crew decided to abandon ship. Why this would have happened is unknown, with investigators unsure of why this would happen.
Captain Miller was an experienced crew member who would have known that the MV Joyita was highly unlikely to sink. So it does seem strange.
But due to the navigational equipment being taken, as well as the life-rafts, it is likely that an evacuation did take place.
Unfortunately, as the crew were never seen again, sadly they would have probably ended up lost at sea, where they eventually passed away.
Theory Two: Ship abandonment due to injury
For an evacuation to take place, it is believed that Captain Miller must have been out of action or not making decisions. With the blood-stained bandages being found, it is possible that the blood came from Miller.
Miller may have either died or become incapacitated during the voyage. This would have left the remaining crew to believe they should abandon the ship.
Again, this would explain why the navigational equipment and life-rafts were taken. Sadly, this would surely have resulted in them dying at sea.
Theory Three: Crew mutiny
Captain Miller was believed to be in severe debt at the time of the disappearance. If this is true, then it would have been likely that Miller would be hell-bent on getting the MV Joyita to land.
It is possible that due to perceived problems, that the rest of the crew would have demanded that they evacuate. If Miller had disagreed, then a crew mutiny may have taken place.
It could have resulted in a fight, ending up with the blood-soaked bandages. The group may have eventually decided to abandon the ship, believing they had a better chance of survival this way.
Again, this would include why some equipment was missing. If this theory is true, then once more, the likelihood is that the group died at sea.
Theory Four: Third party involvement
Around 1955, the world was a rather dangerous place. The world was gingerly recovering from World War II, whilst tensions were high between the east and west, with the Cold War not far away.
As a result, it is a possibility that third party involvement – either from Japanese or Soviet forces – occurred. These forces may have occupied the vessel before staging a disappearance.
This theory would explain why no bodies were found. However it lacks rationale, with it very difficult to explain why any third parties would choose the MV Joyita to cause destruction.
Theory Five: Pirates
Similar to the above theory, it is possible that pirates attacked the MV Joyita. This theory suggests that pirates ransacked the cargo, before killing the occupants or forcing them off via the life-raft.
While this would explain why none of those on board were ever seen again, this theory doesn’t account for the fact that a lot of the cargo was left on board. Still, it is a possibility, albeit a slim one.
Theory Six: Waterspout
One of the big problems with working out what happened to the MV Joyita is the fact that it isn’t clear why an evacuation would have taken place.
Therefore, something like a waterspout may have caused a panic which resulted in an evacuation. But this is unlikely, given that no other ship reported seeing a waterspout at all.
As with all other theories within this theme, it is likely that the crew died at sea, never to be seen again.
Theory Seven: Seaquake
Similar to the above, a seaquake could also have caused the panic that resulted in an evacuation.
This would explain why an evacuation happened. But, similar to the waterspout theory, no other vessel reported any seaquake, which likely mean it didn’t happen.
If a seaquake did force the crew to evacuate, they would surely have perished at sea. This is a consistent theme across all of the theories.
There are several theories to explain the disappearance of the crew of the MV Joyita. Now, we invite you to vote on the theory that you believe is true. You will see the results of the poll after your vote.
The disappearance of the MV Joyita is a strange case. It isn’t too well-known – largely due to its similarities with the disappearance of the much more widely-known Mary Celeste ship.
As a result, the MV Joyita has become known as “the Mary Celeste of the South Pacific”. The disappearance has still gone on to spawn many documentaries, books and online forum discussion.
Unfortunately, it appears that the truth will never be known, and that this mystery is consigned to the sea forever. The biggest misfortune of all is the 25 lives that were seemingly lost at sea.
Cover image comes courtesy of Creative Commons license.