Captain A J Murdoch served with Eastern & Australian Steamship Company until he retired in 1982. Hailing from Melbourne, during his 37 years’ service, he served for a period as second offi cer on the SS Eastern (2). This ship was built as Empire Dynasty by J L Thomson & Sons of Sunderland on the Wear, County Durham. In May 1946, the Empire Dynasty was purchased by E&A from the British government and arrived in Sydney on 16 July, 1946.
An incident is recalled while Captain Murdoch was serving as second officer on the Eastern under the command of Captain Bernham Dun. Readers will recall from previous stories that Captain Dun had been captured during the war while serving as chief officer aboard SS Nankin (1). The ship was attacked by the German raider Thor in the Indian Ocean and the crew taken prisoner. Along with the master Captain Stratford, first officer Dun saw out the war working as labourers in a Japanese flour mill.
Whilst en route from Japan to Hong Kong on 12 January 1953, the Eastern was experiencing the effects of a passing typhoon. During the evening watch, the Master responded to a distress call from a Swedish oil tanker. Second officer Murdoch was called at one bell at a quarter to midnight and arrived on the bridge soon after to take charge of the 12-4 watch. He found Captain Dun in charge, with the search for the distressed vessel well under way. The ship in trouble was the MV Avanti an oil tanker of 10,034 gross tons built by Oresundsvarvet and completed in April, 1946. She was 504’ long, 66’ breadth and 37’ deep, registered at Gothenburg and owned by Fratenitas Rediri A/B.
The tanker radioed that she was breaking up in heavy seas off Okinawa. Eastern found the stern section of the tanker about 0400, but the weather was too rough to launch a lifeboat. The lights on the tanker were burning which indicated that the engine room was intact and a generator running. The lifeboat falls were overside and the boats were missing; implying that the vessel had been abandoned. Captain Dun had second officer Murdoch blow long blasts on the ship’s whistle while Eastern circled the Avanti as close to her as conditions would allow.
No one appeared on the deck of the tanker’s stern section and, after a number of turns around the stricken vessel, it was assumed all the crew had gone. Wreckage was strewn to windward of the wreck. Captain Dun commenced a zigzag run through the flotsam in a search for survivors. As the Master repeatedly changed course and speed, it was up to the second officer to keep track of the ship’s position. Owing to possible to make observations and the ship’s position had to be determined by dead reckoning. Depending on the circumstances – and the skill of the people involved – DR can be a rather hit or miss affair. That said, the E&A ships had been sailing in these waters for many years, and accurate records had been built up of the set and drift of the ocean currents. These records proved to be invaluable to the company’s ships as, at various times of the year, heavy overcast skies could prevent celestial observations for days at a time.
The Eastern eventually came upon the motorised lifeboat from the tanker, however, it was empty; then, around 1300, they spotted the bow section still afloat.