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Discussion Starter #1
50 years ago this morning, the small Australian coastal ship Noongah foundered off the mid New South Wales coast. Of the 26 on board, only 5 survived.

The Noongah left Newcastle for Townsville on Saturday, August 23, 1969 with a cargo of 1,500 tons of steel products. She ran into a severe depression with 60kt winds and 10m seas off Smoky Cape.

She began to take on water and developed a list. The main engine lost oil pressure and was shut down. The ship sank rapidly by the head.

Marine experts determined that the ship sank because of the weight of water and cargo in the forward hold, but the reason for this could not be established.

The search for survivors was one of the greatest in Australia's history, involving 5 destroyers, 3 minesweepers, 7 aircraft, 2 helicopters and a number of other vessels.

5 survivors and one body were pulled from the water, but sadly the remaining 20 officers and crew were never found.

A Marine Court of Inquiry held later that year found that the haste with which the ship had to be abandoned contributed to the heavy death toll.

The Noongah’s Radio Officer was 21-year-old Stephen Pedemont from Sydney. Pedemont had passed all his examinations for the 1st Class Certificate at the unheard-of age of 17. He had to wait until his 18th birthday to be issued with his Certificate.

He couldn’t get a sea posting, so he worked as a lecturer at the radio college for a few years. Pedemont was apparently well liked by college students and staff.


The Noongah was under 1600 GRT, so she was not technically required to carry a W/T station and Radio Officer. However, she was a “voluntary fitted vessel” – she was equipped with two battery powered MF emergency transmitters and WW2 era AWA receivers (see picture).

Because she was under the 1600 GRT limit, the authorities occasionally permitted a Radio Officer to be appointed to the ship without the normal 6 months understudy time – i.e. the Noongah could be his/her first ship, solo.

This was the case with Stephen Pedemont – Noongah was his first ship. He joined her in Port Kembla (Wollongong) and sailed with her to Newcastle.

On the morning of the sinking, Pedemont was called by the old man at about 0345.

He sent an XXX (urgency message) to Sydney Coast Radio Station VIS at 0352 which advised that the ship had a 15-degree starboard list, increasing, and unable to be corrected.

This was upgraded to an SOS at 0423.

At 0437 Pedemont sent the last message from the Noongah advising that the ship was being abandoned.

Survivors reported that the ‘abandon ship’ whistle was sounded but before it finished the vessel went under.

A wall of water came over the bridge, the vessel shuddered and went down by the head rapidly at 0440.

Stephen Pedemont’s body was never recovered. He was probably unable to escape from the Radio Room/bridge area before the ship went under.


Sources – marine inquiry transcripts and newspaper reports.


https://www.dropbox.com/s/2e6d04i9m5gowjh/noongah-drp.jpg?dl=1

https://www.dropbox.com/s/87g23t9u4hkdobp/RADIO-ROOM-NOONGAH-1968.jpg?dl=1
 

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I was working for AWA in their head office at this time and the news of the loss of this ship and Stephen was quite a shock. AWA provided R/O's to most Aust vessels at the time.

My brother Chris was in the same class as Stephen at Marconi School in Sydney and as you say Stephen was well liked.
He did his job with professional poise and did all that was expected of an R/O in a distress situation. Vale Stephen
 

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Hi Troppo
I remember the sinking of the Noongah. I was Sparks on a Union Steamship Co vessel, Kaimiro, en route from Brisbane to Sydney (I think). Noongah was 30 or 40 miles from us but owing to sea conditions were making 3-4 knots astern and had been for the last 12 hours. I had never seen such waves and haven't since. I was aware of the sinking only after going on watch as I can't remember the auto-alarm going off. We were not in a position to assist. The outcome of the sinking (loss of life) was only known later. The weather was terrible.
Interestingly, my story is similar to Steven Pedemont's in that I qualified for my 2nd Class PMG at 17 but couldn't receive it until 18 years old. I joined USSCo a month later and did my first trip in September 1968.
Greg
 

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Noongah Memorial service

There was a memorial service for the lost members of the Noongah, held at the Smokey Cape Lighthouse at 10AM on the 25th. In attendance were relatives and friends of the crew. I was a student at Marconi School and met Steve Pedemont, he was a couple of years ahead of me. I remember him coming in to the office in his new RO's uniform. And how subdued the place was as we listened to the reports coming in from the search vessels.
There were two vessels which were often mentioned as "first boats" for junior RO's, the "Noongah" and the "Nilpena". After the loss of the "Noongah" There was never mention of the "Nilpena" as being a "first boat". What happened to her?
 

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Discussion Starter #5
NILPENA

1954-85

1,468 gross tons, 763 net. Lbd: 243'4" x 37'1" x 15'1". (74.2 x 11.3 metres) General cargo vessel built by James Lamont & Co Ltd., Port Glasgow for the Australian Shipping Board. February 1957 transferred to the Australian National Line. June 1971 sold to Simanggang Sawmill Co Pty Ltd, Singapore and renamed Selamat Singgah. May 1975 sold to Southwind Shipping and Trading Co Pty Ltd., Singapore. Sold in 1981 to Hai Lee Shipping and Trading Co Pty Ltd, Panama and renamed Wihar 11. 1983 renamed Atlantic I, and finally as the Rusli 1985. En-route Kakinada-Singapore flooded just west of Little Andaman Island (10.25N/91.15E) 22nd June 1985 and sank 11.32.30N/92.10.6E
 

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Thanks Troppo. We never heard much of her after the Noongah went down. I got the feeling that there was some reluctance for AWA Marine division to assign junior RO's to these small ships, at least that was the way things seemed to us students at Marconi School. I know Mr.Bardwell took Steve's loss pretty hard as did most of us students.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Thanks Troppo. We never heard much of her after the Noongah went down. I got the feeling that there was some reluctance for AWA Marine division to assign junior RO's to these small ships, at least that was the way things seemed to us students at Marconi School. I know Mr.Bardwell took Steve's loss pretty hard as did most of us students.
Yes, Ces was still talking about it 10 years later when I enrolled in 78
 

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Greg,
Did you do a trip on WAIMEA as xtra R/O at that time as I was Apprentice and the name rings a bell to me.

Lindsay B
 

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Hi Lindsay
Yes I did my first trip on Waimea with Bill Canny. 1 trip as second sparky and then solo on Kaitoa with Titch Gibson as Old Man. I certainly remember you and we corresponded thru this medium a few years ago when I joined it.
Thoroughly enjoyed my time with USSCo.
Cheers
Greg
 

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At the time of the Noongah sinking I was serving a stint in the RAN, training (with a bunch of other newly minted 2nd Mates ticket holders) for a Patrol Boat Commander course at HMAS Watson in Sydney. This was a popular course for those MN cadets who'd been lucky enough to have their birth dates chosen for conscription into the armed services.
Navy allowed us to join the maritime unions organised march through Sydney to a memorial service at Town Hall. I remember it all as being pretty gut wrenching, especially for the ANL blokes.
I've attached a fairly rough newspaper photo of the march showing the wreath shaped as a ship's wheel.

PS. None of us on the Patrol Boat Commander course got to serve on a patrol boat, let alone command one.
 

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I sailed with one of the Noongah survivors in the early 80's. He didn't seem to be carrying too much baggage as a result of that trauma, but now and again a little seeped through.
I know if I had been through that, I wouldn't have continued at sea, but he handled it.
 

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Hello everyone

I have had a query re the make/model of tx carried by the Noongah.

Any ideas?

Ta
 

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There was a thank you plaque on the Associated Steamships
MV "Meringa" put on board by some survivors that she had pulled out of the water. They had been in the water for a while and the "Meringa" crew were surprised by the injuries done to their heads by sea birds.
 
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