105th Anniversary of the SS Koombana disaster

On 20 March, 1912, the passenger, cargo, and mail-carrying ship SS Koombana encountered a tropical cyclone off Western Australia, killing 74 passengers and 76 crew members.


Most of the tale is known from the captain of the SS Bullarra that survived the disaster.  Despite a falling barometer and a strong northeasterly wind, the Koombana departed Port Hedland for Broome that morning, with the Bullarra following shortly afterward.  A few hours after departure, the ships encountered a heavy gale, and the ships were separated.  The Bullarra reported that the cyclone’s eye had gone directly overhead, ripping the smokestack from the ship.  It made it back to the port at Cossack, but the Koombana was never seen again.  Only a few small parts of the Koombara were recovered from subsequent searches.

The cyclone made landfall two days later just west of Balla Balla, with damage reported along at least 200 km of the sparsely populated coastline.  As a result of the loss, the Adelaide Steamship Company pulled out of the region, and the state-run State Shipping Service took over ship transport in the region, a franchise it still runs.

The search for the remains of the Koombana continue, including a 1987 investigation by the NOAA Hurricane Hunter Aircraft as part of Project Magnet.

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