Cape Jaffa: 100 year old 'Nyora' shipwreck discovered

The shipwreck of a large ocean-going steam tug lost 102 years ago has been found in a remarkable discovery just off Cape Jaffa.

The steam tug Nyora sunk about 50km off Cape Jaffa in a severe storm on July 9, 1917.

The Nyora was towing an American four-masted motor sailing ship Astoria back to Sydney when the tug got into grief. The crew of the Nyora tried to right the vessel and slipped the towline to try and save themselves and the ship that they were towing.

Heavy seas smashed in the engine room door and the tug started to sink stern first.

Fourteen lives were lost, however two crew survived. They clung to and sat on top of a broken lifeboat, pulling a plank off the bottom to row and steer.

At 7.30pm that night the survivors saw the distant light of the Margaret Brock Reef Lighthouse. They paddled and drifted all through the night, and into the morning when they were spotted by the lightkeepers.

The lightkeepers put their lives at risk and rowed through the heavy breakers of the reef to rescue them. The lightkeepers were awarded bravery medals.

Steve Saville, the diver who researched the maritime disaster and discovered the wreck site, said: "This is a remarkable story of tragedy, perseverance and heroism".

"The Nyora had already towed the Astoria to Port Pirie from Sydney. The Astoria's cargo of some 380km of timber were unloaded, and the Nyora was making the return trip when the accident happened.

"The Astoria had two engines which failed not long after arriving in Sydney from Portland, Oregon, USA.

"They could not fix the engines and could not unload. There simply was too much timber. That is why they decided to tow the Astoria to the customer in Port Pirie where it was urgently needed."

The Astoria was too hopeless to help with any rescue. She barely coped. It would be months before she was repaired and made her way back to America.

"The Nyora was a popular tug of Port Melbourne and would be called upon to solve all sorts of shipping problems around Australia. She was very popular with the public and seafarers alike".

The diver contacted descendants of the survivors and a light keeper to share the news of the discovery.

"The discovery has been a collaborative approach", Steve said, adding he had liaised with fishermen who work the waters in the vicinity of where the Nyora was lost.

"A search area was raised, and targets of interest, along with the wider area were investigated."

Steve has raised a report in relation to the maritime disaster. The site is automatically protected under the existing commonwealth shipwreck act, simply because of the age of the vessel.

It is effectively a gravesite, as loss of life occurred within the vessel.

The diver has organised a dinner for descendants of those impacted by the tragedy who he has been able to reach.

The dinner is planned for the evening of Saturday July 6 at Kingston's Crown Inn Hotel.

Locals are welcome to attend. It is hoped that a video of the wreck site, and story of the tragedy can be shared with guests on the night.