1955 Pacific mystery to be finally marked

Nearly 57 years after 25 people vanished from a boat in the South Pacific, a memorial service – the first for the missing – is to be held at Parliament tomorrow.

Around 250 people, including family of the dead from around the world, will be present to commemorate the strange story of the MV Joyita, which disappeared on a voyage that began on October 3, 1955, from Apia in Samoa, then under New Zealand rule, to the colony of Tokelau.

The waterlogged boat was found five weeks later in Fiji waters, but there was no sign of the 25 people aboard.

The fate of the passengers and crew has never been determined and as Police Conduct Authority investigator Luther Toloa puts it, they have "has simply withered into the backblocks of New Zealand history."

The service to be held in Grand Hall at 5pm comes as Tokelau's Ulu, or head, Hiano Kalolo is in New Zealand pleading with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to honour a long standing promise to replace the now ancient boat which serves the 1400 Tokelauans living on three atolls 300 kilometres north of Samoa.

A commission of inquiry, assisted by a young lawyer who later became chief justice, Ronald Davison, found "the fate of the passengers and crew as inexplicable on the evidence submitted...."

The commission determined that engine failure and damaged communication equipment were the cause of the vessel's demise. 

Pacific Islands Affairs Minister Hekia Parata and Foreign Affairs Select Committee chair John Hayes will lead tomorrow's serve.

"It is the first time that families and those associated with the boat have come together to do so after all these years," Toloa says.

Two memorial plaques will also be blessed and dedicated and then sent to be erected in Apia and the Tokelau atoll of Fakaofo.

"The plaques have the full names of all those who disappeared, something nobody, official or otherwise, has bothered about in the past, particularly the proper names of the Pacific Islanders."

The youngest victim was a three year old girl and the oldest a 66-year-old businessman.

Immediate and extended family members of 20 of the 25 will attend the service and diplomats will represent families not attending.

For Toloa, the service comes after three years work, primarily to locate and speak to families of the missing and discuss the project as well as to confirm their true names.

He is also planning an application to the Solicitor General or the High Court directing a Coroner to hold a coronial hearing and formally declare these people, the vast majority of whom are New Zealanders, are indeed dead.

"This should have been done 49 years ago," he says.

He says he always wanted a ceremony in Parliament to stand up and say that these families deserve their time together, deserve some acknowledgement and some closure.

"Somehow it seems that these families have been treated differently.

"Maybe it is because it happened in some far flung Pacific island some distance from New Zealand mainland."

Meanwhile the Ulu is expected to press Wellington on replacing the 20-year-old small open ferry, MV Tokelau.

The New Zealand government first revealed plans for a replacement in 2005.

It has assumed new importance following the Princess Ashika ferry disaster in Tonga and this year's Rabaul Queen sinking in Papua New Guinea.