June 24, 2009

MV Pulau Kijang and the Unidentifiable Bodies

Dec 26th 1973. Many would not remember the tragic date in Sarawak history.

Timothy is the first on the left of last row - the First Sixth Form of Tanjong Lobang School 1964.

I have two inside stories which some how have come to light over the years:

The Graves in Sarikei which mark the tragedy and commemorate the unidentifiable victims and the inside story (The JKR story)

When the Pulau Kijang tragedy happened the whole Sarikei town was actually paralysed by over work! Every one was on over drive. They helpful people from all the government departments including KD Rajang personnel from Sibu worked around the clock. Outsourcing was the rule of the day in fact as Sarikei was a small town then. Personnel was short and so much had to be done according to a cousin of mine. Every one was helping out amidst the wailing and the gloom. It was unbelieveably tragic. And it was happening to folks from all races. The people were all united in grief.

As usual the JKR was given the task to do most of the preparations for the burial of the victims who were not claimed for burial as they were unidentified. If it had been a Chinese tragedy the onus of the task would be in the hands of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce or another Chinese organisation. If it had been another race I suppose it would have been farmed out racially. But this time the dead bodies could not even be recognised at all racially.

According to the then JKR Engineer -in- charge Timothy Liaw Aik Hon DNA testing was sadly not available in Dec 1973.

More than 40 graves were dug almost non stop manually by the JKR staff. Timothy Liaw said "Each grave was dug by 4 workers as the site was very very soggy and JKR bulldozer and excavator got stuck in the muddy hill.The rain was continuous for weeks and the site chosen was a previously cultivated pepper hill which was easily soaked with the rain water,making it inaccessible to any machinery."

The then CM (now Tun Abdul Rahman Yacob) was to be present at the burial ceremony. Because the JKR staff were not undertakers and (they were doing all these on top of their daily laborious work )they forgot the essential ropes for lowering the coffins!

According to Timothy Liaw he was able to instruct one of his very trusted and capable staff at the last minute to rush to the town to buy them. He rushed back while the ceremony was about to start. Bless his soul!

The ceremony was attended by all the Sarawak dignitaries who could come and many other religious leaders !

It was a nerve wracking experience for all the JKR staff and especially the Engineer in Charge.

Timothy who is a former student of Tanjong Lobang School Miri today lives a very retired but enriching life and he continues to contribute to the society.

More than thirty years down the road of history it also surfaced that three Ibans from Limbang were travelling in the ill fated MV Pulau Kijang. A father (Sangah) and his son and Sangah's brother.

Apai Sangah was very sick at that time and was also an asthmatic and when the boat listed he was actually suffering from an asthmatic attack. His son Sangah and his brother saw that he was already very weak and help was needed. It was very chaotic with screaming every where and decisions were hard to make. All they could do was to grab something which could float for him to hang on to.

However the uncle and nephew tried their very best to swim in the heavy rain and strong ocean currents. They were lucky they said for they found each a biscuit tin and they floated for what seemed a long time in the sea. Finally when day light came some fishermen helped them out of the sea. They thought they were quite far away from their destination.

A few days later they realised how terrible the tragedy was and Apai Sangah could not be found.

Sangah as he was only a child then could not even identify his father's body with his uncle's help. Uncle and nephew went went back to Limbang very tragically disappointed and grieving.

Until today the family had not been informed of any new findings. They would never have a grave for Apai Sangah. It was good that the JKR had helped bury so many dead bodies.

Could one of the dead be Apai Sangah?

My previous post on the tragedy in Sarawakiana:



Yan said...

I was there. I remember the lining up of bodies in the library(?). I remember my classmate's dad was one of the victims. I remember the tears, the cries ...

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Yan

It must have been a terrible time.

As for me I was preparing for my wedding on l.l.1974. throughout the preparation we were thinking about the deaths and losses.

So many stories still cannot close.

United Daily is running a long series of stories. Hope I can get some of the newspaper cuttings.

It must have been still painful for your classmate until today.

Greenspot said...


Don't they use dental record to identify in those days?


Sarawakiana@2 said...

Yes they used dental records and the special expert Daisy was called in from Sibu to help out. But unfortunately so many from the ulu would not have left any dental records!

I am just wondering how it worked out then.

Daniel Yiek said...

Tragic. I was a small kid and saw all these helicopters ferrying the corpes into the town's padang. It was kopitiam talk for days.

I Am Sarawakiana said...

Yes the weather was very gloomy and all the armed forces were helping out. The government departments too were working over time especailly the hospital staff.

I remember my relatives relating a lot of stories about the deaths of many of their known friends. But with time the sadness also dissipated and many of them have "forgotten" the actual stories by now.

Hope you get the soft and hard copies of the write ups from the United Daily.

Ketam said...

I remembered Pulau kijang well as it always berthed at a jetty behind Padungan road in Kuching where my aunt was a hawker there.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Nice to hear from you. Yeah Padungan is a place with lots of memories for most people.

It was very sad indeed for the coastal shipping era when Pulau Kijang sank..killing too many people.

gilley said...


I am an ex-Sarikei resident and neighbour of Timothy Liaw. I think his wife's name is Patricia. Do you have their e-mail address so that I could contact them?

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