Sunken shipping salvage problems in Hong Kong harbour post Second World War

2/9/21 Peter Cundall has very kindly sent additional information about and images of some of the vessels mentioned below.  I have highlighted these in blue.

IDJ has sent the following newspaper article published in June 1947.

HF: I have retyped the article….. If I am uncertain of the writing I have indicated this by [?]. I would be grateful for clarification.

It would also be useful if anyone could send images of the individual ships mentioned below, either afloat or sunk.


Harbour Clear in 18 Months

The activities of the China-based American Air Force after 1942 and the memorable occasions in January 1945 when Admiral Halsey’s fleet approached within a few hundred miles of the Colony have left as a legacy one particular problem with which it has been necessary to deal most urgently in order not to imperil the reputation of Victoria Harbour as a safe anchorage and thereby burden ship owners with excessive insurance charges.

A Chinese Merchantman sunk in Hong Kong Harbour
(art) Made by: Rosoman, Leonard Henry (RA) 1945-09-17

On the re-occupation of the Colony a trip down the Harbour for a large vessel resembled an obstacle race owing to the necessity for avoiding the large number of vessels which had been sunk there during the war.

These comprised 18 ocean-going vessels ranging from 1,000 to 15,000 tons and a large number of launches, tugs, ferries, landing barges etc. The majority of the large vessels were lying awash and were easily identifiable but the craft in the second category were scattered all over the harbour and identification presented a difficult problem.

Great credit is due to the Royal Navy for their splendid salvage work from the reoccupation to October 1946. Owing to shortage of staff and equipment, Government was quite unable to deal with the matter during this period and relied exclusively on the Navy for assistance. The Navy and sub-contractors employed by the Navy raised ten major and sixty minor wrecks. The most notable task undertaken by them was the raising of the “Yamasati [?] Maru” from alongside Taikoo Docks.

PC: The first ship mentioned is Yamasachi Maru (Yamasati Maru is a Kokutai spelling of the same name) that can also be spelt Yamako Maru or Sanko Maru.

Yamasachi Maru                                42           5948       Yamashita Kisen(Tanker – conv)                        

At Miike the ship loaded Students in Military Reserve that were to be offloaded at Singapore. Near Takao indications of a large Carrier Taskforce air raid were received and the ship was urgently diverted to Hong Kong. 16/10/44 dropped anchor and in the same hour a B29 and three B25’s flew over and attacked with a bomb hitting the ship aft. The ship required one month to repair. 16/11/44 departed port for Singapore but as leaving the ship’s bottom was wrecked by a mine explosion and again returned to dockyard for repair. 8/12/44 as the ship was departing port attacked again by enemy aircraft and hit by a bomb in the engine room. On 16/1/45 [apparently alongside wharf at Taikoo Dock] again bombed and engine room and oil tank No.4 directly hit and ship sunk. 21 crew killed.

Peacetime K. Name shown as Sanko Maru but this is a clear error given Yamashita naming policy but ship appears under this name in Mono 116. See excellent photos of ship believed to be Yamasachi Maru under air attack at Taikoo dockyard 16/1/45 in AWM 305152 and postwar in Syd Heal’s “The Ugly Ducklings”p.73.Ship not apparently sunk but CTL from bomb damage.

Yamasachi Maru At Hong Kong Postwar Peter Cundall

Yamasachi Maru At Hong Kong postwar Courtesy: Peter Cundall

Hong Kong Taikoo Dockyard Under US Air Raid Yamako Maru Peter Cundall

Hong Kong Taikoo Dockyard under US air raid Yamako Maru Courtesy: Peter Cundall

In November 1946, responsibility for salvage work was accepted by the Civil Government with the approval of His Majesty’s Treasury which authorised the expenditure of one million dollars.

Salvage Expert

The transfer of responsibility did not however, entail a break in continuity as Government was able to secure on transfer the services of Captain W.A. Doust C.B.E., who had been in charge of Naval salvage operations since the outbreak of the war, firstly as Deputy Director of Salvage, Admiralty, and subsequently attached to the successive invasion forces as Principal Salvage Officer.

He has spent all his life in salvage work, having been a member of the London Salvage Association and subsequently, during the war, having been attached to the Admiralty in view of his specialised knowledge. It may thus be said that salvage in Hong Kong and the activities of Captain Doust are virtually synonymous.

The remainder of the staff consists of engineers and divers lent to the Government by the Navy, assisted where necessary by members of the Public Works and Harbour Departments. The Government has also hired the requisite salvage equipment and chartered the crane ship “Seishu Maru,” which was one of the most modern Japanese salvage vessels and was based at Singapore throughout the war.

PC: The crane ship Seishu (which can be spelt Seisyu in Kokutai spelling) was as the account correctly states a crane ship specifically built  in 1927 for handling the 305mm guns of battleships disarmed under the Washington Treaty of 1923. The guns were removed from the warships and after overhaul were transferred to various shore locations as coastal artillery. During the war the ship transferred to Singapore and after the war was transferred to Hong Kong but sank in a typhoon in July 1946. A picture (courtesy Tappmann collection) taken at Shanghai in 1937 is attached.

Craneship Seishu, Shanghai 1937, Courtesy Tappmann Collection

Craneship Seishu, Shanghai 1937 Courtesy: Tappmann Collection

Mansan Maru

One of the biggest tasks was the wreck of the Japanese vessel “Mansan Maru” lying just under a 100-ton crane at Whampoa Dock. It was necessary in this case to cut the vessel under water (by means of the latest oxy-arc underwater torch which was developed by Captain Doust and his associates at Trincomalee) into three sections of which two, the bow and the stern, displacing approximately 600 and 600 tons respectively, have already been removed.

An attempt to raise the midship portion of this vessel presented complex problems. Firstly, this section, displacing over 1,000 tons, was up-ended and swung around clear of the base of the 100-ton base, in which position an attempt was made to lift it clear of the berth, but the 9-inch steel hawsers used for the purpose parted.

Divers using underwater cutting torches accordingly reduced the weight by cutting away the superstructure, thereby freeing a passage to the boilers which were sealed and filled with compressed air. A final attempt was made to lift the section on Sunday, May 18, and the operation was successfully completed to schedule, thus liberating a most valuable berth for commercial usage.

PC: Mansan Maru is an apparent error for Bunzan Maru that was sunk as per the account below:

Bunzan Maru                       41           1990       Miyachi Kisen

3/10/44 departed Sandakan, Borneo. 11/10/44 entered Hong Kong Port. 15/10/44 moved over to Kyuryu (Kowloon). The ship entered the graving dock. 16/10/44 while in the dock bombed and sunk in an air attack. Repairs were not possible and the ship was a total loss. 8 of the crew were killed.

A photo of her sister ship the Buzan Maru is attached- no photo of Bunzan Maru is known to exist. There are some doubts as to the provenance with some records suggesting the ship had engines aft, which clearly is not the case in the photo.

Buzan Maru, Undated, Courtesy Peter Cundall

Buzan Maru, undated Courtesy: Peter Cundall

At Taikoo

Another vessel which presents special difficulties is the “Gouverneur General Varame”[?] adjacent to Taikoo Dock. This vessel, which was in course of demolition by the Japanese during their occupation of Hong Kong, is a tangle of twisted debris with 17 feet of the bottom embedded in the harbour. The removal of this craft involves the most arduous and hazardous diving operations, for in order to place the 9-inch lifting wires in position the divers are using high pressure jets to make tunnels under the embedded ship.

PC: The Gouveneur General Varame (sic) refers to Teiren Maru ex Gouveneur-General Alexandre Varenne sunk as below:

Teiren Maru                          09           3040       Teikoku Senpaku ex Gouveneur General A Varenne (Fr)

1/12/43 at anchor off Hong Kong when bombed and sunk in an air attack.

Operated by Toa Kaiun. Sunk in Taikoo Dockyard.

A photo of the ship under her previous name, Van Linschoten is attached.

Van Linschoten Aka Gouveneur General A Varenne Courtesy Peter Cundall

Courtesy: Peter Cundall

In addition to the above, the Government have raised the Japanese vessel which was a menace to small vessels outside Causeway Bay, the river steamers “On Lee” near Taikoo Dock and “Tung On” outside the typhoon anchorage in Kowloon Bay, together with about 40 minor wrecks.

PC: On Lee was seized by the Japanese and was sunk as Anri Go No,2 as below:

Anri Go No.2                        09           1026       War Captured      ex On Lee (Br)

16/1/45 anchored off Hong Kong when bombed and sunk in an air attack.

Tung On was built in 1924 and was 1950 gross tons and owned by the Tung On SS Co. On 13/12/41 the ship was scuttled during the attack on Hong Kong. Unlike many others ships the ship was not raised and repaired by the Japanese and, as related, the wreck was scrapped in 1948.

Photos of On Lee and Tung On can be found on Old China Ships Website  on the Other Canton River Ferries listing.

The sequence of raising vessels has throughout been conditioned by the potential danger caused by the wrecks and by the urgent need to clear the cites[?] of wharves and dockyards, but it was only natural that certain wrecks had to wait, owing to special problems attendant on their salvage.

18 Months

It has all along been the intention of Government to reduce expenses to a minimum so that the financial burden on the tax-payer will be as light as possible. Some of the wrecks are, of course, financial liabilities, but the sale of scrap from them and the debiting pf expenses incurred on behalf of the rest to the owners or purchasers has meant that the figure of one million dollars authorised by the Treasury at Home should be more than sufficient to cover this programme.

The salvage team is carrying on and though work is complicated by the absence of ship plans, which are being sought for in Japan, and the fact that none of the vessels remaining can be raised by orthodox methods of patching and pumping, it is hoped that the task will be completed within 18 months.


Wreck Of Itsukushima Maru

The wreck of Itsukushima Maru, a Japanese tanker that sank in Hong Kong harbour in World War 2 and was salvaged in 1954 (Photo: Courtesy of Howell Green and

Source: The China Mail 3rd June 1947


  1. Information about Captain W.A. Doust
  2. Sunken shipwreck in Hong Kong harbour likely that of HMS Tamar,  SCMP article

This article was first posted on 15th August 2021.

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. Leung Man Kwong (梁文廣) – clearance of HK harbour post WW2 and founder of Universal Dockyards
  2. Unnamed freighter – sunk in HK harbour WW2 – later broken up Yau Tong/Lei Yue Mun

Our Index has a number of articles about Shipping in Hong Kong, please look under Ship, Ships and Shipping.

Also about Hong Kong during the War under World War Two.

One comment

  • I am researching British civil engineer Guy Maunsell of Maunsell Sea Forts fame. In WW2, he built a single submersible catamaran – known as the Landing Craft Gun (Tower) 1943. In the book ‘Maunsell – The Firm and its Founder’ – privately published 2005, there is a picture of the craft being built and The Imperial War Museum has photographs of a model of the craft.
    The book states that ‘it was sold after the war. The purchaser took the vessel to Hong Kong and for many years it was used to recover sunken yachts and boats from the harbour’.
    Have you ever heard of this vessel and if so, what happened to her??

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