Impact of Typhoon Wanda on shipping in Tolo Harbour
Tymon Mellor: When you look at aerial images of Hong Kong, there are always interesting features to note. The 1963 aerial image of Tolo Harbour reveals a number of grounded vessels – what is their story?
On the 1st September, 1962 Typhoon Wanda, one of the most severe storms to hit the territory, made landfall. With maximum wind speeds of up to 260km/hr and 263mm of rain, there was extensive damage across the territory. In Tolo Harbour the winds combined with a 5m storm surge resulting in the grounding of multiple ships and the destruction of a third of the Tai Po fishing fleet.
Typhoon Wanda formed east of the Philippines in late August, 1962, tracked north-east to Hong Kong resulting in the typhoon warning signal number T1 being issued at 7:45pm on the 30th August, 1962. As the winds started to pick-up, the signal was elevated to T3 at 4:10pm on the following day. With squally winds and the start of the rains, the storm was still 250 km south east but it was clear that the typhoon was heading towards the territory. The T8 signal was issued at 10:50pm on the 31st August, 1962 as the storm approached. By the early morning of the 1st September, 1962 the storm was 80km away and looking to be a direct hit, and the T10 signal was issued at 6:15am. The storm’s approach coincided with a high tide and a flood warning for low-lying land was issued. The sea levels were forecast to be 1.8m higher than normal around the coast and even higher in Tolo Harbour.
The centre of the storm passed 16km south of the Observatory at 9:50am on the 1st September, 1962 moving south-west at 11 knots. The mean wind speed of 144km/hr and a maximum speed of 250km/hr was recorded at the Observatory at 9:30am. By the afternoon, the typhoon had passed over Lantau and wind speeds dropped allowing the signals to be cancelled by 12:45am on the 2nd September, 1962[i].
As Wanda pass over the territory, the wind and rain damaged buildings, resulting in 130 deaths and 53 missing persons[ii]. In addition, the weather destroyed squatter areas resulting in 72,000 people being made homeless. Within the Hong Kong waters, of the 132 ocean-going ships, 24 were beached and 12 were involved in collisions. Of the 20,287 smaller craft, 726 were wrecked, 571 were sunk and 756 damaged.
More than 700 squatter and roof top huts were destroyed and 1,300 were made uninhabitable. Numerous houses collapsed and in Shau Kei Wan many squatter boats were wrecked by logs that had broken adrift from nearby timber yards. In addition, over 400 huts in cottage areas were destroyed and 1,200 damaged.
The typhoon disrupted the field crops, fruits, vegetables and flowers in the New Territories. About 650 acres of paddy fields in the Tai Po, Sha Tin and Sha Tau Kok areas were inundated with sea water and the annual rice production was reduced by nearly 20% compared with the previous year.
Tolo Harbour Storm Surge
Tolo Harbour normally provided safe haven for ships with up to 8m draft to anchor during inclement weather. However, in certain circumstances such as created by Wanda, the harbour was susceptible to extreme tides.
The harbour is surrounded on all sides by mountains, resulting in rapid run-off and flash floods during heavy rains. With the sea area similar to the catchment area in size and with a restricted connection to the sea, the harbour sea level rises in response to intense rain-fall. Thus, as Wanda passed over, the 100mm of rain resulted in the harbour sea level rising by nearly 200mm. The typhoon force winds resulted in tidal waves sweeping across the confined waters. However, the major impact of Wanda was the low atmospheric pressure associated with the typhoon. With a low pressure of 953.2mbar, the typhoon created a dome of sea water nearly 0.5m high coving over an area of up to 160km across. As this approached the shallow Tolo Harbour, the level sea level rose an additional 3m, and combined with 2m high wind driven waves, the shores were inundated. The strong winds broke ships’ moorings and the vessels were thrown against the shore, sitting high and dry once the storm surge receded.
Shatin airfield was extensively damage by the storm requiring the operations to move to Kai Tak and ultimately the abandonment of the facility[iii]. Tai Po had a fishing fleet and of just over 1000 boats, and more than 300 of these were wrecked or sunk.
A number of ships sank in Hong Kong harbour including the ‘Cronulla’ which capsized near West Point and the ‘Tung Feng’ which sank near Green Island. Six ships were grounded on the north shores of Lantau but the worst location was Tolo Harbour where many ships were driven aground. Of the 24 beached ships, 11 were sold for scrap and the remainder were recovered.
The ships in Tolo Harbour impacted by the storm were:
- ‘Crescent’ a 7,176T Panamanian registered vessel and former Liberty Ship[iv] [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberty_ship]. The ship was wrecked on the south shore of Tolo Harbour and sold to a local ship-breaker for scrap[v].
- ‘Hai Jye’ a 1,267T cargo ship grounded on the east end of Harbour Island, Plover Cove in front of Sam Mun Tsai village. The ship had been part of a long running ownership dispute that had only been resolved by the courts in August of 1961. The ship was sold to a local ship-breaker for scrap.
- ‘Vinkon’ a 7,150T British registered freighter was driven aground near Tai Po Kau, adjacent to the KCRC railway. The wreck was sold to the Hong Kong Chiap Hua Manufactory Co[vi] in late 1962 who dismantled the vessel for scrap.
- ‘Ocean Venture’ a 5,102T Panamanian registered cargo vessel driven ashore on the north tip of Harbour Island. The ship was sold in late 1962 for scrap.
- ‘Norelg’ a 4,238T Panamanian registered cargo vessel was driven ashore on the east side of Ma Shi Chau. Sold to local ship-breakers for scrap.
- ‘Fortune Lory’ a 7,062T Hong Kong registered cargo ship was grounded against the south side of Plover Cove but was re-floated and returned to service.
- ‘Bogota’ a Panamanian registered cargo vessel was grounded on the north side of Harbour Island but was re-floated.
Frozen In Time
In January and February of 1963, a detailed aerial survey was undertaken of the territory, and the photographs were high resolution providing a detailed picture of the territory. Looking at Tolo Harbour, it is possible to see the ships wrecked by Typhoon Wanda, a lasting memory of the impact of the storm. All of these sites would go on to be submerged following the construction of the Plover Cove reservoir.
[i] Typhoon Wanda, HKO, https://www.hko.gov.hk/en/informtc/no10/wanda/wanda.htm
[ii] Typhoon Wanda, HKO, https://www.hko.gov.hk/en/informtc/no10/wanda/wanda.htm
[iii] Sha Tin Airfield https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sha_Tin_Airfield
[iv] The Victims of Hong Kong Typhoons – 1960-1980s, Geoff Walker, Shipping Today and Yesterday https://www.shippingtandy.com/features/the-victims-of-hong-kongs-typhoons-1960s-1980s/
[v] Last ship wrecked by Wanda sold for scrap, SCMP 13 Jan 1963
[vi] Last ship wrecked by Wanda sold for scrap, SCMP 13 Jan 1963
This article was first posted on 14th September 2021.
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- Ship breaking in Hong Kong – post WW2
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- Ship breaking in Hong Kong – Junk Bay 將軍澳 – late 1970s
- China Daily article – ship breaking in Hong Kong, 1959 largest of any port worldwide
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