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En route from Melbourne to Cairns on the night of 23 March 1911, it steamed into a cyclone and sank without a trace outside Townsville, Australia. The cause of the wrecking remains a mystery.
Cooma avoided the force of the cyclone in shelter of the nearby Cape Bowling Green. Yongala would probably not have suffered this tragedy had it had installed a wireless radio that could have warned them about the imminent danger. Ironically Yongala was due for a refit in Cairns, including installing a radio, at the end of its last journey.
124 passengers and crew were on the manifest. Children were usually not included, so the actual numbers was most likely higher. All passengers and crew perished along with a prize bull and a racehorse named 'Moonshine'.
Located as an 'unidentified wreck' during WWII, Rediscovered in 1958 and positively identified by a serial number on a Chubb strongbox in 1961.
The wreck of Yongala is 109 meters in length. The bow points in a northerly direction (347º), and although it lies listing to starboard at an angle of between 60º - 70º, the vessel's structural integrity has been retained. The depth of water to the sea floor is approximately 30 meters, with the upper sections of the wreck 16 meters below the surface.
The wreck has become an established artificial reef, providing a structurally complex habitat for a diverse range of marine life. The seafloor surrounding the wreck is open and sandy.
In 1981 the wreck was sketched by marine biologist Leon Zann. Although the superstructure of the wreck remains intact and very much like this sketch, the significant build up of sand around the starboard side of the vessel has been scoured away, and the ventilators and railings have collapsed.
The wreck of Yongala lies within the central section of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. It is approximately 48 nautical miles south east of Townsville and 12 nautical miles east of Cape Bowling Green.
SS Yongala is today a major tourist attraction for the dive industry in Townsville.
Currently, only a few boats (2 day trip, and some live aboard) is allowed into the area.
Late 2002, the site had several moorings installed to ensure that no more impact damage occurs by careless anchoring practices. A policy of 'No Anchoring' was also introduced within the protected zone following the installation of the moorings.
The wreck is protected under the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 and is managed through the Museum of Tropical Queensland, Townsville. Penetration diving and interference with artefacts is prohibited under the terms of the Act. Access to the site is through permit only, obtainable from the Maritime Archaeology Section of the Museum of Tropical Queensland
|The ship's bell
|One of the deck lights recovered from the Yongala. Note the delimitation and opaque appearance of the glass panes caused through the uncontrolled and rapid drying of sodium chloride (salt). It was donated to the museum in 1990.