“Pitcairn, Pitcairn, this is motor vessel TIBERBORG”. That is how Captain Leo de Jong first contacted the tiny Pacific island. The Tiberborg’s visit there was a very special experience that he and his crew really enjoyed. And not only they: the locals were more than honoured by the visit of the merchant ship. Brenda Christian, the Pitcairn Islands Police & Immigration Officer, and Leo de Jong look back at a special experience.
A long crossing
“After almost two weeks in the cold and snow at Baie Comeau (Quebec),” says Leo, “the Tiberborg set out on its way to New Orleans to unload aluminium blocks. We were all very happy to be going to somewhere warmer, even though it hadn’t been that bad in Canada. As a follow-up, we were commissioned to load pet coke in Darrow (US) America and then aluminium fluoride in Tampico (Mexico) for transport to Portland (Australia). We slowly prepared for a long crossing during which we would pass by a number of very special islands, the Pitcairns: Pitcairn Island itself, and Oeno, Ducie, and Henderson. During that long journey, the crew became increasingly interested in Pitcairn. We watched a number of documentaries about the islands, including episodes of ‘3 on a Journey’, by the Dutch TV presenter Floortje Dessing. We chatted about the islands whenever we took a break. Finally, on 31 January, we were almost there: mid-morning the following day we would arrive, which would suit the locals too.”
“They showed that being at sea all over the world still has its charms! I’m thankful to the freight department for arranging this beautiful trip.”
“It was 8 a.m.,” says Leo, “and according to our course we would pass Pitcairn in about two and a half hours’ time. We called up the island on VHF via channel 16 and were almost immediately answered by a woman ashore.” Brenda takes over: “Every household on Pitcairn has a VHF, so we were all very excited to suddenly get a call from a ship. Our deputy mayor, Charlene Warren-Peu, was happy to answer”.
Leo agrees: “She immediately sounded enthusiastic and we decided to make a short stop.” Brenda: “When we heard the ship mention stopping, we quickly informed all the islanders. The men were all working in different places on the island, but as soon as they heard the news they finished off what they were doing and started getting ready for the visit.”
Leo: “We still had a bit further to go, but soon Pitcairn came into view. When we were a few miles off, they called us back on VHF. We agreed on a position where they would come aboard. That was about one sea mile north of Bounty Bay.”
“When we heard the ship mention stopping, we quickly informed all the islanders.”
Brenda: “Meanwhile, we were busy making preparations. We got together some fruit and fish, packed souvenirs in boxes, and waited for Charlene to ring the bell. In the old days, before we had radios or telephones, the bell was used for signalling. It’s still in use today, so if you hear it ring five times you go to ‘The Landing, Bounty Bay’ and get the longboat ready to sail. Once it’s been launched, we load it with goods. And then you just wait for the captain to call to say that the ship is ready to receive us.” Leo: “Not much later, we were ready. I let the islanders know on the VHF that we would be there around 10.30 a.m. And then the ‘longboat’ – which is what they call their boats – came alongside with ten islanders in it. We saw immediately that the boat was laden with baskets of fruit, including complete bunches of bananas and even a fish about 2 metres long. We first lugged all the stuff on board and the Pitcairners then quickly climbed on board.”
“When we were on board, the crew greeted us warmly by our names,” says Brenda. “That was a bit of a surprise, because we had never met. But somehow they seemed to know us already.” Leo agrees: “That’s right. We knew well beforehand that we’d be passing Pitcairn, so we’d been able to prepare.”
On board the Tiberborg, it was all hustle and bustle. “They were all really nice people,” says Leo. They’d brought bags full of souvenirs, which they displayed in the messroom. The one woman among them, Betty Christian, also had a customs stamp, and she stamped the passports for the whole crew to prove we’d been there. Brenda: “Time really flew by. Before we knew it, it was time to pack up our stuff, took some pictures to remember by, and climb back on board the longboat.”
In the end, the Pitcairners’ visit took only two hours but generated so much goodwill among the people. “It had been a long time since a cargo ship had stopped here,” says Brenda. “The last one had been the MV Anna K on 24 September 2016, so the visit by Tiberborg was very special for us.”
“It was very special for us too,” says Leo. ”It didn’t involve ETAs or complicated lists by e-mail but just people who were happy to see us and who brought all kinds of things for us. They showed that being at sea all over the world still has its charms! I’m thankful to the freight department for arranging this beautiful trip.”
“It was very special for us. It didn’t involve ETAs or complicated lists by e-mail but just people who were happy to see us!”
Pitcairn is the only inhabited island in the Pitcairn Islands group, located in the southern Pacific Ocean between Easter Island and French Polynesia. It’s about 5 km² in size and has a population of about 40. It doesn’t have an airport or a harbour, and can only be reached by a ship anchoring in Bounty Bay. That’s only possible in good weather; in bad weather, ships just have to sail on by. The island is considered to be one of the most remote places in the world.
Pitcairn is known for the legendary mutiny on the HMS Bounty in 1789, during which the mutineers forced the captain and 18 of his men overboard into the ship’s boat. The nine mutineers, led by Fletcher Christian, colonised a remote island in the Pacific Ocean: Pitcairn. Most of today’s islanders are descendants of the mutinous crew of HMS Bounty.