INDIA. Mumbai: The 80th Commemoration of “S.S.Tilawa,” the British passenger-cum- cargo ship that sank in the middle of the Indian Ocean during the Second World War, claiming 280 lives, was organized by the Maritime Mumbai Museum Society (MMMS) in Mumbai on Wednesday evening.
The British India Steam Navigation Company liner “S.S. Tilawa,” which set sail at 5 PM on November 20, 1942, from Ballard Pier in South Mumbai (then Bombay) for Durban, South Africa via Seychelles, Mombasa, and Maputo, was torpedoed and sunk off Seychelles, by a submarine during WWII.
There were 222 crew members, 732 passengers, nine lifeboats, and over 6,000 tons of cargo, including 60 tons of silver bullion for the South Africa Mint.
In the early hours of November 23, 1942, in the middle of the Indian Ocean, 930 miles northeast of Seychelles, the Japanese Imperial Navy I-29 submarine reportedly twice torpedoed “Tilawa” and sank her. After the first torpedo attack, the first officer transmitted SOS messages.
However, nothing could be done, and with the second torpedo hit, the ship sank quickly. All aboard fought for their lives for the next two days and saw their fellow passengers and loved ones drown to death, as per www.tilawa1942.com.
678 persons were rescued by a Royal Navy Cruiser, HMS Birmingham and S.S. Carthage, and brought back to Ballard Pier on November 27, 1942.
The wrecks of the ill-fated vessel, along with her cargo of 2364 bars of silver with a value of approximately £32 million, were located in December 2017 after 06 months of exploration by London-based Argentum Exploration Ltd.
On Wednesday, Mukesh Solanki and his son Emile Solanki (living in Toronto, Canada), the descendants of the late Nichhabhai Chibabhai Solanki, who perished in the unfortunate tragedy, were present at the event at the Grand Hotel, Ballard Pier. The event was hosted in association with the Maritime Mumbai Museum Society (MMS).
The last known survivor, Arvind Jani (83), who was three years old at the time, was also present. Jani, from South London, U.K, was just three years old when his mother, Vasantagauri, tied her little baby with her saree on her back, grabbed a rope, and jumped into a lifeboat.
“We believe the Indian people should know this piece of missing Indian history from the Second World War. Such maritime historic preservation is also an integral mission for the MMS. Their leadership team extensively supported our efforts to organize this historical event,” Emile Solanki, Founder of tilawa1942.com, said. A commemoration was also organized at the Royal Bombay Yacht Club in Mumbai, India.
It is believed that S.S. Tilawa was the only passenger-cargo liner attacked in the Indian Ocean during the war.
Solankis have raised the following questions: Why did the Japanese attack a passenger-cargo liner? Did the Japanese know about the precious cargo onboard? , Was Tilawa a military threat?, Did Tilawa contribute to the war effort?, Why did the British and Indian Governments authorize a merchant ship to carry passengers? Why did Tilawa not have an escort or have its route patrolled for enemy attack?