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Fifteen die in mysterious shipwreck

24 November 1959

Holmglen (2), painting by Wallace Trickett

All hands were lost when the modern coastal freighter Holmglen foundered off the South Canterbury coast. The cause of the tragedy was never established.

The 485-ton Holm Company motor vessel was bound from Dunedin to Whanganui when it sank about 40 km east of Timaru. A Mayday signal and a rushed radio message that the ship was heeling heavily to port were received on shore, but searchers found only a large oil slick and floating debris. Further searching led to the recovery of three bodies and an upturned lifeboat.

A Court of Inquiry was unable to establish the cause of the tragedy. The Holmglen was only three years old and was not overloaded. Although the weather at the time was poor, it should not have troubled a vessel of its size. There was speculation that shifting deck cargo, or some other instability, caused the ship to suddenly heel.

An examination of the wreck by divers and a remotely operated underwater vehicle in 1999 failed to shed any further light on the loss of the ship. 

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Fifteen die in mysterious shipwreck, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated