The Royal Australia Navy decommissioned the HMAS Bombo in February 1946 and sent her to undergo a conversion from a war ship back to a coastal trader.
At Captain Bell's discharge from the RAN on December 7, 1944, the RAN immediately drafted him into the RAN Reserves. Captain Bell, at 61, and Arthur Lightburn, the cook, two original crew members of the SS Bombo before the war, joined the vessel again in 1947 on her return to the east coast.
The SS Bombo then made her second maiden voyage into Kiama on Tuesday, September 9, 1947. The Maritime Services Board inspector, Ronald Creasey, inspected the vessel in July 1948 - all her lifesaving equipment and lifeboats' launching gear for a crew of 16 - and reported that all were in good order.
The ship's history tells us that on a couple of occasions she encountered bad stormy seas. One such encounter in February 1937 caused her to develop a severe list.
On Tuesday, February 22, 1949, the SS Bombo, carrying 600 tons of metal, left Kiama in good weather just before midday with a crew of 14 and Brownie, the ship's dog.
The pilot remarked to the captain: "The ship is lighter than usual. The Plimsoll line is well above the water line".
About 3pm, with the ship about five miles off Stanwell Park, the weather began to turn nasty. In the heavy seas that followed, the SS Bombo began to list to port. Captain Bell alerted chief engineer Percy Carroll that he was turning the vessel around. After the manoeuvre to head south, the captain, around 9pm and five miles north-east of Wollongong, planned to go to Port Kembla Harbour until daylight. Approaching Port Kembla, the vessel listed further to port and the captain ordered all hands on deck. The crew lowered a lifeboat at the starboard side. Just when the list increased, most of the crew grabbed a lifebuoy and jumped into the sea. Only 10 out of a crew of 14 made it into the water. The captain called out to the men: "Stay together!"
Less than two minutes after abandoning ship, she keeled over and sank just north of Flinders Island, taking four crew members with her to their deaths. About 4am on Wednesday, with dawn breaking, the survivors saw the shoreline and tried to swim towards it despite heavy seas. Fireman, 49-year-old Michael Fitzsimmons, successfully reached Bulli Beach. Meantime, Bulli Surf Life Saving Club member Percy Ford launched a surf ski and saw able seaman, 57-year-old Thorvald Thomson, floating in the distance and rescued him with the help of George Brown wearing a belt with a line.
Brownie, the ship's dog, after swimming five miles, survived the ordeal and safely reached Bulli Beach covered in grease and sand.
Two RAAF Catalinas, flying as low as 500 feet, patrolled the coast, dropping flares where objects were sighted.
On February 24, Captain Bell's body was recovered from the sea near Coledale. First Mate Henry Stringer's body was found on Corrimal Beach. The bodies of Percy Carroll, Charles Barhen, W. Cunningham, John Stevenson, Edward Nagle, Ernest Norris, Thomas Belvoir, Arthur Lightburn, G. Riddell and Laurence Lucey were never recovered.
The Court of Marine Inquiry, presided over by Judge Stacey, was held at No. 2 Court Queens Square, Sydney, on April 6, 1949. Judge Stacey gave the verdict: "The Court finds that the ship was properly loaded and handled in a seamanlike manner by her master. It finds there is no evidence on which any findings can be made as to the actual cause of the ship foundering".
The District Coroner at Bulli, R. Dunlop, took the evidence of Dr R. Goldie that the autopsy on the bodies of Captain Bell and Henry Stringer attributed their death to drowning.
In June 1949, The Royal Shipwreck Relief and Humane Society awarded Percy Ford a gold medal and certificate and George Brown a bronze medal and certificate.
The SS Bombo's service to Australia came to an end only 19 years after she left Leith, Scotland.
Information courtesy of Carol Herben OAM. Call 0409832854 or email firstname.lastname@example.org