The case of the ship Kobenhavn remains one of the great mysteries of the sea. The ship left Buenos Aires on the 14th of December, 1928, bound for Melbourne, with a crew of 60 men. She was last heard from on the 21st of December, in radio contact with a Norwegian steamer.

Kobenhavn was a nearly-new sail training ship for the Dutch East Asia Company. Built in 1921, she was a five-masted barque of some 3900 tons, and was equipped with a small auxiliary diesel engine. In her seven years afloat, Kobenhavn had an excellent record. The auxiliary engine gave her a distinct advantage over sail-powered vessels, in that she did not require expensive tows in and out of port. The ship was in command of Hans Ferdinand Andersen, who had previously served in her as chief mate. Andersen had made only one voyage in command, an uneventful passage from Copenhagen to Buenos Aires. The passage to Australia would be in ballast, as no cargo could be found for the Kobenhavn in Argentina. This was a simple enough passage, via the Cape of Good Hope and the Indian Ocean. It should have taken perhaps six weeks, with favorable winds most of the way. But, as is often the case, good ships will go missing for no readily explicable reason.

After the 21st of December, 1928, nothing was heard, and no wreckage found, from Kobenhavn. At first, it was assumed that her radio had failed, but when the big ship didn't turn up in Melbourne as expected (she was expected by early February, 1929), a massive search was mounted. The search covered the South Atlantic, Indian Ocean, and the Antarctic, and lasted for over a year.

A missionary on the island of Tristan da Cunha, in the South Atlantic, claimed to have seen a derelict five-masted barque drifting among the island's reefs on the 21st of January, 1929. This story was eventually disproved-- the Finnish four-master Ponape, a similar-looking vessel, was identified as the ship which had passed Tristan da Cunha that day, also bound for Australia but in no distress-- and an extensive search of the island and its reefs turned up no wreckage.

An official inquiry found no fault with the ship, her officers, or the stowage of her ballast, and collision with an iceberg was considered the most likely cause of her loss. The fact that she sailed in ballast may have also played some part in her loss, as the ship would ride higher in the water and could conceivably be capsized by a strong wind from the wrong angle.


Alan Villiers, Posted Missing
Alan Villiers, Sea Dogs of Today
The Maritime History Virtual Archives