SS Kuala

The SS Kuala was a small coastal ship converted into an auxiliary vessel.

While still taking on passengers, SS Kuala was attacked by wave after wave of enemy aircraft, killing dozens of passengers including an Army nurse. The ship was carrying 600 people, 500 of whom were civilians. Half of these were women and children. Scores were injured by shrapnel fragments and flying glass. It left Singapore on February 14th as the Japanese advanced.

There were about 50 nurses on board, including civilians and military nurses from the other services. The master of the Kuala had decided to sail at night when they were less visible to aircraft, and lie to during the day. They had just sent men ashore in boats to Pom Pong island to camouflage the ship with branches and thatch when the planes came over. The women heard a warning shout to take cover and the ship was rocked by a massive explosion as the bridge suffered a direct hit and the boiler room caught fire.

With the stricken vessel sinking fast the order came to abandon ship. There were only two lifeboats and not nearly enough lifebelts – all were forced to jump from the blazing ship into the water where a fierce current was sweeping away from the island and out to the open sea, and the Japanese came back and strafed them, hitting one of the lifeboats and catapulting the passengers back into the sea. Some survivors were picked up by the SS Tanjong Pinang, which was itself sunk a day later.