Fifty years since sinking of the Blythe Star: Hobart plaque unveiled alongside sole living survivor and families of the crew members

Published: 19 Oct 2023







19 OCTOBER 2023


After fifty years, the families and sole surviving crew member of the Blythe Star, have come together in Hobart to unveil a plaque dedicated to the sinking of the Blythe Star, just six months after they learned where the ship rests on the seafloor of the South Pacific Ocean, off the South West Cape of Tasmania.


The plaque, planned to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the sinking, took on a new, special meaning with the shock discovery of the Blythe Star earlier this year by the CSIRO.


The 44-metre motor vessel (MV) Blythe Star was a coastal freighter that disappeared off Tasmania nearly 50 years ago. The vessel was travelling from Hobart to King Island when, on 13 October 1973, it suddenly capsized and sank off the southwest coast of Tasmania. All 10 crew members were able to escape the sinking vessel into an inflatable life raft.


Tragically, three crew members – 2nd Engineer John 'Jack' Sloan, Chief Engineer John Eagles and and Chief Officer Ken Jones – died before the survivors were able to find help and be rescued 12 days later on 24 October 1973.


One of the survivors, a plucky 18 year old named Mick Doleman, would survive the tragic and harrowing ordeal to go on and lead his seafaring comrades as a branch official with the Seamen’s Union of Australia and then the Maritime Union of Australia as its Deputy National Secretary, for over 30 years.


Mick Doleman, who is now the sole living survivor, attended the plaque unveiling and joined with the families of his former shipmates to commemorate the loss of three lives fifty years ago and the lasting impact the sinking had on the lives of the other seven crew members who managed to survive the ordeal. In attendance were over 200 guests including family, friends, maritime workers and government representatives, including the Governor of Tasmania, Her Excellency the Honourable Barbara Baker AC, who addressed the assembled crowd and paid tribute to the crew, their families and the improvements to maritime safety that had been achieved in the decades since.


After the tragedy and returning to sea, Mr Doleman would go on to devote his working life to the safety and welfare of maritime and waterside workers as a national official of the Maritime Union of Australia; from which he retired in 2014.


Organised and installed by the Blythe Star memorial group in partnership with the Maritime Union of Australia’s Tasmanian Branch, the plaque includes a permanent QR code that points to a new memorial site hosted by the Maritime Union of Australia at that will document the Blythe Star disaster, the crews' stories, and the surprise discovery of the shipwreck 50 years after its disappearance.


The Blythe Star’s tragedy arose from the Tasmanian Transport Commission’s indifference to safety and their mishandling of earlier critical incidents. On an earlier voyage with empty tanks, the ship had almost capsized, but no changes were implemented, no lessons learned and no information provided to future crews to prevent disaster.


The location of the MV Blythe Star was confirmed by the CSIRO’s Marine National Facility, using its research vessel, the RV Investigator, on 12 April 2023 during a 38‑day research voyage to study a submarine (underwater) landslide off the west coast of Tasmania. This voyage included a piggyback project to investigate an unidentified shipwreck which had been pinpointed by fishing vessels and previous seafloor surveys in the region.


This involved the systematic mapping of the unidentified shipwreck using multibeam echosounders and then a visual inspection using two underwater camera systems. The mapping data and video imagery collected by the CSIRO was able to confirm that the shipwreck was the MV Blythe Star.


According to the CSIRO, the wreck of the MV Blythe Star is located approximately 10.5 km west of South West Cape, Tasmania and lies in 150 metres of water. The investigation showed the vessel is intact and sitting upright on the seafloor, with its bow pointing northwest. The visual inspection using the underwater cameras was able to identify key features to confirm the wreck was the MV Blythe Star. This included identifying part of the vessel name – ‘STAR’ – on the ship’s bow. 


The discovery marks the final chapter of an Australian shipping tragedy that had a lasting impact on the management and regulation of Australian shipping in the latter half of the 20th century.




MEDIA CONTACT: Tom Harris-Brassil 0401 834 924

Blythe Star Memorial website:



Authorised by P Crumlin, Maritime Union of Australia, Sydney