The 1940 Incident

The EMPRESS OF ASIA was involved in an unusual incident on September 14th, 1940.  When sailing from Kobe to Yokohama and just north of Oshima Island the ship became a victim of an aerial bombing incident.  Over the course of twenty minutes eight bombs were dropped at the ship from high altitude.  The sixth bomb to be dropped struck the ship on the starboard side, piercing Deck A and Deck B and bursting in the Galley along side the vegetable room.

Six crewmembers were injured with Lau Wing Fai, Mak Kwong, and Kwok Shing sustaining the most serious injuries.

Lau Wing Fai�s condition required surgery and he was given a general anaesthetic and operated on by the ship�s doctor Dr. Robert Swan and Dr. S. L. Chiu, who was a passenger on board. Lau Wing Fai was hospitalized in Vancouver upon the ship�s arrival there.

Dr. Swan made special reference to the assistance provided during the medical emergencies by the ship�s nurse Julie Harwood and Frederick Gillespie the ship�s electrician.

When the ship anchored at the Quarantine Station outside of Yokohama, Japanese authorities came on board and brought medical help and offered assistance.

No passengers were injured and no major structural damage was suffered.  The Yokohama dockyard repaired the holes in the two decks, and the ship left for Vancouver without delay.

Japanese authorities explained that student naval pilots were conducting maneuvers at the bombing range near Oshima islands.  The pilots were described as inexperienced and some how managed to mistake the EMPRESS OF ASIA for a target and dropped practice bombs.

Japan issued a statement of profound regret and offered to pay compensation for the damage inflicted.

Canada, after conferring with the government of Japan accepted the Japanese statement of profound regret and their explanation of the incident.

In retrospect the incident did help to illustrate Canada�s growing independence in international affairs.  Japan�s initial overture was to the British legation.  Canadian authorities drew to the attention of Japan and Britain that the EMPRESS OF ASIA was registered in Vancouver and under the authority of the Canadian Department of Trade and commerce and that communications should be appropriately directed to Canadian authorities.

On a more troubling note the ease which the bomb pierced two decks clearly showed how vulnerable an unarmored passenger liner was to air attack.

Crewmembers significantly injured in the September 14th, 1940 incident.




Lau Wing Fai

Saloon Cook

Mak Kwong

Vegetable Cook

Kwok Shing

Vegetable Cook


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