Source of mysterious Tjipetir blocks washing up on European shores finally determined

Michael Walsh
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Tom Quinn Williams

A mysterious block washed up on the shore in North Cornwall, U.K.

For decades, strange blocks inscribed with the word “Tjipetir” have been washing up on the shores of northern Europe without explanation. Now an Englishwoman says the maritime mystery may have been solved.

Tracey Williams, of Cornwall, in the United Kingdom, first stumbled upon one of the large blocks while walking her dog and looking for driftwood on a beach near her home in the summer of 2012.

“I couldn’t quite make out what it was made of. I was intrigued by the name carved into it. I took it home and I Googled the word, but at the time, there was very little information on it,” Williams said in an interview with Yahoo News.

At the time, all she could find online was that Tjipetir was the name of a place in Indonesia.

“I put it in my backyard and forgot about it until a few weeks later, when I found an identical one on another beach,” she said.

Williams heard that these rubber-like blocks had been washing up in France, Holland and Germany  so she launched a Facebook page to bring together disparate people trying to figure out their origin.

The story attracted the attention of oceanographers, divers, historians, journalists and filmmakers.

Many people speculated that the blocks might have come from the doomed Titanic, which sank in 1912, because gutta-percha tablets had been listed on the ocean liner’s manifest.

And the rubbery tablets are most likely to be made of this material, which is formed from the sap of gutta-percha trees found in the region.

But in the summer of 2013, a year after Williams found her first block, she learned about a different possibility.

Two people reached out to her, independent of one another, saying the blocks came from a wreck 150 miles west of the Isles of Scilly, off England’s Cornish peninsula.

“They both suggested the cargo was coming from this Japanese passenger ship called the Miyazaki Maru,” she said. “It was carrying passengers from Japan, heading to London.”

The wrecksite.eu database says a German submarine torpedoed that vessel in May 1917.

The sources knew that the Miyazaki Maru had been carrying the blocks from a rubber plantation in West Java, Indonesia, called Tjipetir.

Williams's sources wish to remain anonymous, but they are not alone in their conviction.

Alison Kentuck, the Receiver of Wreck, who oversees the U.K.’s wreck and salvage laws, agrees that the blocks came from the Miyazaki Maru, BBC News reported.

"Our findings with these particular items pointed towards that particular wreck,” she told the news site. “So although we have not confirmed it, the Miyazaki Maru is our favored possibility as the source of the washed-up blocks."

Still, Williams is not so sure this is the end of the puzzle.

“I think, for me, the story is only just beginning,” she said. “I think there’s always a possibility they are coming from more than one ship.”

The blocks washing up now are likely to be from the ill-fated Miyazaki Maru, but batches discovered decades ago could still be from other ships, she said.

Now Williams wants to learn more about the Miyazaki Maru.

“I’m intrigued by the fate of the ship and what happened to the people onboard. This is just the starting point.”