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The Voyage of
In late 2001 a tortoiseshell-and-white cat made international news when she took an unscheduled trip from New Zealand to South Korea on a methanol tanker a journey of nearly 10,000 kilometres.
She had been adopted by Colin Butler at the time manager of the Port Taranaki tanker terminal in New Plymouth, New Zealand when she was abandoned there in the early 1990s. She became known to the terminal staff as Colin's Cat or simply Colin's. She quickly made herself at home and became the 'port cat' and a favourite with people there. A very vocal lady, she became renowned for her apparently insatiable appetite and for using every opportunity to persuade people to give her food. She soon figured out the shift system, such that staff going off duty would feed her before they left, and then she would approach the incoming workers to feed her again.
And it was her appetite that in November 2001 led her to go on board a tanker, when she 'spoke' to one of its crewmen, the second engineer, and followed him. He thought she must be hungry and took her on board to give her some food. This he did, then both man and cat fell asleep in his cabin. Unfortunately when they woke up the ship had left port and was on its way to South Korea! Colin's was said to be 'a bit seasick at first', but soon gained her sea-legs and settled down to the maritime routine. Ship's captain Chang Seong-mo sent photos of her back to the port by e-mail to reassure staff there that she was alive and well.
Meanwhile, back at Port Taranaki, when it became known where she was, various schemes were suggested for recovering the traveller. At first it was thought she could stay aboard until the tanker returned; but then it was discovered that the fairly old tanker Tomawaka was in fact on her final voyage and due to be scrapped at the end of it. The next plan was to effect a ship-to-ship transfer of the wandering feline on the high seas, so that she could be put on a tanker bound for New Zealand. However, that was deemed unsafe, not just for Colin's but because of the risk of collision or explosion that would be involved in bringing together two such very large ships at sea. So Colin's remained on board for the duration of the voyage some 18 days, after delays due to bad weather.
Terminal superintendent Gordon Macpherson decided he would fly to Korea to meet the ship and collect the cat to bring her back home; it was he who had taken over responsibility for her when her original owner had left the terminal. With much international interest in her exploits, with friendly assistance from Korean Airlines, and following an approach from the port authorities, the makers in NZ of Whiskas cat food agreed to sponsor her return trip with Gordon.
He therefore flew to Yeosu, the tanker's destination port, and stayed in a hotel to await the ship's arrival. Korean quarantine authorities cooperated by allowing Colin's to be met straight off the ship and then be transported in a sealed carrier to Seoul airport for her return flight, without going into quarantine. A staff member from the authorities supervised the transfer with Gordon. Four Korean camera crews recorded the happy reunion with him. When he collected her, 'She purred a lot and seemed pleased to see me,' he said, 'although she was a bit confused by all the people.' He added, 'I'll have to give her a talking-to and tell her not to speak to strange men in future.'
Colin's carrier was allowed to be placed next to him on the return flight; and on 5 December the cat and her owner returned triumphantly to New Plymouth. Mayor Peter Tennent announced that she would be awarded a certificate and medallion as an honorary ambassador of the city on behalf of the people and felines of New Plymouth, 'in recognition of her involvement in the enhancement of international relations' and for the publicity she had generated for the city and for the port of Taranaki.
New Zealand quarantine authorities had issued a special permit for her return, and so a white limousine, several TV cameras and a host of still cameras were at the airport to greet Gordon and his charge. When they eventually arrived back at the port and Colin's could be let out of her carrier, more than 50 staff turned out to cheer and welcome her, together with the mayor and also representatives of the Taranaki Cat Club, who made her an honorary member. She wasn't that keen on all the fuss, but finally she was taken away from all the people and allowed to pursue her normal routine although with the gift of a lifetime supply of Whiskas cat food donated by the makers!
Early in 2005 Port Taranaki posted a web page with an update on Colin's just over three years after her globe-trotting adventure. [The page was updated to note Colin's passing in May 2007 see below but the account of her trip is still there Ed.] It says she was about 12 years old and seemed 'older and wiser', not straying far from home. 'She occasionally wanders down the wharf with me,' said Gordon, 'but she doesn't go on board vessels any more. She's never been as adventurous since her epic voyage, but she still hunts and stalks seagulls sometimes.' And she had received a visit from her original owner at the port, Colin Butler.
Colin's died on 15 May 2007 of ill health and old age; she was 16 years old. She's been commemorated with a beautiful plaque, and is buried in the garden close to the entrance to the watch house, where she spent so much time. We're very grateful to Robin ('Biggles') Maindonald, Communications and Security Officer at Port Taranaki, for taking the trouble to inform us and for sending the photos below. He reports that she will be very much missed, as she was always there at shift changeover time for many years (when she wasn't on the high seas, that is!). He also has this delightful anecdote:
The Port Taranaki page mentioned above notes the passing of Colin's and includes some heartfelt tributes to her. In addition she has a mention from the port's Chief Executive in his report on page 2 of the Portal magazine, and her career is reprised and further warm tributes made on pages 10 and 11.
This account was written from the text and photos on the websites mentioned, used with the kind permission of the Business Development Manager at Port Taranaki, Jon Hacon, to whom many thanks.
Other accidental travellers and various stories of cats' adventures are in our Featuring Felines section
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Our featured feline at the head of the page is Simon of HMS Amethyst.
He remains the only cat ever to have been awarded the Dickin Medal for gallantry under enemy fire,
in what became known as the 'Yangtse Incident' (1949).
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