"Wavescan" is a weekly program for long distance radio hobbyists produced by Dr. Adrian M. Peterson, Coordinator of International Relations for Adventist World Radio. AWR carries the program over many of its stations (including shortwave). Adrian Peterson is a highly regarded DXer and radio historian, and often includes features on radio history in his program. We are reproducing those features below, with Dr. Peterson's permission and assistance.
Wavescan N367, March 6, 2016
QSL of the Week: Emergency Broadcast from a Ship in the Indian Ocean
The Island of St. Paul is located in the southern areas of the Indian Ocean, half way between (Western) Australia and (South) Africa. This very isolated and quite small island is the top of an active volcano. On the map, it is in the shape of a triangle with a large open inlet to the ocean on the eastern side.
The island St. Paul was discovered in 1559 by the Portuguese who were sailing aboard the ship Nau Sao Paulo with Captain Rui Melo da Camara as the commander. The island was claimed for France in 1843, they renounced their claim ten years later, and in 1892, they laid claim once again to this island.
In May 1938, a small group of would be colonists set out from St. Malo on the English Channel in France with the intent of establishing a new colony on St. Paul Island, in spite of the fact that a similar colonial attempt had failed ten years earlier. The new colonists travelled aboard the French trawler, Ile de Bourbon, and they arrived at the island in September after following a circuitous route via ports in Africa, as well as visits to Madagascar and Reunion Island. They intended to support themselves by lobster fishing, for which they had been awarded a government monopoly.
When they arrived at the island, the group of 48 colonists began to establish themselves on shore, though they still used the ship for all the necessities of life, including accommodation.
On December 21 (1938), the ship radio operator tapped out an SOS, an emergency message in Morse Code, stating that they were in need of food and other supplies. This message was heard by Neil Taylor, a 12 year old amateur radio operator living in California in the United States, as well as by another amateur operator in Bremerton, Washington.
The content of this distress message was conveyed to the United States Navy headquarters in Washington, DC, and they flashed the message to the navy cruiser USS Omaha stationed in the Mediterranean, and they passed the information on to the French government who arranged with Madagascar to deliver needed supplies to the stricken survivors at the island of St. Paul.
It so happened that international radio monitor William Palmer in Ohio also heard this doleful message in Morse Code and he sent a reception report to the radio officer aboard the Ile de Bourbon. Two years later, he reported to the American radio magazine, the Globe Circler, that he had received a QSL from the ship, verifying his reception of the SOS emergency call from the ship in the bay at the island of St. Paul.