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ORYOKU MARU and BRAZIL MARU (December, 1944)
These two 7,000 ton Japanese passenger ships were being used to transport some 1,619 American prisoners of war, mostly officers, to Japan. Marched through the streets of Manila from the Bilibid POW Camp to Pier 7 for boarding, the prisoners were crammed into the holds, standing room only. Also on board were around 700 civilians plus 100 crew and 30 Japanese guards. Already overloaded, the Oryoku Maru then took on about 1,000 Japanese seamen, survivors of ships sunk in Manila Harbor. She was spotted on her next day out at sea by U.S. Navy planes from the carrier USS Hornet and attacked. The Oryoku Maru sailed into Subic Bay in the Philippines and ran aground to prevent her sinking. The attack continued over a period of two days, in which 286 U.S. POWs were killed. The survivors, numbering 925, who were forced to swim ashore, were then transported by truck and train to San Fernando and thence to other ships, the Enoura Maru and Brazil Maru.
The Brazil Maru, which also carried a cargo of 12,000 bags of sugar, sailed for Japan on January 14, 1945. Conditions on board were indescribable, hundreds dying on the way from the cold, lack of air and water. On arrival at Moji in Japan two weeks later, only 475 were alive. Of these, 161 died within the first month ashore. Of the original 1,619 Americans on board the Oryoku Maru, around 300 had died.