On 9 November 1914, the first Australian naval battle took place, starting at Direction Island at the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. It was the Battle of Cocos, between the HMAS Sydney, the SS Emden and a captured coal vessel, the Buresk.
The Sydney and the Emden engaged off Direction Island, before steaming off to North Keeling, where they exchanged fire until the Emden was disabled.
The acrid scent of guns and explosives, the staccato of weapon-fire and the screech of stressed steel as a projectile found its mark. Gun-smoke and steam from the ships’ boiler-engines wreathed the scene like fog from colder climates.
At 11.15 am the Captain of the Emden ran his vessel aground on the reef, the keel screeching and shattering as the waves ground it flat. Smoke rose from the deck.
The Sydney spotted another ship and moved out of range of the Emden to attack again. The Sydney fired on the Buresk. The German crew aboard the Buresk scuttled their vessel, opening up the seacocks, before they took to the boats.
Coal dust spread like a dark cloud of corruption beneath the surface as the Buresk descended to the sea floor.
On both the Emden and the Sydney, 138 people died that day and 82 were wounded.
No human accounts include the deaths of two mermaids and the wounding of another. Nor do they include the eight-year-old mermaid who drove men to madness.
“The Council will believe that the humans caused this disaster on their own and that you fled as the other girls did. No child in living memory could sink a ship with just her voice – and no lone adult could sink two.”
– Sephira, Ocean’s Infiltrator