The Montevideo Maru was discovered off the coast of the Philippines 80 years after it sank, killing about 980 Australian troops and civilians.
The wreck of a ship involved in Australia’s worst-ever maritime disaster has been found 4,000 meters below the sea, 80 years after it was torpedoed by a US submarine.
Discovered off the coast of the Philippines, the Montevideo Maru sank with about 980 Australian troops and civilians aboard – nearly twice as many Australians killed as during the Vietnam War.
The USS Sturgeon torpedoed the Japanese transport ship on July 1, 1942 during World War II, unaware that it was carrying POWs and captured civilians.
About 1,060 prisoners died in the sinking, with aboard ranging from a 15-year-old boy to men in their sixties.
The captives had been captured months earlier during the fall of Rabaul.
The Japanese transport Montevideo Maru that killed nearly 1,000 Australians when it was sunk by a US submarine off the Philippine island of Luzon on July 1, 1942. The incident represents the largest wartime loss of Australian life
A team set out on April 6 to find the wreck in the South China Sea, northwest of Luzon, and discovered it after 12 days, using state-of-the-art technology, including an autonomous underwater vehicle.
It took the group of marine archaeologists, conservators, operations and research specialists and former naval officers several days to verify that the wreck was indeed the Montevideo Maru.
The mission has been put together by Sydney’s Silentworld Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to maritime archeology and history, together with Dutch deep-sea research specialist Fugro.
The Department of Defense also backed the project to find the wreck, which Silentworld director John Mullen said closed a “terrible chapter in Australian military and naval history”.
“Families have waited years for news of their missing loved ones before learning of the tragic outcome of the sinking,” said Mullen, a philanthropist and naval history explorer.
“Some have never fully accepted that their loved ones were among the victims.
“Today, by finding the ship, we hope to put an end to the many families devastated by this terrible disaster.”
Andrea Williams, an Australian whose grandfather and great-uncle died in the Montevideo Maru disaster, was among those on board when the wreckage was discovered.
She is a founding member of the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society, founded in 2009, which represents the interests of the descendants.
Australian Army nurses lay wreaths at a ceremony in Rabaul, PNG, in 1946 to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the sinking of the Montevideo Maru
Ms Williams described the discovery as marking an “extremely momentous day” for Australians involved in the disaster.
“Because I had a grandfather and great-uncle as civilian internees on Montevideo Maru, the story was always important to me, as it is to so many generations of families whose men have perished,” she said.
“I could never understand why it wasn’t a more powerful part of our Australian WWII history.”
The wreck will be left undisturbed, no human remains or artifacts will be removed, and the location will be recorded for research purposes out of respect for families.
The Montevideo Maru lies at a depth deeper than the Titanic.
Australian Army chief Lieutenant General Simon Stuart said soldiers fighting to defend Rabaul met a terrible fate on the ship.
“Today we commemorate their service and the loss of everyone on board, including the 20 Japanese guards and crew, the Norwegian sailors and the hundreds of civilians from many countries,” he said.
The expedition to find the Montevideo Maru was years in the making, with Silentworld scheduling the discovery mission for five years and Montevideo Maru Society devoting two decades of dedication to assembling the expedition team.