Shipwreck of worst maritime disaster in Australia where over 800

The shipwreck of the worst maritime disaster in Australia’s history has been discovered over 80 years since the tragic incident occurred.

Japanese ship SS Montevideo Maru was transporting more than 1000 prisoners of war and civilians captured from Papua New Guinea township Rabaul, when it was sunk on July 1, 1942 off the coast of the Philippines.

More than 1000 people died in the incident including 850 Australians.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he hopes the discovery will bring comfort to family members who have “kept a long vigil”.

“At long last, the resting place of the lost souls of the Montevideo Maru has been found,” Mr Albanese said.

“The extraordinary effort behind this discovery speaks for the enduring truth of Australia’s solemn national promise to always remember and honour those who served our country.

“This is the heart and the spirit of Lest We Forget.”

The vessel was shot by an American submarine that wasn’t aware it was carrying prisoners of war and captured civilians as it was unmarked.

A search led by non-profit organisation Silentworld Foundation, deep-sea survey specialists Fugro and supported by Defence was successful with the ship located reportedly in the South China Sea after about two weeks of looking.

According to the Foundation’s social media, they used an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle with in-built sonar which found a possible sighting of the wreck.

At a depth of 4000 metres, the SS Montevideo Maru was found at a deeper distance than the Titanic.

“A team of experts, including maritime archaeologists, conservators, operations and research specialists and ex-naval officers, worked for days to verify the wreck,” they said.

“The search, and discovery, is the culmination of five years of planning from Silentworld Foundation, and 20 years of dedication from the Montevideo Maru Society.

“The wreck lies in over 4000 m of water, deeper than RMS Titanic and there will be no efforts to remove artefacts or human remains.”

Chief of the Australian Army, Lieutenant General Simon Stuart reflected on the service and loss of all those aboard the ship.

“The Australian soldiers, sailors and aviators who had fought to defend Rabaul had enlisted from across the country to serve, met a terrible fate at sea on the Montevideo Maru,” he said. 

“Today we remember their service, and the loss of all those aboard, including the 20 Japanese guards and crew, the Norwegian sailors and the hundreds of civilians from many nations.

“I want to thank the Silentworld team and the dedicated researchers, including the Unrecovered War Casualties team at Army, who have never given up hope of finding the final resting place of the Montevideo Maru.

“A loss like this reaches down through the decades and reminds us all of the human cost of conflict. Lest We Forget.”

The wreck is set to remain undisturbed, while recording for research purposes will take place non-invasively out of respect for the families of the lives lost.

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