SYDNEY, Australia, April 21, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — The wreck of the Montevideo Maru, one of the worst international maritime disasters in history, has been located at a depth of more than 4,000 metres off the coast of the Philippines – 80 years after it was sunk by an American submarine during World War II.
The location of the Japanese transport ship has been an enduring mystery since it was torpedoed on July 1, 1942 by the USS Sturgeon. Unbeknown to the submarine, the Montevideo Maru was carrying prisoners of war and civilians who had been captured in the fall of Rabaul in Papua New Guinea a few months earlier.
Approximately 1060 prisoners, both military and civilian, were lost. An estimated 979 Australians perished in the disaster, the worst in Australia’s maritime history. Onboard were 33 crew from Norweigen freighter the Herstein, who died together with 20 Japanese guards and crew.
The tragedy impacted at least 14 countries, including: Australia, Denmark, England, Estonia, Finland, Holland, Japan, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Scotland, Solomon Islands, Sweden and the United States.
The wreck was discovered on an extraordinary mission put together by Australia’s Silentworld Foundation, which is dedicated to maritime archaeology and history, and Dutch company Fugro, deep-sea survey specialists, with support from Australia’s Department of Defence.
The search commenced on April 6 in the South China Sea, 110km north-west of Luzon. After just 12 days (April 18), a positive sighting was recorded using state-of-the-art technology, including an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) with in-built sonar.
It took a number of days to verify the wreck using expert analysis from the project team, comprising maritime archaeologists, conservators, operations and research specialists, and ex-naval officers.
It has taken nearly five years of planning by Silentworld and 20 years of dedication from the Montevideo Maru Society to assemble the expedition team, led by Australian businessman, maritime history philanthropist and explorer John Mullen, the director of Silentworld.
“The discovery of the Montevideo Maru closes a terrible chapter in international military and maritime history,” Mr Mullen said.
“Families waited years for news of their missing loved ones, before learning of the tragic outcome of the sinking. Some never fully came to accept that their loved ones were among the victims. Today, by finding the vessel, we hope to bring closure to the many families devastated by this terrible disaster.
“I would like to express my gratitude to all of the dedicated Silentworld team involved in this expedition, to the outstanding Fugro crew and technical team on board the Fugro Equator, and to the Australian Department of Defence for their unwavering support.
“I am proud to be the citizen of a country that never forgets or stops looking for those lost in the course of duty, no matter how many years may pass.”
The wreckage of the Montevideo Maru, sitting at a deeper depth than the Titanic, will not be disturbed. No artefacts or human remains will be removed. The site will be recorded for research purposes out of respect for all the families of those onboard who were lost.
Details of any commemorative events will be provided at the appropriate time. Descendants of the Montevideo Maru may register their details to be kept informed at https://www.army.gov.au/our-work/unrecovered-war-casualties/register-us
Media Assets HERE (including b-roll, images from the discovery and archives).
For interviews contact eckfactor for Silentworld Foundation: +61 (0) 438 532 569 Karen@eckfactor.com.
About Silentworld Foundation
John and Jacqui Mullen are the founders and directors of the Silentworld Foundation. John is also Chairman of Telstra and Brambles Ltd, and Chairman of the Australian National Maritime Museum. The not-for-profit Silentworld Foundation based in Sydney supports and promotes Australasian maritime archaeology, history, culture and heritage. It also operates a private museum dedicated to understanding our nation’s early maritime history and supports annual expeditions and other ventures seeking a greater understanding of our past. The discovery of the Montevideo Maru is another high-profile success story. Amongst others, in 2017 Silentworld participated in the finding of HMAS AE1, Australia’s first submarine. In 2009, the Foundation solved a 180-year mystery by locating the wreck site of HMCS Mermaid, lost on a coral reef off the Queensland coast in 1829. Website: https://silentworldfoundation.org.au
A photo accompanying this announcement is available at https://www.globenewswire.com/NewsRoom/AttachmentNg/0708c898-695f-4e16-b9a1-9810b501f446