Australian maritime archeology group Silentworld Foundation has discovered the wreck of the Montevideo Maru, a Japanese ship that sank off the Philippines in July 1942, killing more than 1,000 POWs as well as 20 Japanese crew. The ship was torpedoed by a US submarine—the USS Sturgeon—unaware that the people aboard were being transported, after having been captured in Papua New Guinea. It took just 11 minutes for the stricken vessel to disappear beneath the waves, and only 100 Japanese crew and guards escaped on three lifeboats.
The not-for-profit Silentworld Foundation worked with Dutch deep-sea survey company Fugro, whose autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) located the wreck at a depth of more than 13,000 feet—deeper than the Titanic—just 12 days after the search began on April 6th. Maritime archeologists, conservators and other specialists then took several days to verify the wreck.
“It was a moment of emotion to see the images of the ship, the closed hatch covers where prisoners were kept on the voyage,” Captain Roger Turner, a technical specialist on the search team, told the BBC. “Many years were invested in this, and more than that, the descendants of the victims number in the thousands. Two who were on board spent much of their lives researching the events, tracking down as many victims as they were able.”
The news is hugely significant for Australia, as an estimated 979 Australians died in what is the country’s worst maritime disaster. “At long last, the resting place of the lost souls of the Montevideo Maru has been found,” said Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. “We hope today’s news brings a measure of comfort to loved ones who have kept a long vigil.”
Silentworld has said that the wreck will not be disturbed; neither human remains nor artefacts will be removed. As Capt. Turner put it: “It’s a war grave now, it’s a tomb that must be treated with appropriate respect.”
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