(LANKAPUVATH | COLOMBO) – Deep-sea explorers have found the wreck of a Japanese transport ship which sank off the Philippines, killing nearly 1,000 Australian troops and civilians in World War Two.
It was Australia’s worst maritime disaster: a US submarine torpedoed the ship unaware that it was packed with prisoners captured in Papua New Guinea.
The Montevideo Maru sank in July 1942.
An estimated 979 Australians died, along with 33 Norwegian sailors and 20 Japanese guards and crew.
An Australian maritime archaeology group, Silentworld Foundation, organised the mission, helped by a Dutch deep-sea survey company called Fugro.
The wreck was located by an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) at a depth of more than 4,000m (13,123ft) – deeper than the Titanic wreck.
Captain Roger Turner, a technical specialist in the search team, told the BBC that “it’s a war grave now, it’s a tomb that must be treated with appropriate respect”.
The closest the AUV got to the wreck was 45m, he said.
“It was a moment of emotion to see the images of the ship, the closed hatch covers where prisoners were kept on the voyage.”
The wreck will not be disturbed – human remains or artefacts will not be removed, Silentworld said.