The wreckage of a WWII Japanese ship transporting over 1,000 Allied prisoners of war was discovered in the South China Sea.
A team of explorers announced that the Montevideo Maru was located after a 12-day search at a depth of over 4000 meters (13,120 feet) — deeper than the Titanic — off Luzon island using an autonomous underwater vehicle with in-built sonar.
The ship was torpedoed off the coast of the Philippines in 1942, resulting in Australia’s largest maritime wartime loss with a total of 1,080 lives.
There will be no efforts to remove artifacts or human remains out of respect for the families of those who died, said a statement Saturday from the Sydney-based Silentworld Foundation, a not-for-profit dedicated to maritime archaeology and history.
It took part in the mission together with Dutch deep-sea survey specialists Fugro and Australia’s Defense Department.
“The extraordinary effort behind this discovery speaks for the enduring truth of Australia’s solemn national promise to always remember and honor those who served our country,” Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said. “This is the heart and the spirit of Lest We Forget.”
At long last, the resting place of the lost souls of the Montevideo Maru has been found.
Among the 1,060 prisoners on board were 850 Australian service members – their lives cut short.
We hope today’s news brings a measure of comfort to loved ones who have kept a long vigil. pic.twitter.com/husOu6peUL
— Anthony Albanese (@AlboMP) April 21, 2023
WWII Ship sunk in 10 minutes
The Montevideo Maru was transporting prisoners and civilians who were captured after the fall of Rabaul in Papua New Guinea.
The ship was not marked as carrying POWs, and on July 1, 1942, the American submarine Sturgeon, after stalking the ship through the night, fired four torpedoes, which found their target, sinking the vessel in less than 10 minutes.
Those killed included 1,080 people from 14 nations, including 979 Australians.
“Families waited years for news of their missing loved ones, before learning of the tragic outcome of the sinking,” said Silentworld director John Mullen.
“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.”
Some have questioned whether some or all of the POWs were aboard the ship and not massacred earlier. Others believe that some of the Australians survived, only to die later.
Of the known survivors, the only one to ever be questioned was former merchant seaman Yoshiaki Yamaji. In a 2003 The 7:30 Report interview, he stated that he was told that some of the POWs had been picked up and taken to Kobe.
Veteran Albert Speer, who served in New Guinea, believes that survivors were transported to Sado Island, only to perish days before the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan.
Professor Hank Nelson considers it unlikely that any Japanese ship would have stopped to rescue prisoners with a hostile submarine nearby.