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The Sea Grave

A Japanese ship, with 1,060 people onboard, capsized during the Second World War. More than 84 years have passed since then. However, the ship remained untraced in all these years. A team of deep-sea explorers recently found the ill-fated ship in the South China Sea, northwest of the Philippines’s main island of Luzon.

Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles confirmed the news on April 22, 2023, saying that explorers discovered the ship, SS Montevideo Maru, at a depth of more than 4km (or 2.5 miles). He stressed: “This brings to an end one of the most tragic chapters in Australia’s maritime history. The absence of a location of the Montevideo Maru has represented unfinished business for the families of those who lost their lives until now.

The ship, en route from Papua New Guinea to Hainan (China), was carrying 979 Australian citizens, including at least 864 soldiers, and civilians from 13 other countries. A total of 1,060 people were onboard the vessel during the incident.

For his part, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said: “At long last, the resting place of the lost souls of the Montevideo Maru has been found. Among the 1,060 prisoners of war onboard were 850 Australian service members – their lives cut short.” He further 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. We hope today’s news brings a measure of comfort to loved ones who have kept a long vigil.

Silentworld Foundation, the maritime archaeology group that organised the mission jointly with Dutch deep sea survey firm Fugro and the Australian military, has claimed that it began the search for the wreck on April 6 (2023) near Luzon, and made a positive sighting just after 12 days. According to the Foundation, explorers used high-tech equipment, including an autonomous underwater vehicle with sonar, during the mission.

John Mullen, the Director of Silentworld Foundation, told ABC News Breakfast: “The discovery of the Montevideo Maru closes a terrible chapter in Australian military and maritime history. We were looking at the gravesites of over 1,000 people.” He said: “We lost nearly twice as many (Australians) as in the whole of the Vietnam War. So, it is extraordinarily significant for families and descendants.

Meanwhile, researchers are of the opinion that crewmembers of the US submarine did not realise the Japanese ship was carrying prisoners of war.

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