22 April 2023
The shipwreck of Australia’s largest loss of life at sea has been discovered, more than 80 years after it sunk.
Japanese merchant vessel the SS Montevideo Maru was sunk on 1 July 1942 off the coast of the Philippines after setting sail from the former Australian territory of New Guinea.
The ship was carrying approximately 1,060 prisoners from at least 14 countries, including 850 Australian service members from Rabaul. The ship was not marked as a Prisoner of War transport.
The number and identity of those on board the Montevideo Maru was not fully revealed until after the war, but the location of the shipwreck has remained a mystery.
81 years after its final voyage, the resting place of the Montevideo Maru has been discovered.
The search was led by not-for-profit Silentworld Foundation, deep-sea survey specialists Fugro, and supported by Defence.
At over 4000m depth, the wreck is deeper than the RMS Titanic, and it’s hoped the discovery will bring relief to the families of the Australians on board.
Quotes attributable to Prime Minister, the Hon Anthony Albanese MP:
“At long last, the resting place of the lost souls of the Montevideo Maru has been found.”
“We hope today’s news brings a measure of comfort to loved ones who have kept a long vigil.”
“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. This is the heart and the spirit of Lest We Forget.”
Quotes attributable to Deputy Prime Minister, the Hon Richard Marles MP:
“For 81 years, hundreds of Australian families have waited for news of this shipwreck. It is my great privilege to confirm their loved ones have been found.”
“Finding the Montevideo Maru has been a remarkable effort by a passionate team of researchers and the Silentworld Foundation, supported by dedicated Defence personnel.”
“I also acknowledge the generous support from the Philippines authorities in permitting this search.”
“These Australians were never forgotten. Lost deep beneath the seas, their final resting place is now known. This remarkable discovery is a reflection of who we are as a nation and remarkably close to our day of national commemoration; Anzac Day. We will remember them.”
Quotes attributable to Chief of the Australian Army Lieutenant General Simon Stuart
“The Australian soldiers, sailors and aviators who had fought to defend Rabaul had enlisted from across the country to serve, met a terrible fate at sea on the Montevideo Maru.”
“Today we remember their service, and the loss of all those aboard, including the 20 Japanese guards and crew, the Norwegian sailors and the hundreds of civilians from many nations.”
“I want to thank the Silentworld team and the dedicated researchers, including the Unrecovered War Casualties team at Army, who have never given up hope of finding the final resting place of the Montevideo Maru.”
“A loss like this reaches down through the decades and reminds us all of the human cost of conflict. Lest We Forget.”
Quotes attributable to the director of Silentworld, John Mullen:
“The discovery of the Montevideo Maru closes a terrible chapter in Australian military and maritime history.”
“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.”
A video message from the Deputy Prime Minister is available here.
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