Expedition locates wreck of World War II-sunk ship Montevideo Maru

Monday, April 24, 2023

Montevideo Maru circa 1941.
Image: Australian War Memorial.
A loss like this reaches down through the decades and reminds us all of the human cost of conflict. Lest we forget.

—Lt. Gen. Simon Stuart

On Saturday (Friday UTC), Australian Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles announced on Twitter a team led by the Australia-based Silentworld Foundation had located the South China Sea wreck of the Montevideo Maru. The ship was a Japanese merchant marine vessel carrying prisoners of war (POWs) when the United States Navy torpedoed it in 1942, during World War II, killing 1,080.

The ship's wreckage was found northwest of Luzon, Philippines, over 4,000 meters (13,123 ft) down, deeper than the wreck of the RMS Titanic.

Accompanied by deep-sea specialists from Dutch company Fugro and supported by the Department of Defence, the Silentworld team searched for twelve days around Luzon using an unmanned underwater vehicle equipped with sonar.

On July 1, 1942, POWs captured in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea were en route to Hainan, which was under Japanese occupation, aboard the Montevideo Maru. The POWs were both civilians and military and were citizens of fourteen countries; 864 were of the Australian Army.

The ship was not marked as carrying POWs and a submarine of the United States Navy fired torpedoes at the ship, sinking it.

Efforts to recover human remains from the Montevideo Maru were not planned according to the Silentworld Foundation; however, the Foundation was considering commemorative events for July 1, the anniversary of the sinking.

"This brings to an end one of the most tragic chapters in Australia's maritime history," Marles said. "[Knowing] the location of this wreck provides comfort and relief to so many Australian families."

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said: "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".

"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," Lieutenant General Simon Stuart said. "A loss like this reaches down through the decades and reminds us all of the human cost of conflict. Lest we forget."

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