The SS Montevideo Maru, a Japanese transport ship that was torpedoed by a US submarine in 1942, has been located by deep-sea explorers. The ship was carrying over 1,000 prisoners of war, including nearly 1,000 Australian citizens, when it was sunk off the coast of the Philippines. The location of the wreck had remained a mystery for over 80 years until it was discovered by the maritime archaeology group Silentworld Foundation. The vessel was found at a depth of more than 4 km (2.5 miles) and the discovery comes ahead of April 25 commemorations for Anzac Day, a major day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand for their troops killed in all military conflicts.
The sinking of the Montevideo Maru was Australia’s worst maritime disaster, killing an estimated 979 Australian citizens including at least 850 soldiers. Civilians from 13 other countries were also on board, bringing the total number of prisoners killed to about 1,060. The crew of the US submarine that sank the ship were unaware that it was carrying prisoners of war.
Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese expressed his relief at the discovery of the wreck in a tweet, saying “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.” He added that he hoped the news would bring comfort to loved ones who have kept a long vigil.
Australia’s Defence Minister Richard Marles also commented on the discovery, saying “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 Silentworld Foundation, which organised the mission to locate the wreck, used high-tech equipment including an autonomous underwater vehicle with sonar to make the positive sighting just 12 days after beginning the search. John Mullen, director of the foundation, said “The discovery of the Montevideo Maru closes a terrible chapter in Australian military and maritime history. We’re looking at the gravesite of over 1,000 people. We lost nearly twice as many [Australians] as in the whole of the Vietnam War, so it’s extraordinarily significant for families and descendants.”
The discovery of the Montevideo Maru comes as a relief to the families of those who lost their lives in the tragedy and provides closure for a tragic chapter in Australia’s maritime history. The find also serves as a reminder of the sacrifices made by those who served their country during times of war.