The wreck of a Japanese merchant ship has been found in the South China Sea on which more than a thousand prisoners of war perished during World War II. With the help of specialists from the Dutch soil research company Fugro, the Montevideo Maru was found off the Philippine coast at a depth of 4,000 metres, deeper than the Titanic. The shipwreck will be left undisturbed.
The ship was en route from Papua New Guinea to the Japanese-occupied Chinese province of Hainan when it was hit by torpedoes from a US warship on July 1, 1942. The boat capsized and sank in eleven minutes. 1060 POWs died, including 980 Australians and dozens of civilians from fourteen countries, including two POWs from the Netherlands, according to a Red Cross record. The Americans did not know that there were POWs on board.
Most of the prisoners of war were Australian soldiers who were stationed at a British army base near the town of Rabaul, in the Australian part of New Guinea. The base fell into Japanese hands in January 1942, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Montevideo Maru disaster is the worst maritime disaster in Australian history.
The Australian non-profit organization Silentworld Foundation has spent five years preparing for the search for the ship. This month enough data had been collected for a targeted search. The wreck was found after 12 days of searching with the help of the Australian Ministry of Defense and a Fugro vessel and deep-sea specialists. A self-propelled underwater vehicle was used, which scanned the seabed with sonar equipment.
These images from the organization show how the seabed was mapped:
According to a Fugro spokesperson, large parts of the seabed can be mapped quickly. “That is necessary, because the ship lying on the bottom is very small compared to the environment.”
The wreck was found 110 kilometers southwest of the Philippine island of Luzon. Australian Prime Minister Albanese says an extraordinary effort has led to the finding of “the final resting place of the lost souls”. He hopes it will give the relatives “a measure of peace”.