A special and moving ceremony on a ship off The Philippines has honoured long-lost wartime dead from 14 countries, including Australia and Japan.
It came after a search vessel finally located the wreck of the Japanese transport ship Montevideo Maru, which sank with the loss of approximately 1080 lives more than 80 years ago on July 1, 1942.
Its whereabouts had been one of the enduring maritime mysteries of World War II. The majority of those killed were Australians, approximately 979 soldiers and civilians. It was that country”s worst maritime disaster and made all the more poignant because the Montevideo Maru was sunk by a submarine of its American ally, the USS Sturgeon. Unbeknown to the submarine, its target was carrying Allied prisoners of war and civilians who had been captured in the fall of Rabaul in New Guinea a few months earlier.
The wreck was discovered in 4000-metre waters on an extraordinary mission put together by Australia”s Silentworld Foundation, which is dedicated to maritime archaeology and history, and Dutch company Fugro, deep-sea survey specialists, with support from Australia”s Department of Defence.
The search commenced on April 6 in the South China Sea, 110km north-west of Luzon. After just 12 days (April 18), a positive sighting was recorded using state-of-the-art technology, including an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) with in-built sonar.
It took a number of days to verify the wreck using expert analysis from the project team, comprising maritime archaeologists, conservators, operations and research specialists, and ex-naval officers.
It has taken nearly five years of planning by Silentworld and 20 years of dedication from the Montevideo Maru Society to assemble the expedition team, led by Australian businessman, maritime history philanthropist and explorer John Mullen, the director of Silentworld.
Mr Mullen paid tribute to an independent Japanese researcher who wishes to remain anonymous.
“This modest gentleman has been liaising with us for a number of years and has been absolutely integral to the planning of this mission and its ultimate success,” he said.
“Years before joining our planning group, he was instrumental in locating details of the passenger list of the Montevideo Maru which had been missing for decades, and helped the Montevideo Maru Society locate archive resources to fill in public gaps about the sinking and aftermath.”
Before the search began, the Japanese researcher presented the Silentworld team with Daruma dolls as a gesture of good luck. In accordance with Japanese tradition, each of the team drew in the blank eye of a doll at the start of the mission. Today on the Fugro Equator, they drew the other eye to denote mission accomplished!
In a solemn ceremony, the team cast wreaths of fresh flowers into the sea over the wreck site in concert with another Japanese tradition, a Crane ceremony. Senbazuru (1,000 origami cranes) is a Japanese tradition for a wish to come true. John Mullen, as mission head, threw 50 cranes into the ocean.
“There is something very spiritual and special when former foes come together to mourn their war dead,” said John Mullen. “Australians and Japanese are united in grief over these lost men and today”s event was yet another example of the wonderful and warm relationship the two countries enjoy.”
The tragedy impacted at least 14 countries, including: Australia, Denmark, England, Estonia, Finland, Holland, Japan, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Scotland, Solomon Islands, Sweden and the United States.
“The discovery of the Montevideo Maru closes a terrible chapter in international military and maritime history,” Mr Mullen said.
“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.”
The wreckage of the Montevideo Maru, sitting at a deeper depth than the Titanic, will not be disturbed. No artefacts or human remains will be removed. The site will be recorded for research purposes out of respect for all the families of those onboard who were lost.
Details of any commemorative events will be provided at the appropriate time.
Descendants of the Montevideo Maru may register their details to be kept informed at https://www.army.gov.au/our-work/unrecovered-war-casualties/register-us
John and Jacqui Mullen are the founders and directors of the Silentworld Foundation. John is also Chairman of Telstra, and Brambles Ltd, and Chairman of the Australian National Maritime Museum. The not-for-profit Silentworld Foundation based in Sydney supports and promotes Australasian maritime archaeology, history, culture and heritage. It also operates a private museum dedicated to understanding our nation”s early maritime history and supports annual expeditions and other ventures seeking a greater understanding of our past. The discovery of the Montevideo Maru is another high-profile success story. Amongst others, in 2017 Silentworld participated in the finding of HMAS AE1, Australia”s first submarine. In 2009, the Foundation solved a 180-year mystery by locating the wreck site of HMCS Mermaid, lost on a coral reef off the Queensland coast in 1829. Website: https://silentworldfoundation.org.au
(including b-roll, images from the discovery and archives)
For interviews contact: Nami Otani +61 428 094 988 (Japanese speaking)
Or contact eckfactor for Silentworld Foundation: +61 438 532 569 Karen@eckfactor.com.
SOURCE: Silentworld Foundation