(Tuesday, November 28, 2023) The Prime Minister last night led a gathering of dignitaries and distinguished guests for a commemorative dinner at the Australian War Memorial to honour the souls lost in the nation’s worst maritime tragedy – the sinking of the Montevideo Maru during World War II.
Mr Albanese was joined by ambassadors and senior diplomats from seven countries involved, including the Ambassador of Japan H.E. Kazuhiro Suzuki, Department of Defence officials, and guests including representatives of many of the families whose loved ones were among an estimated 979 Australian POWs and civilians onboard the Japanese freighter when it was inadvertently torpedoed by a US submarine on July 1, 1942 off the coast of the Philippines.
The Australians – captured in the fall of Rabaul – were among a total of approximately 1,070 people from 14 countries who perished in the disaster.
In April this year the discovery of the shipwreck at a depth of 4,200m in the South China Sea near Luzon – deeper than the Titanic – made world headlines in an extraordinary expedition led by the Sydney-based Silentworld Foundation.
In his dinner speech, Silentworld founder and director John Mullen took guests inside the proverbial “needle in a haystack” mission to locate the wreck and bring closure to the families of those lost at sea, and to also put the tragedy of the Montevideo Maru in stark historical context.
“It is easy to dismiss the Montevideo Maru as just another war story from 80 years ago,” Mr Mullen said. “But for so many of the families directly involved, they have not forgotten, and they will not forget for many, many generations.
“One mother lost all three of her sons on the ship, the Turner brothers. Almost 1,000 Australians died on the Montevideo Maru. That is nearly twice as many Australian lives lost in a few hours than were lost during the whole Vietnam War. It is nearly double the number of lives lost in the sinking of HMAS Sydney – our next worst maritime disaster.
“And the pain experienced by the families at the time was further heightened by the fact that it was not until well after the end of the war that it became known what had actually happened. Families hoped that their loved ones were still alive as prisoners of war and would come home, and it was years before they knew their fate.”
Earlier this month, Mr Mullen hosted another commemorative dinner attended by King Harald of Norway to honour the 33 Norwegian sailors and crew who were onboard the Montevideo Maru. They were captured from the M/S Herstein, which was in service for the Australian government in the lead-up to Japan’s invasion of New Guinea in 1942. Silentworld partnered with Norway’s Centre for the History of Seafarers at War in a remarkable genealogy investigation to locate their descendants, of whom 58 attended the dinner.
A complete dossier of the Montevideo Maru project, including all data, intellectual property and images gathered during the remarkable expedition, is being presented to the Australian War Memorial and Australian National Maritime Museum, so that both institutions will have a permanent record of the fate of the brave souls who were lost.
PLEASE NOTE: ABC TV FILMED POOL FOOTAGE AT THE COMMEMORATIVE EVENT.
About Silentworld Foundation
John and Jacqui Mullen are the founders and directors of the Silentworld Foundation. The not-for-profit organisation 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