Thursday, May 12, 2005


Shipwreck starts to yield secrets


Merimbula News
May 11, 2005

BERMAGUI, Australia -- A dive team working off the coast near Bermagui has returned from their continuing study of a World War Two 'Liberty' ship, William Dawes, torpedoed in 1942.

Director of the NSW Heritage Office, Mr Reece McDougall said the shipwreck, discovered in October 2004, was a valuable addition to the inventory of some 2000 shipwrecks that adorn the NSW coast.

The survey crew of professional deep wreck technical divers, The Sydney Project, used underwater scooters to aid their recording of the enormous 127-metre long, 7000-ton freighter.

Located in 135 metres of water 18 nautical miles off Bermagui, the wreck diving operations are the deepest undertaken in NSW, and the second deepest in Australia.

The Anzac weekend dives aimed to gain a fuller picture of the complex wreck site and its associated debris field.

The William Dawes is the only located example of four 'Liberty' ships sunk in wartime action in NSW.

One of the divers Samir Alhafith said the dive was fantastic despite it being short-lived because the current dragged the shotline 140 metres off course.

However they were able to establish the wreck is intact and that it is lying on its side.

Mr Alhafith said the team was aiming for another dive on May 28 and 29 when hopefully they would have more time to explore the wreck.

The NSW Heritage Office, as the delegated authority in NSW, manages the shipwreck site under the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976.

William Dawes was a US armed steel merchant ship carrying war munitions, jeeps and armoured vehicles to the Pacific front.

On July 22, 1942, it was struck by two torpedos fired from a Japanese 1-class submarine off Merimbula.

The 112-metre long 1-11 submarine had earlier sunk two vessels off Jervis Bay.

Five crewmen died in the William Dawes explosions and resulting fire and today the wreck site constitutes a war grave.

Japanese and German submarines sank 19 vessels off the NSW coast during World War Two.

They brought the war directly to Australia and created concern for merchant vessels and those engaged in wartime convoy duties.

The independent diving expedition has been aided by the close involvement of local Bermagui commercial fishing operators who have provided information on previous net 'hook-ups' at the site.


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