Friday, August 19, 2005


New bid to find HMAS Sydney shipwreck


August 15, 2005

HMAS Sidney.

ADELAIDE, Australia -- THE Federal Government will contribute $1.3 million to a new search for the wreck of HMAS Sydney which went down off the WA coast in November 1941 with the loss of all 654 hands.

The pride of the Australian fleet was sent to the bottom in 6000m of water southwest of Carnarvon by the German raider Kormoran disguised as a Dutch merchant vessel.

More than 300 men from the Kormoran survived to tell a mysterious tale that has divided families and historians ever since.

A 1998 senate inquiry into the incident produced 17 volumes of submissions, more than 4000 pages of evidence and a 198-page final report that concluded the fate of the Sydney and her crew was "unknown" and "unknowable".

It received some bitter submissions but ruled out any conspiracy or involvement by German or Japanese submarines.

The inquiry found the testimony of the Kormoran's crew to be honest and recommended the government contribute $2 million to a comprehensive search for the wreck.

It also found the Sydney's captain, Joseph Burnett, took the cruiser too close to the German raider.

The inquiry concluded that a body washed up with a Carley float on Christmas Island in February 1942 was from the Sydney.

Shipwreck expert Dr Robert Ballard told the Senate finding the ship would be "like finding a needle in a haystack without the haystack".

The new search, to be managed by HMAS Sydney Search Pty Ltd, will be led by shipwreck hunter David Mearns who has risen to past challenges from Dr Ballard.

His company, Blue Water Recoveries, used complex sonar technology to locate the wrecks of the German battleship Bismark and the British battleship HMS Hood in 3000m of water off Greenland in June 2001.

Almost 3500 men perished on those two warships and the search cost several million Pounds.
It also found the wreck of the Derbyshire, which had been labelled "unfindable" by Dr Ballard, in 1994.

Prime Minister John Howard said it was timely as the nation commemorated the end of World War II to try and find one of our "great battleships".

"A large number of citizens including but not restricted to people related to those who perished have been involved in raising money and they have a very well developed plan and we are very hopeful in providing this money that the result will be that the ship will be located," he said.

"We therefore think it's a very important gesture by the federal government to assist given the ongoing interest of so many."

Mr Howard said given Mr Mearns' record the chances of finding the wreck were rated as "pretty good".

In his submission to the 1998 senate inquiry, Patrick Burnett, the son of Capt Burnet and a former navy commander and Korea and Vietnam veteran, asked for the Sydney matter to be laid to rest.

"While I understand and sympathise with the desire of relatives and friends to know the truth of what happened and the location of the ship, I believe the interests of all concerned would be best served allowing the matter to rest after the passing of over 50 years," Mr Burnett said.

Mr Howard said it was not clear what would happen to the Sydney if the wreck was located.

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