WWII-era freighter found after 77 years

By on 1 May, 2019

SS Iron Crown alongside SS Hagen. Image: National Library of Australia.

CSIRO maritime archaeologists locate historic shipwreck 100 kilometres off the Victorian coastline during bathymetric survey on research vessel Investigator.

The SS Iron Crown’s 1942 sinking was one of Victoria’s worst maritime disasters in terms of loss of life. The 100-metre freighter was heavily loaded with manganese ore when it was struck by a Japanese torpedo in the Bass Strait.

The vessel sunk within 60 seconds.

Peter Harvey, a maritime archaeologist with Heritage Victoria, said the discovery of the Iron Crown‘s final location was a significant discovery.

“The Iron Crown is historically significant as one of only four World War II shipwrecks in Victorian waters and is the only ship to have been torpedoed by a submarine in Victorian waters,” Mr. Harvey said.

“There were 43 crew from the Australian Merchant Navy on board the ship and 38 lost their lives in the attack. Locating the wreck, after 77 years of not knowing its final resting place, will bring closure for relatives and family of those that were lost at sea, as well as for Australia’s maritime community.”

Drop camera on the RV Investigator used to investigate the wreck. Image: supplied.

The wreck was located with multibeam sonar echosounding equipment, and inspected with a special drop camera.

The RV Investigator was on a mission as part of a whole-of-government approach to seafloor mapping involving state and national agencies, and the Australian Hydrographic Office, aiming to improve maritime charts and better understand Australian maritime history.

The search was led by Voyage Chief Scientist, Emily Jateff from the Australian National Maritime Museum, who said the realisation of the ship’s discovery was a solemn moment.

“The fact that so many lives were lost in the sinking of Iron Crown was something that hit home with all scientists, staff and ship crew working on board Investigator,” she said.

Ms Jateff said that Iron Crown’s wreck appears relatively intact, sitting upright in around 700 metres of water, in a position around 100 kilometres from the Victorian coastline, south of the border with New South Wales.

Imagery from the drop camera showing the Iron Crown’s bow with anchor chains. Image: supplied.

Vision from the drop camera survey reveals both anchors still in place, the ship’s intact bow with railings and other structures visible.

The wreck’s location was discovered with the aid of many hours of prior survey work from volunteers of the Maritime Archaeology Association of Victoria, and the discovery has been reported to both the Victorian and NSW governments.

All shipwrecks older than 75 years and any associated artefacts are protected Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976. A memorial service will be planned for the site.

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