CANBERRA, Australia – The wreck of battle cruiser HMAS Sydney has been found off western Australia, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced Monday, ending one of the country's most enduring maritime mysteries.
The Sydney sank on Nov. 19, 1941, after a battle off Australia's western coast with German vessel, the DKM Kormoran. All 645 men aboard the Australian battle cruiser were lost, and the ship's resting place has remained elusive for decades.
Rudd revealed Sunday that an Australian research team recently found the remains of the Kormoran, which was disguised as a Dutch merchant ship when it opened fire on the Sydney, kicking off a fierce battle.
Both ships were badly damaged and sank. Of the Kormoran's 397 crew, 317 survived and rowed to the Australian coast in life boats and were taken prisoner.
At a news conference in Canberra, Rudd said the Sydney had been found about 12 nautical miles (14 miles; 23 kilometers) from the wreckage of the Kormoran, about 800 kilometers (500 miles) north of Perth, the capital of Western Australia state.
The ship is in about 2,470 meters (8,100 feet) of water, and that it's hull is largely intact, Rudd said.
Chief of the Royal Australian Navy, Vice Admiral Russ Shalders, said the find would help determine exactly what happened to the Sydney.
"For 66 years, this nation has wondered where the Sydney was and what occurred to her, we've uncovered the first part of that mystery ... the next part of the mystery, of course, is what happened," said Shalders, speaking at the news conference with Rudd.
Ted Graham, chairman of the Finding Sydney Foundation, the group carrying out the search, said a remote-operated vehicle would be used to further examine the wreckage found on the sea floor for clues about the battle.
The government-funded US$3.9 million search for the Sydney began two weeks ago and is headed by U.S. shipwreck hunter David Mearns.
Mearns was involved in finding the wrecks of the British battle cruiser the HMS Hood and the DKM Bismarck, the German battle ship that sank her in the North Atlantic in 1941.
The Sydney weighed in at 6,600 metric tons (7,300 U.S. tons), making it the largest vessel from any country to be lost with no survivors during the war.
The fate of the ship and its crew has remained an enduring mystery, though a parliament inquiry into the tragedy in 1999 accepted accounts by Kormoran survivors that they last saw the ship in flames and heading toward Perth.
It was not immediately clear whether there are plans to raise the Sydney if it is found.
Rudd said he had instructed the Defense Department to contact relatives of the sailors who died aboard the Sydney about the find.
"This is over 65 years ago, but pain and family loss even at 65 years removed, is still pain, and very deep pain," Rudd said.
"On behalf of the government I would say to all those members of the families of the brave members of the crew of the HMAS Sydney that the government extends to them our condolences for the loss of these brave young men," he said.