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Wreck of First U.S. Ship Sunk in WWII Found Off Australia

The rusting wreck of the first American vessel sunk during World War II has been found off Australia's southeastern coast, ocean researchers said Thursday.

The MV City of Rayville, a freighter carrying a cargo of lead, wool and copper from Australia to New York, sank in the Bass Strait after striking a German mine on Nov. 8, 1940, a year before the United States entered the war.

One seaman drowned while trying to recover personal items from the sinking vessel but the 37 other crew survived.

The approximate location of the wreck — about 8.5 miles from Cape Otway in the strait that separates mainland Australia from the island state of Tasmania — had been known since 2002 but it was too deep to be precisely located.

Researchers at Deakin University found the vessel 230 feet underwater by using state-of-the-art sonar equipment during a research project to map the seabed off the state of Victoria.

"It was very exciting to see the City of Rayville for the first time," research leader Daniel Ierodiaconou said in a statement.

The merchant vessel, owned by the International Mercantile Marine Company in New York, was under charter to the United States Maritime Commission during its journey to Australia.

The freighter was found upright on its keel, with a slight list, and has become an artificial reef for marine life, researchers said.

Maritime archaeologist Cassandra Philippou of Heritage Victoria, which oversees historic sites in Victoria state, said that a hatch cover near the stern was missing, consistent with reports that covers were blown off by the explosion.

Heritage Victoria was not involved in the research but provided the vessel's approximate coordinates to the Deakin team and said the discovery will help develop a plan for maintaining the wreck site.

The Rayville was the second ship to be sunk by one of 100 German mines laid in Bass Strait. The British steamer SS Cambridge was destroyed nearby a day earlier.