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Wreck of first US ship sunk in WWII revealed: researchers

The wreck of the first US ship sunk during World War II has been revealed in detail for the first time on the seabed off southeastern Australia, researchers said Wednesday.

Images of the merchant vessel City of Rayville, which was sunk in 1940 by a German mine, were taken by state-of-the-art sonar technology and remotely operated vehicles, Deakin University scientists said.

"It was very exciting to see the City of Rayville for the first time," said lead researcher Daniel Ierodiaconou.

The wreck could possibly still contain the remains of the first US sailor to die in the war -- more than a year before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour brought the US into the conflict, Ierodiaconou told AFP.

The 6,000-tonne City of Rayville was carrying a cargo of lead, wool and copper from South Australia to New York via Melbourne when it struck a mine in a newly-laid German minefield in the Bass Strait on November 8, 1940.

The ship went down in 70 metres (230 feet) of water off Cape Otway, just 24 hours after the British steamer SS Cambridge sank after hitting a mine off the nearby Wilsons Promontory in Victoria state.

"The approximate location (of the City of Rayville) has been fairly well known for quite some time," Ierodiaconou told AFP.

But for the first time, the team used sonar technology to develop detailed three-dimensional models of the wreck and collected video using a remotely operated vehicle, he said.

All 38 crew managed to make it into lifeboats and were rescued but one went back to gather his personal belongings and went down with the ship, meaning that his remains could still be in the wreck, Ierodiaconou said.

"The wreck is laying upright on its keel, with a slight list to one side," said Cassandra Philippou, a maritime archaeologist for Heritage Victoria.

"A hatch cover near the stern is missing, consistent with reports that covers were blown off the hatches through the force of the explosion."

The wreck, which has been listed as a protected heritage site and may not be disturbed, was uncovered as part of a wider project to map Victoria's underwater environment.

"Beautiful marine life has colonised the exterior of the wreck with dense invertebrates including sponges and sea whips visible," Ierodiaconou said.

"The hull also provides an artificial reef, attracting and providing habitat for a vast array of marine life such as fishes."

While Australian troops were heavily engaged on battlefields abroad during World War II, attacks around their remote home continent were rare.

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Author:AFP
Publication:AFP Global Edition
Date:Apr 1, 2009
Words:422
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