December 21, 2009

Ruins Of WWII Hospital Boat Sunk By Japanese Located

An Australian hospital ship sunk by Japanese torpedoes during WWII that took 268 lives has been found underwater near Queensland, the government announced Sunday.

The bombing and subsequent loss of the Centaur in 1943 is considered one of Australia's worst wartime tragedies. Survivors and families have long encouraged that the wreck be located, so salvagers would not find it first.

On Sunday, a team headed by U.S. marine search specialist David Mearns established the wreck's site.

The sinking of the Centaur is thought to be a war crime, though no one was charged. The merchant vessel was clearly identified as a hospital boat and was not surrounded by a naval escort.

"The discovery of AHS Centaur will ensure all Australians know of and commemorate the 268 brave nurses and crew who died in the service of their nation," Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard wrote in a statement.

Jan Thomas, whose father, Dr. Bernard Hindmarsh, perished on the ship, said locating the ruins brings closure.

"It is always helpful to know where your loved ones lie," Thomas said in an interview with Reuters News.

The Centaur, mandated under international laws to travel without an escort and easily identified with red crosses, was an easy target.

"It had to travel alone. She could not travel with an escort. All these things made her a sitting duck to an unscrupulous person," said Thomas.

The ruins were located in an underwater gully, near the place designated by the ship's navigator, one of 64 who lived through the ordeal.

The Centaur was torpedoed near Brisbane by a submarine lead by Hajime Nakagawa, who was charged with other war crimes.

Even though the Japanese took ownership of the bombing in 1979, Tokyo said the ship was never ordered to target the hospital ship, say Centaur survivors and their relatives.

The reason for the attack is mysterious, and the attack is still notorious because the boat might have been violating international laws that might have protected it.


Image Caption: AHS Centaur following her conversion to hospital ship. The Red Cross designation "47" can be seen on the bow.