U.S. WWII shipwreck found off Australia

Tue Mar 31, 2009 11:45pm EDT
 
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CANBERRA (Reuters) - The wreck of the first American ship sunk during World War II has been located off Australia's southern coast, ocean researchers said on Wednesday.

The freighter MS City of Rayville, carrying a cargo of lead, wool and copper from South Australia to New York, hit a German mine and was lost on November 8, 1940, a year before the United States entered the war.

One sailor died in the sinking off Cape Otway in southeast Victoria state while 38 other crew were rescued in lifeboats. The United States entered the war on December 8, 1941, the day after a surprise Japanese attack on the Pearl Harbour naval base.

Researchers mapping the seabed for Australia's Deakin University said they located the wreck almost 69 years after its sinking, lying upright on its keel and forming an artificial reef covered in marine life.

"A hatch cover near the stern is missing, consistent with reports that covers were blown off the hatches through the force of the explosion," Heritage Victoria maritime archaeologist Cassandra Philippou told local media.

The 6,000-tonne Rayville hit a minefield laid by the German commerce raider "Passat," formerly a Norwegian tanker captured in the Indian Ocean and converted to an auxiliary minelayer.

The wreck's general location had been known since 2002, but it was finally pinpointed using advanced sonar equipment. The wreck lay around 14 kilometers (8.6 miles) south of Cape Otway in 70-meter (230 foot) deep water.

The Rayville was the second ship to be sunk by mines laid by the Passat, with the British steamer SS Cambridge destroyed off Wilsons Promontory a day earlier.

(Reporting by Rob Taylor; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)