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Historic ship found rusting in peace

The discovery of the wreckage of battle cruiser HMAS Sydney that sank with 645 men aboard in a fierce World War II battle promises clues to one of the most enduring maritime mysteries.

world Updated: Mar 17, 2008 23:58 IST

The discovery of the wreckage of an Australian warship that sank with 645 men aboard in a fierce World War II battle promises clues to one of the country’s most enduring maritime mysteries, authorities said on Monday.

The wreck of battle cruiser HMAS Sydney was discovered off western Australia, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said on Monday. The Sydney sank on November 19, 1941, after a battle with the German vessel DKM Kormoran in the worst naval disaster in Australia’s history. All 645 sailors aboard the Sydney were lost and its final resting place remained elusive for decades.

The Kormoran also sank, but 317 of its 397-member crew survived and rowed lifeboats to the Australian coast, where they were taken prisoner. The nation has long been incredulous that the pride of its navy could have been lost to a lightly armed German auxiliary cruiser. For years, various alternate theories have abounded — including that a Japanese submarine really sank the Sydney or that the Kormoran’s crew machine-gunned Australian survivors.

The chief of the Royal Australian Navy, Vice Admiral Russ Shalders, said Monday that 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,” Shalders said.

The Sydney was found upright in 2,470 metres of water on Sunday about 800 kilometres north of Perth, the capital of Western Australia state, Rudd said.