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Friday, April 3, 2009

First Ship Sunk in WWII Revealed in Sonar

The wreck of the first U.S. 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 U.S. sailor to die in the war -- more than a year before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought the United States into the conflict, Ierodiaconou said.

The City of Rayville was en route to Melbourne when it struck a mine in a newly-laid German minefield in the Bass Strait on Nov. 8, 1940, going down in 70 meters (230 feet) of water off Cape Otway.

Just 24 hours earlier, the British steamer S.S. Cambridge was sunk 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 said.

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, 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 is listed as a protected heritage site, was uncovered as part of a wider project to map Victoria's underwater environment.

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