AUSTRALIA’S MINISTER for Veterans’ Affairs and Minister for Defence Personnel, Alan Griffin, delivered an historic statement in Parliament yesterday honouring the men lost in the Montevideo Maru tragedy, Australia’s worst maritime disaster.
“I especially acknowledge the suffering of their families and friends. They endured many long and painful years waiting for news of their loved ones and they deserve our sympathy.
“I’m pleased to announce the Australian Government has pledged $100,000 to assist the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society to build a national memorial in the grounds of the Australian War Memorial.
On 22 June 1942, 1,053 Australian prisoners of war and civilians, who had been captured and held by the Japanese at Rabaul, boarded the Montevideo Maru.
Unaware that the vessel was carrying allied prisoners, on 1 July 1942 the submarine USS Sturgeon fired torpedoes, sinking the ship and killing all those imprisoned on board and most of the crew.“It was more than three years after the sinking that the families of those lost on the Montevideo Maru learnt of the tragedy, confirming their greatest fears,” Mr Griffin said.
The Red Cross made inquiries throughout the war, but it was not until October 1945 that a nominal roll of those on board was uncovered. This was mysteriously lost soon after the war, and is currently the object of an intensive records' search by the Australian Army.