Australia: Centaur search to begin next month, with equipment on way to Queensland

Monday, 23 November 2009

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Premier Anna Bligh today announced the deep-sea search equipment to be used in the hunt for the Centaur off Queensland's coast is on its way to Australia.

The project team is now in the final stages of planning for the search, which is expected to begin in mid December.

Premier Bligh said this was a big step forward in the attempt to resolve the mystery of the Centaur.

"268 people lost their lives when the World War 2 Hospital ship was sunk by a Japanese submarine off the South-East Queensland coast in May 1943," Ms Bligh said.

"The discovery of this vessel would allow us to honour those people who were killed, and hopefully better understand what happened on that very sad day."

Prime Minister Rudd said the Centaur is an important part of the history of Queensland, and the history of the nation, and finding it would offer peace to the families and loved ones of those who were lost.

"The loss of a cl early marked hospital ship during World War 2 struck deeply at the heart of our nation, and became a symbol of our determination to fight on against a brutal enemy," said Mr Rudd.

"I hope the search is successful, that all Australians may finally know and commemorate the resting place of the brave nurses and crew who died on that terrible day."

Ms Bligh said the key platform for the search will be a Defence Maritime Services' vessel, the Seahorse Spirit.

"This is an Australian owned and crewed vessel. The company has previous experience in similar operations, including the search for an Australian Black Hawk helicopter in 2007, on the seabed off the coast of Fiji," Ms Bligh said.

"The other key search equipment includes deep-sea side-scan sonar equipment and a remotely operated submersible vessel capable of being operated at depths below 3,000 metres.

"This is highly specialised equipment operated by only a handful of companies world-w ide, with the majority based in the USA.

"As the search is expected to be very challenging, with initial indications that the sub-sea terrain in the search area is steep and rugged, we need the best equipment and best people available to help us achieve success on this mission."

Following an open market tender process, two experienced US-based firms have been selected as the preferred tenderers to provide this equipment, and it's now on its way.

Williamson and Associates is a company specialising in the provision of deep-tow side-scan sonar. This company was previously involved in the successful search for HMAS Sydney II off the coast of Western Australia in 2008.

Their highly specialised detection equipment will be towed behind the search support vessel, scanning the ocean floor to determine the most likely position of the Centaur.

Phoenix International, a company with extensive international experience in the identification of shipwr ecks at extreme depths, will then provide a remotely operated submersible vessel capable of operating at depths up to 6,000 metres.

This submersible vessel will be involved in the second phase of the project once the likely location of the Centaur is identified. This phase will seek to confirm the final resting place of the Centaur using high resolution video equipment.

Project Manager and Search Director, David Mearns, has indicated that subject to weather and any other significant operational issues, the search is expected to commence mid December 2009 using the sonar at first.

In the event that the sonar search discloses the likely location of the Centaur, the remotely operated submersible vessel will be used to film the wreck in early January 2010.

Last Updated ( Monday, 23 November 2009 )