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NZ Navy finds sunken submarine in Papua New Guinea... | Stuff.co.nz
LATEST: A New Zealand navy ship has found the sunken wreck of a submarine and there is speculation that in doing it they've solved a 97-year-old mystery of what happened to Australia's first submarine.
HMNZS Resolution detected the submarine in Simpson Harbour in Papua New Guinea's Rabaul.
It and HMNZS Wellington are working with the Australian and PNG forces on Operation Render Safe aimed at making safe unexploded World War Two ammunition (UXO).
A Royal Australian Navy statement said Resolution, a survey ship, and Australian minehunter HMAS Gascoyne found the wreck on Wednesday.
"As with any wreck discoveries, immediate identification is not possible and work will continue over the coming days to identify both the type and the nationality of the vessel," the statement says.
Australia's Daily Telegraph today says the wreck may be that of World War One Australian 600 ton submarine AE1.
It sank with the loss of all 35 souls aboard on September 15, 1914, and was Australia's first naval loss of the Great War. There was a New Zealander among its crew.
The New Zealand find is near the last AE1 sighting at Mioko Harbour, around 20 kilometres away on Duke of York Island.
A navy inquiry at the time ruled the submarine sank during a dive or hit a reef.
AE1 was the first submarine to serve in the Royal Australian Navy.
At the outbreak of the Great War, she was assigned to the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force to capture then German ruled New Guinea, headquarters at Rabaul.
Her crew took part in the surrender and occupation of Rabaul before being sent off on patrol in nearby waters.
She was never found – until now it seems.
In World War Two, Rabaul was a major Japanese naval base and while it never actually fell to the Allies during the war, it suffered sustained bombing – including one of the largest bombing operations ever mounted by the Royal New Zealand Air Force.
Last month the Pacific Forum summit in Auckland received a detailed report on the forgotten "unexploded ordnances"; high explosive bombs, sea mines, hand grenades, torpedoes and artillery, mortar and small arms ammunition.
"Without seeking to overstate the issue, it was evident from the research that UXO impacts development, endangers lives and restricts social and economic activities," the report says.
"At the conclusion of hostilities in 1945, the foreign military forces of both sides, for the most part, returned to their homelands leaving the islands littered with sunken ships, burnt out tanks, abandoned pill boxes and large empty gun emplacements."
Operation Render Safe will also involve a tasking to clear unexploded ordnance from the Kokoda Track, across the mountains of PNG, north of Port Moresby.
Rabaul's Simpson Harbour is a vast volcanic crater and it is regularly rocked by eruptions from Tavurvur and Volcan and severe earthquakes.
The Pacific Forum report said of the thousands of tons of bombs and shells used by Americans "softening up" atolls ahead of landing, up to 30 per cent never exploded.
Today, the material plagues Pacific nations, notably Kiribati, Palau, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
As well as the Solomons civil war, the bullets defined the Bougainville civil war now they claim hundreds of lives in Papua New Guinea Highland tribal fights.
For decades Pacific Islanders left the debris of war alone; now collectors are arriving looking for souvenirs.
"There is a demand for gun powder, scrap metal and other remnants of war increasing the risk of interaction between the public and dangerous UXO material."
Gunpowder extracted from bullets and shells goes for around S$1500 (NZ$240) a litre bottle in Honiara's markets.
People get hurt or killed looking for ammunition; or sometimes just when they are clearing land.
After Honiara's 2006 riots, China Town was rebuilt, only to reveal a large number of bombs under it.
"UXO and abandoned arms have impacted on development in Solomon islands by causing a number of fatalities and injuries and impeding infrastructure development," the report says.
"UXO continue to be used to commit illegal activities such as dynamite fishing or violent crime, and are a drain on public resources."
Places like Kiribati's Betio - the size of the Auckland Domain - remain heavily littered.
In the 1943 Battle of Tarawa, 1000 US Marines and 4600 Japanese were killed in the three day battle in which the US dropped 2400 tons of ordnance - and a third of it didn't explode at the time.
As the forum report team were on the islet, a man who tried to plant a banana tree instead dug up a high explosive projectile in an unstable condition.
The local police station at the time had 2495 UXO items in storage, including two 100lb bombs.