LOST, NOW FOUND: The watery grave of MV Limerick sunk by a Japanese torpedo on April 26, 1943 was located by Sally and Forfar Petrie, (right in photo) with much help from Neville Poynting, left.
LOST, NOW FOUND: The watery grave of MV Limerick sunk by a Japanese torpedo on April 26, 1943 was located by Sally and Forfar Petrie, (right in photo) with much help from Neville Poynting, left. Doug Eaton

Anglers solve the mystery of sunken freighter

FINDING the wreck of the MV Limerick was a gradual process involving chance, a cloak of secrecy and a bustle of maritime detective work that only resolved itself a week ago.

Interestingly the start and finish of this process involved sonar equipment, the first a simple fish finder mounted on a 5.8m tinny called Tiki, and the last a sophisticated piece of equipment worked from the bridge of the 66m research ship, Southern Surveyor.

Along the way a trail of clues literally bubbled to the surface.


Forfar and Sally Petrie first found what they thought was a large school of baitfish hanging above a desert-like gravel plain during one fishing trip back in November 2006. They dropped lines on the spot and all hooked up with quality snapper. They punched in the co-ordinates and guarded the secret spot closely for the next five years.

"If someone followed us out we'd go to a different spot," Forfar recalled. "When we fished the spot we all kept a close lookout for boats coming up on us."

But one day mid last year when they were all hooked up on big fish, lines tangled, eyes cast downwards a fellow angler snuck up on them and punched in the GPS co-ordinates. The location was unveiled to an eager pack of fishermen, one of whom reported seeing globules of oil on the surface.

For Neville Poynting, the Petries' close friend and the only other person who knew of the secret location, a light bulb ignited in his brain. He collected some of the oil and sent it to Sydney for analysis. It was confirmed as bunker oil, a heavy crude oil used by ships like the Limerick.

A flurry of research by Neville followed with the Office of Environment and Heritage becoming enthusiastically involved. Surveys by the Coffs Harbour police launch Nemesis and later a Navy minesweeper in transit from Brisbane to Sydney failed to collect useful data, so rough was the sea at the time.

But the recent efforts of the Southern Surveyor, working along the shelf off Ballina created the first images that could be confirmed as belonging to the Limerick.



THE sinking of the MV Limerick on Anzac Day 1943 took place during the most intense Japanese offensive against shipping along our coast. And because of strict Government censorship laws most Australians were unaware of the kind of damage being wrought.

The Wollongbar II fell victim to a different Japanese sub on April 29 off Crescent Head while on a trip from Byron Bay to Sydney with a load of butter and bacon.

Its captain, Charles Benson, had delayed his arrival into Byron Bay because he was looking for survivors of the Limerick.

On May 14 of the same year the Australian Hospital Ship Centaur was on its way from Sydney to Cairns when it was sunk by a Japanese submarine south of Moreton Island. Of the 332 people on board, only 64 survived. The same Japanese sub that sunk the Limerick sank the Centaur.


Deep sea divers try to photograph wreck

A TEAM of extreme deep sea divers has already attempted to photograph the wreck of the Limerick but murky conditions and a strong south-setting current prevented success.

Damien Siviero, a Sydney-based diver and photographer descended on the site in late January, just days before ex-cyclone Oswald blew down upon our coast.

Neville Poynting and Warwick Jones were aware of the attempt and described Damien's heroic dive through heavy murk and against strong current using an array of equipment that included rebreathers and powered sleds.

It took three minutes to descend 105m. Damien and his team spent eight minutes searching through murk with a bright torch with no success before heading back to the surface. Visibility was less than four metres.

The decompression phase (essential before returning from a deep dive) took 90 minutes and the divers fired a balloon to the surface to show the boat to their location.

So strong was the current, by the time the divers surfaced they were 10km south of the wreck site.


Sonar imaging

THE revealing sonar images of the Limerick taken by the Southern Surveyor last Saturday show a wreck that appears to be lying upside down, says Newrybar researcher Warwick Jones.

The fact that there are no revealing shapes within the shadow of the scanned wreck suggests that the deck, with its prominent bridge, stack and loading booms are underneath the hull.

Mr Jones also suggests that the small mound to the right of the hull, as seen in the sonar scan, is the 800 tonnes of iron ore ballast that would have plunged through the hatch covers as the Limerick glided to her watery grave, 105m beneath the waves.

It is also likely that a tubular scrap of steel, washed ashore at Angles Beach in 1990, is a sampson post from the rear deck of the stricken ship.

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