Torpedoed wreck brings back night WWII came to North Coast
OUR most valuable, and elusive, war-time shipwreck has been brought to light after nearly 70 years thanks to the efforts of three amateur anglers from Skennars Head.
Confirmation that the wreck of the MV Limerick was found took place just last Saturday, when the 66m Southern Surveyor created a detailed sonar image of the hull sitting on a gravel bottom, 18km east of Ballina in 100m of water.
But the only reason that the large research ship was able to map the wreck was thanks to the efforts of Forfar and Sally Petrie, and Neville Poynting, who passed on the accurate GPS co-ordinates to their secret fishing spot.
The MV Limerick, 140m long and powered by two diesel engines, was registered in New Zealand at the time though built in Glasgow, Scotland in 1925. The general cargo ship was torpedoed by a Japanese sub off our dark shores on the night of ANZAC day, 1943.
Part of a convoy heading north to Brisbane, it was one of the largest vessels sunk by Japanese submarines off Australia's east coast during their offensive submarine patrols through 1942 and 1943.
It sunk the next morning, taking a New Zealand engineer and an Australian officer with it. The rest of the crew, numbering 70, were pulled from the water over many hours by HMAS Colac, a mine sweeper accompanying the convoy.
Until late last year it was assumed the wreck lay 20 miles east of Cape Byron and the actual site was never located.
But it took the curiosity of the Skennars Head trio to pinpoint the exact location of our local maritime mystery.
In fact the Petries found the wreck five years ago, on a fishing trip. Their echo sounder picked up what they assumed was a rare rocky reef in the midst of a sandy plain.
They kept the spot a secret, until they were 'caught' fishing on it when another runabout came close.
It didn't take long for the Ballina fishing community to plug the site into their navigation systems and suddenly a bunch of boats were using the 'reef' for quality snapper and kingfish.
One fisherman reported seeing an oil slick in the vicinity and soon the anglers realised the reef was not rock but a wreck.
Mr Poynting sent a sample of the oil to the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, which confirmed the globules as being bunker oil.
That find triggered the assumption that the secret fishing spot might not be a rock, or a collection of shipping containers but a wreck - that of the MV Limerick.
LIsten to an interview with a Limerick survivor here.
Read all about it in Saturday's Northern Star.