Aberdeen subsea firm helps solve mystery over sinking of second-world war Australian battleship

 Torn off bow from the HMAS Sydney wreckage
Torn off bow from the HMAS Sydney


An offshore services company headquartered in Aberdeen has donated specialist subsea equipment to help solve the 75-year old mystery of the sinking of an Australian battle ship sinking during World War-2

The HMAS Sydney sank on 19 November 19, 1941 with the loss of 645 crewmen.

Until now the cause has remained a mystery but thanks to the donation of 3-D survey equipment by Ashtead Technology to study the wreck, the cause is much better understood.

The vessel had gone missing following a battle with the German cruiser Kormoran, which also sank. It was never determined why the Australian ship went down so quickly when it was pitted against a relatively small opponent. The final resting place of the HMAS Sydney was discovered in 2008 off the West Australian coast at a depth of 2000 metres.

Ashtead became involved after being approached by DOF Subsea on behalf of the Western Australian Museum which has been working with Curtin University.

The specialist technical equipment supplied by Ashtead allowed researchers to carry out subsea surveys with navigation at depth, studying water speeds, sampling water conditions and providing depth and distance information. This shed new light on the wreck and helped inform conservation of what is a mass grave site.

The survey revealed that the ship had a  6-inch shell hole through the compass platform at the bridge. The damage would have disabled the control systems and meant the HMAS Sydney would subsequently struggle to defend itself. Investigators are now assessing how the vessel has corroded and ways that it can be conserved.

Wendy Lee, Singapore office regional manager, Ashtead Technology, said: “The mystery of what happened to the HMAS Sydney has been a puzzle that led to many different theories over the years. I am glad we could help the families and descendants of those who died on that day to learn just what happened.

“The technology we supplied played a key role in surveying the wreck, establishing the state it is in and what the sea conditions are around it. This is work we are well used to at Ashtead through our support for the offshore industry and the systems used have meant those investigating what happened to the vessel have been able to build up an accurate current picture of the HMAS Sydney and its past.”

The survey work on the HMAS Sydney was all carried out from outside of the vessel to protect the integrity of the war grave site.

The technology provided included an iXsea ROVINS System, Valeport BFM 803 Current Meter, Valeport MIDAS CTD, Valeport MIDAS BathyPack 3000m, Tritech PA500 Bathy Altimeter, Teledyne Blueview P900-130, and a PMAC CPacq single cell system.


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