One of Australia’s oldest maritime mysteries has been solved after the country’s first submarine was discovered more than 103 years after its disappearance in the First World War.
The AE1 first vanished off the New Guinean island of New Britain on 14 September 1914, with 35 crew aboard from Australia, New Zealand and Britain.
The vessel was the first Allied submarine loss of the war and the first wartime loss for the Royal Australian Navy, although the exact reason for its sinking remains unclear.
Before it was eventually discovered on Thursday, no fewer than 12 unsuccessful hunts for the vessel had been carried out over the past several decades.
Australian Defence Minister Marise Payne confirmed that it had been located more than 300 metres (984 feet) below the surface in a search using a Dutch-owned survey vessel that started only last week.
Now, Payne has confirmed that the Australian government is trying to contact descendants of those killed on board.
‘It was the first loss for the RAN and the first Allied submarine loss in World War I – a significant tragedy felt by our nation and our allies,’ Payne said in a statement.
He also confirmed that a commemorative service was held to remember those who died after the vessel’s immediate discovery.
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Australia will now discuss with the Papua New Guinean government the building of a lasting memorial and ways to preserve the site.
The AE1 made its final contact with an Australian ship at 2.30pm on the day it disappeared.
At the time, villagers on a nearby island at the time spoke of seeing a ‘monster’ or ‘devil fish’ that quickly disappeared into the water.
It has long been assumed that the AE1 was not sunken by enemy action, as the only nearby German vessel was a small survey ship.
It is also believed that the AE1 sank intact because no bodies were found, most likely striking a reef that punched a hole in the pressure hull.