House of Representatives Committees

Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade

Report on the Loss of HMAS Sydney

Chapter 8

Searching for Sydney and Kormoran

8.1    Under paragraph (3) of the Terms of Reference, the Committee was asked to investigate and report on 'the desirability and practicability of conducting a search for HMAS Sydney and the extent to which the Commonwealth Government should participate in such a search should one be deemed desirable and practicable'. The Terms of Reference also requested that the Committee comment on measures which should be taken to protect the final resting places of both ships, if and when located.3

8.2    In searching for the ships, it is likely that Kormoran will be located more easily than Sydney, as the general area where Kormoran was scuttled is believed known, whereas Sydney was seen 'drifting rather than sailing, and little more than a flaming hulk ... she gradually faded into the darkness, apparently making for Perth'.4

8.3    This chapter examines the attempts made to date to locate both ships; what might be achieved by locating the wreck sites; the technical challenges to be overcome if the search is to be successful; the equipment needed for further searches to be undertaken; and the management issues raised should the search be successful. However, before looking at these matters, the Committee felt it was appropriate to consider a more basic issue - whether an attempt should be made to locate the wrecks.

Should a Search be Mounted?

8.4    In the evidence put before the Committee, it was by no means unanimous that a search should be mounted to locate the wrecks of Sydney and Kormoran. While some argued that a search was of great symbolic importance, as a demonstration of the nation's commitment to its war dead, there was also a strong opinion that there would be little practical value in locating the wrecks, and indeed that actual harm might be caused by exposing the wrecks to possible interference.

8.5    Common to a number of submissions was a hope that the wreckage might shed some light on the nature of the engagement:

8.6    When asked about a search, RADM Oxenbould, RAN, commented that:

8.7    For others, a search was seen more as a sign of faith, from the Government to the families of the survivors:

8.8    Dr K Kirsner and Dr J Dunn summarised the case for a search in the following terms:

It should be noted that, in making these comments, Kirsner and Dunn felt that only the second and third arguments justified the expenditure of public funds.11

8.9    There was also a sentiment of desire for closure, a desire to bring to an end the doubts that had plagued the families of those on Sydney for so long:

8.10    For a number of people who made submissions to the inquiry, their interest in the search was more equivocal. Mr Pat Burnett, for example, indicated that:

8.11    The arguments against further searches for the wrecks of HMAS Sydney and Kormoran revolve around two main issues, firstly the cost of any search, and secondly, what the discovery of the wrecks might achieve.

8.12    Professor D Creagh, in commenting on this matter, noted that 'it is difficult to see how such a search could be justified. It certainly will be a difficult and expensive operation, given that the two wrecks have escaped detection for the past fifty five years. I do not believe that the position for the KSN (sic) Kormoran was correctly given so the area of search is probably very wide'.14 The issues of cost and defining the search area are intertwined, and are dealt with in more detail later in this chapter.

8.13    The view was also put that the wrecks may well not shed any light on the engagement, and that the debate would continue on how Sydney met her fate:

8.14    Some cynicism about the motives of those who wished to conduct a search was also apparent in several submissions:


8.15    After considering all of the arguments the Committee was of the opinion that an attempt should be made to locate the sites of the Sydney and Kormoran wrecks. The Committee is not convinced that the wrecks will explain much about the actual engagement beyond its location (either confirming or disproving at least that part of the German survivors' accounts). However, and more importantly, the Committee considers that the discovery of the final resting place of so many Australians who served on Sydney would bring at least some comfort to the families who have had to live with the frustration of not knowing the site of the wreck for over half a century. The actual wreck sites would also provide a focus for future commemorative activities that might be held (the question of commemoration is dealt with in more detail in Chapter 9).

Technical Challenges

Defining the Search Area

8.16    The major hurdle to be overcome in any search is defining the search area sufficiently, not only to make the exercise economically viable but also to maximise the chances of success. Advice from the Western Australian Maritime Museum indicated that 'the search area for Kormoran is 7,200 square kilometres with the area for HMAS Sydney being far larger'. The search areas for the Titanic and Bismarck, which are often referred to by those advocating the likely success of a search, were of the order of 500 square kilometres.17

Searches to date

8.17    The initial search for Sydney was called off on 29 November 1941.18 By that time, lifeboats containing German survivors had been found at sea, and a two further boats located ashore. A variety of flotsam and jetsam had also been recovered. A summary is in Table 6.1.

8.18    In its submission the Department of Defence enclosed a paper detailing the searches for Sydney undertaken primarily by HMAS Moresby, since her homeporting in Western Australia in 1974 up until approximately 1991. The searches were conducted on passage through the area, some were as part of routine hydrographic work, and some were deliberate searches investigating unusual features, both magnetic and acoustic. 19

8.19    An example of the type of searches undertaken is one conducted in October 1981. Michael Montgomery in his book raised the possibility that the wreck could lie in shallow water, and a promising magnetic anomaly off the Zuytdorp cliffs north of Kalbarri was examined by a combined WAMM/RAN team using HMAS Moresby. Upon closer examination, the magnetic anomaly was shown to be a geological formation lying approximately 200 metres below the seabed off Kalbarri.20

8.20    With regard to the RAN searches, however, 'All the searches have been on the continental shelf in depths less than 200 metres'.21 The Department noted that 'In deeper water ... the probability of detection is much lower, because of the method of the surveys and the limitations of the equipment'.22

8.21    Defence advised that the most recent search for Sydney was undertaken by HMAS Protector during July 1997.23 However, Defence advised that 'the RAN does not have the specialised equipment required to conduct searches in waters off the continental shelf'.24

8.22    The searches conducted by Moresby, however, were in no way exhaustive or comprehensive. As CMDR Hardstaff RAN (Retd) observed:

8.23    CMDR Hardstaff also drew attention to an area from '25 degrees 30 south, down to 28 south which has not yet been surveyed'. This area is just north of the Houtman Abrolhos.26

The 1991 Sydney Forum

8.24    In 1991, at the HMAS Sydney Forum organised by the Western Australian Maritime Museum, a panel of experts was asked to give their opinion on whether the Sydney/Kormoran action could have taken place at the position stated in the German accounts: 26 degrees 34 minutes S, 111 degrees E. The location of the various lifeboats and other debris were used in an attempt to track back to the likely site of the battle, and from there to estimate the approximate location of the wrecks.

8.25    The experts agreed that both ships could have been lost in the position stated by the Germans. However, the group of researchers:

8.26    Since the Forum, the WAMM has 'continued to work in the water both independently and with the assistance of the RAN examining snags, magnetic anomalies, unusual echo sounder traces or other indications of a wreck ... This work is on-going ...'.28 The WAMM has established contact with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI), a leading US-based oceanographic research organisation responsible for locating the wreck of the Titanic. The WHOI has 'promised support in locating HMAS Sydney provided the search areas could be narrowed down to Bismarck and Titanic parameters'.29

8.27    In addition to the work of the WAMM, considerable work has also been undertaken by a number of groups and individual researchers, aimed at further defining the most likely search area.

Comparisons with the Titanic and Bismarck

8.28    The discovery of the Titanic and the Bismarck in the mid 1980s signalled to many that locating Sydney, should she rest in deep water, was now technically feasible. It is instructive, however, to note that a number of factors about the experience in locating Bismarck and the Titanic vary from the situation facing those searching for Sydney.

8.29    The Department of Defence, in commenting on whether a deliberate search should be mounted, made the following observation:

Titanic was located in 4000 metres of water and Bismarck in 4800 metres of water. Titanic was located in two pieces, half a mile apart. Even with reasonably accurate locations for both ships, it took three weeks to locate the wreck of the Bismarck. The leader of the Titanic and Bismarck search teams, Dr Robert Ballard from WHOI, is reported as commenting that 'finding the wreck of Sydney cannot be described as looking for a needle in a haystack because the haystack has not yet been found'.31

8.30    However, the discovery of both Titanic and Bismarck does indicate that the technology is available not only to locate wrecks at these depths, but also to examine them.

Current location theories

8.31    The Committee agrees with the proposition that:

8.32    Given that the actual site of the engagement is still in dispute among researchers, it was perhaps not very surprising to find an even more vigorous debate in progress on the possible locations for the wrecks of Sydney and Kormoran. Differences emerge according to whether the German view of events (in whole or in part) is believed, and on whether alternative scenarios of the engagement are considered possible. A number of different possible wreck sites were put forward to the Committee, and these are summarised in Table8.1.

Table 8.1 Possible Locations of Battle Site and Wreck Sites

Location Source/comments:
2634'S, 111E Location of the engagement given by Captain Detmers.33
27S, 111E Location of the engagement, as given by the Navigation Officer of Kormoran.34
2711.71'S, 11312.88'E Possible location of the Kormoran wreck, as identified by Mr D R E King.35
24S, 110E, in a depth of 3000-4000 metres Position of Kormoran as given by Mr J Montagu; position of Sydney is not conclusive. Based on the report of linseed oil sighted by HMAS Heros on 26 November 1941.36
2620'S, 11225'E Kormoran sinking position, given by LCDR Ean McDonald.37
2838.39'S, 11321.86'E Knight/Whittaker position (KDLS Target 3), believed to be the Kormoran.38
2454'S, 10842'E Position of battle given by Mr James Eagles.39
2642.3'S, 11146.8'E

2628.35'S, 11132.6'E

2638.7'S, 11141.9'E

Action site.

Sydney wreck (note, the Sydney and Kormoran wrecks in this proposal are believed to be 13 nm apart).

Kormoran wreck. Positions as provided by CMDR R J Hardstaff.40

2615'S, 111E Kirsner and Dunn battle site position.41
2630'S, 11130'E Hughes position of battle site.42
2640'S, 11040'E Steedman and McCormack battle site.43
28S, 11332'E Possible site of the Sydney wreck, given by Mrs Glenys McDonald.44
2619.6'S, 11141.8'E Fugro Survey Pty Ltd, prepared for the HMAS Sydney Foundation Trust.45

8.33    The differences of opinion can be classified into two main groups: those who basically agree with the position of the engagement given by the Germans (in the vicinity of 2634'S, 111E); and those who believe the engagement occurred much further south, approximately at latitude 28S. Two of the positions that have attracted varying degrees of support are discussed in this section, as an illustration of the complexities of defining the search area.

The Kirsner/Dunn Position

8.34    The HMAS Sydney Foundation Trust has been very active in its attempts to define the possible search area for the wrecks. Among the procedures it has been undertaking are:

8.35    The results of the work so far are contained in a submission to the Committee by Dr Kim Kirsner and Dr John Dunn. The paper comments on the feasibility of a search for the wrecks of Sydney and Kormoran.47 Examining both the oceanographic data and the archival data (survivors reports), the paper suggests an area identified for the Kormoran of a comparable size to that of the searches for the Titanic and Bismarck. The paper identifies two areas as possible sites for a search: the smaller of the two circles (five nautical miles in radius from position of 2615'S, 111E)48 provides a search area similar in dimensions to that of the Titanic and Bismarck. The larger circle (with a 15 nm radius) is certainly bigger than Titanic and Bismarck. Water depth in both areas is approximately 2500 metres.50

8.36    The paper also looks at estimates of the wreck site produced by Mr Sam Hughes, a search and rescue expert from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and Mr Ray Steedman, an oceanographer. While 'these studies involved different techniques and differed considerably in regard to longitude, they were very similar in regard to latitude, at 2619'S to 2640'S'.51

8.37    Some concerns about the methodology used by Kirsner and Dunn were raised by Mrs Glenys McDonald, as she found it difficult to fully assess the 'hindcasting for the seven lifeboats/rafts without a detailed analysis from each boat as to what sails were rigged'.52 Mrs McDonald also cautioned about placing so much emphasis on 'the small amount of debris found from two large ships, which were apparently both burning fiercely. None of this debris was found with any evidence of fire damage'.53

8.38    Mrs McDonald also raised the problem of what we should or should not believe of the German account:

8.39    Kirsner and Dunn also state that they believe 'Sydney sank 10 to 20 miles to the south of that position [2615'S, 11100'E]'.55 Mrs McDonald challenges that opinion, indicating that Kirsner and Dunn have not examined the possibility that Sydney could have travelled much further on in a south or south-easterly direction. 'There are many examples of badly damaged ships, with damage similar to that inflicted on HMAS Sydney by HSK Kormoran travelling for many hours before either sinking or reaching safety'.56

8.40    McDonald, Kirsner and Dunn are at variance also on the value of oral history (and hence the value of the reports by Port Gregory residents of their sightings of a battle at sea in November 1941). Kirsner and Dunn, while acknowledging the 'intrinsic value' of oral history conclude that 'we should not expect eyewitness testimony to provide reliable information about the time and location of specific events after 30 or 40 years'.57 In a supplementary submission they add:

8.41    However, Mrs McDonald rebuts this view, indicating that while oral history is 'subject to inaccuracies ... so too is the written archival information of the time' and that 'In debunking the value of memory and therefore the collection of oral histories of a battle sounds (sic) off the coast from Port Gregory, Kirsner and Dunn have not adequately explained what it was these people saw'.59 In their supplementary submission, Kirsner and Dunn address this briefly, suggesting four possible explanations for the events that triggered the reports of Port Gregory residents:

Some of these are obviously more likely than others, and the only thing that is certain is that the debate about what Port Gregory residents saw will continue.

8.42    Mrs McDonald argues for a search for Kormoran based on German evidence, and then a search for Sydney based on both German and coastal sightings.61

8.43    In commenting on the views put forward by Kirsner and Dunn, CMDR R J Hardstaff, RAN (Retd) observed that 'I think the Professor's conclusions are a little far-fetched in this case and his trust in the German POW's too overpowering for him to reach a clear decision'.63

8.44    The HMAS Sydney Foundation Trust has indicated its willingness to have its proposed search plans subject to a technical audit.64

The Knight/Whittaker Position

8.45    The Committee also received evidence from Mr Lindsay Knight and Mr Warren Whittaker, who in January 1998, using the Knight Direction Location System (KDLS)65 conducted an airborne search over an area of more than 16 000 square miles off the Western Australian coast and located three 'targets'. Mr Knight believes that Target 1 is possibly HMAS Sydney, Target 2 'a mystery ship', and Target 3, possibly the remains of Kormoran. A second survey was flown several days later, over an area of 26 600 square miles and examined the site of the action as stated by Captain Detmers. No modern wrecks were discovered.66

8.46    According to Mr Knight, the suspected wreck of the Sydney is 85 nm from the KDLS identified Kormoran site, and outside the range of the air searches carried out by authorities in the days after Sydney's disappearance. He also believes that the wreck of what he believes to be Kormoran (at 2838.39'S, 11321.86'E) is close to where the action must have taken place. This site is some 193 nm from what he calls the 'official' site.67 According to Mr Knight, the target believed to be the Sydney is in somewhere around 4,900 metres of water; the vessel that is believed to be the Kormoran is in 800 metres of water.68

8.47    Although Targets 1 and 2 are 30 nautical miles apart, Mr Knight believes that they may be parts of the same ship.69 While others such as Frame believe that Sydney may well be in one or two large pieces on the ocean floor,70 the distance of 30 nautical miles would seem to rule out the suggestion that Targets 1 and 2 are parts of the one ship.

8.48    The accuracy of the KDLS in depths such as those indicated has not been tested, although Mr Knight claims that depth of water does not affect its detection ability.71 He indicated to the Committee that KDLS shipwreck surveys have been carried out in a number of sites around Australia, and also in PNG, Guernsey, Indonesia, the Philippines and the United States.72 Mr Knight has given a number of examples of actual discoveries made using his system, for example, a World War II ammunition ship was located in PNG using the signature of Japanese small arms ammunition; and Japanese ships located in the area of the Philippines.73

8.49    Doubts about the utility of the KDLS system have been raised by Kirsner and Dunn, who were critical of the lack of information about the system's sensitivity and specificity (i.e. its capacity to detect a target when one is present, and whether it will detect targets if they are weak; and lack of information about the system's ability to differentiate responses caused by other factors such as magnetic anomalies).74 While the Committee does not reject the findings arising from the KDLS surveys, it would like to see more evidence of the accuracy of the KDLS before giving the system its endorsement, in the absence of any explanation of the methodology involved.

8.50    Mr Whittaker, in a separate submission to the Committee, examined the relationship between the targets detected by the KDLS, the evidence provided by the objects recovered during search and rescue operations conducted in November 1941, and oral history as collected by Glenys McDonald and others. Mr Whittaker concluded that:

8.51    Mr Whittaker reported the wreck thought to be that of Kormoran (2838.39'S, 11321.86'E) and that of the Sydney (2958.53'S, 11248.26'E) but did not comment on the third target site identified in the survey.76

8.52    Kirsner and Dunn made the observation that according to the Western Australian Maritime Shipwreck data base, 'there are 76 modern wrecks offshore in Geraldton-Abrolhos region, the location of only two of which are known with any certainty. Without additional argument, it cannot be safely concluded that any of the "modern wrecks" detected by the KDLS is not one of these'.77 Kirsner and Dunn also make the point that, given the large number of wrecks in the area, it is somewhat surprising that the KDLS only detected three signals.

8.53    Kirsner and Dunn also raise concerns about the Knight/Whittaker claim that HSK Kormoran is at 2830'S, 11322'E, as their reconstruction:

8.54    The Knight/Whittaker conclusions place the action site further south than the Kirsner/Dunn area, and in the latter's opinion 'until Knight and Whittaker publish an independent audit, including information about the probability of false alarms and errors of omission for their procedure, the value of this evidence is unclear'.79 Kirsner and Dunn are also critical that the Whittaker hypothesis 'depends on selection of the most extreme values for wind and current ...'.80

8.55    Criticisms of the Knight submission were also made by Mr Alaistair Templeton:

8.56    Mr Templeton was also critical about a more southerly site of an action:

8.57    It is the belief of the WAMM that the 'first step in any "in-water" search for HMAS Sydney would be to examine an area at or near 2632-34'S, 111E, for any evidence of HSK Kormoran at least. It is clear from the submissions received to date that most search groups and individuals, irrespective of their deductions as to the whereabouts of HMAS Sydney, would see this a useful preliminary step, given that it is one capable of providing positive or negative evidence of considerable significance'.83


8.58    It is apparent from the brief discussion above that there is still a great deal of work to be done on defining a search area. While the Committee supports in principle the idea of mounting a search to locate the wrecks, it would be far too costly to mount a search on the information available at present. The Committee would like to see a phased approach to the search undertaken, beginning with a seminar or workshop, sponsored by Navy, to examine the various theories about possible wreck sites. This seminar/workshop would follow on from the work conducted at the 1991 Forum and the many hours of work since by interested researchers. The value in the seminar would be primarily in subjecting the various views to critical consideration and debate.

8.59    The Committee recommends that:

8.60    Depending on the outcome of that review, the Committee believes the next step should be an investigation of the area identified by the WAMM (at or near 2632-34'S, 111E), should this continue to be the most likely area after careful analysis.

8.61    The Committee recommends that:

Search Technology

8.62    In addition to defining the search area using hydrographic, oceanographic and archival sources, the Committee believes a number of initial surveys should be undertaken to determine that the search is in the correct area, prior to a full search being mounted. These modified searches can take a number of forms.

8.63    Mr Wes Olson has put the view that:

8.64    Professor Penrose, a Trustee of the HMAS Sydney Foundation Trust, discussed two techniques for determining hydrocarbons: using fluorescence (excited by a laser on a passing aircraft and detected by sensors on that aircraft); and by examining the sheen on the water viewed from satellite space records.85 Professor Penrose explained that should an expression of hydrocarbons on the surface be found, there are two main sources, one being natural seepage, and the second that a shipwreck is emitting oils (though it may not necessarily be from either HMAS Sydney or HSK Kormoran).86

8.65    While there is some doubt about whether the wrecks would be still releasing oil, the Trust has looked at two wrecks that were sunk in about the same time frame: Royal Oak in Scapa Flow and HMAS Perth in Sunda Strait. Both appear to still show oil slicks, although both are in much shallower water than is likely for Sydney or Kormoran.87 The oil may be strongly dispersed by the time it reaches the surface, but it may give an indication of a general search area, if taken with other estimates of the likely wreck sites.

8.66    Deepwater side scan sonar is another technique that might be used in a search. It involves a sideways looking sonar being towed behind a vessel. While the side scan sonar can detect an object, it cannot say what it is:

This technology can provide a more accurate picture of an object, assisting in its identification. The Trust believes that an initial broadscale search will probably involve a sonar side scan or swath type of technology.89

8.67    To effectively operate side scan sonar technology, a vessel must have a differential global positioning system, to provide accurate navigation. The vessel also has to have the capacity to tow a deep water side scan sonar.

8.68    In addition to these systems, a magnetometer may also be of use. 'At appropriately short ranges a deep towed magnetometer will tell whether any piece of wreckage or a natural structure is or is not ferromagnetic'.90 HMAS Moresby used side scan and magnetometry in some of its searches in the 1980s. Given the depth that the wrecks are likely to be in, flying an airborne magnetometer is unlikely to be productive.

8.69    All of the above technologies are available commercially in Australia, either permanently or a regular visiting basis.

8.70    It was apparent from the evidence received by the Committee that the vessel needed for the search will require capabilities currently not possessed by the RAN. This was confirmed by Defence which argued that should a deliberate search be mounted it would 'require the charter of a specialised vessel for an indeterminate period of time. Such a venture would be extremely expensive and hard to justify in the current fiscal climate'.91

8.71    HMAS Moresby has been decommissioned, and HMAS Protector does not at present have the capabilities for deep water survey operations. The Committee was advised that:

8.72    In addition to the ability to locate the wrecks, possibly using ships equipped with deep water side scan sonar, once the wrecks are located there will need to be a vessel with a Dynamic Positioning Capability i.e. capable of holding a position over the wreck site in deep ocean while the wreck is examined using an ROV. Mr Ed Punchard, Chairman of the HMAS Sydney Foundation Trust, advised the Committee that it was his understanding that vessels with the capacity to be dynamically positioned are being acquired by the RAN. Regardless of whether the RAN acquires this capability, the Committee believes that all avenues for obtaining a suitable vessel should be examined. For example, suitable vessels (with some modification) might be available through other areas of the Australian Government e.g. the Australian Geological Survey Organisation or the CSIRO. In addition:

8.73    CMDR Hardstaff supported a search, but suggested it be conducted by:

8.74    A vessel such as HMS Scott would be well suited for such search activities. Scott, an ocean survey ship of the Royal Navy, has the ability to sweep a path 60 nm wide at 5000 metre depths.96 It is possible that the RN could be approached about participating in a search, should it prove to be financially feasible. However, other alternatives appear available, and will be reasonably cost effective provided that the search area is more manageable.

Funding a Search

8.75    The Committee was asked in its Terms of Reference to consider the extent to which the Commonwealth Government should participate in a search. The Committee has interpreted participation to be not only in direct funding, but also in terms of logistical assistance and the possible provision of equipment.

8.76    The cost of any search is likely to be in the order of several million dollars, and there are a number of ways this could be funded. Many of the submissions to the inquiry called for Commonwealth funding to be provided to allow the search to be undertaken. For some, there was little doubt as to who should bear the cost of any search:

8.77    Other sources of funding, however, might also be possible. Mr Walter Pless, in his submission, noted that:

8.78    The Committee considered a range of options for funding, including a proposal that rather than fund a search, a substantial reward be offered for 'a proven find of one or other wreck'.99 While this idea has some appeal, the Committee believes it appropriate that a more co-ordinated approach be taken to any search. It is unlikely that the wrecks will be found by chance, given that deliberate attempts to locate the wrecks have been unsuccessful to date, and despite a reward already being possible under the Historic Shipwrecks Act. As the wrecks are most likely in deep water, the cost to an individual or small group of enthusiasts of the technology and equipment to conduct a search is almost prohibitive.100

8.79    The Committee would prefer to see a more co-ordinated and cost effective approach to a search, rather than a 'free-for-all' that might result from a large reward being offered. The Committee also acknowledges that a successful search will require a multi-disciplinary approach, a high degree of coordination, and clever management if the result is to be achieved. To this end, the Committee has concluded that the HMAS Sydney Foundation Trust is the most appropriate body to co-ordinate the search activities at present.

8.80    The Committee also considered whether the search should be funded solely by the Government, but given the financial constraints on all levels of government, did not believe this was either practical or desirable. For some, it was indeed preferable if the search was independent of the Commonwealth:

8.81    However, the Committee believes that the Commonwealth Government should be involved in the search, and its proposed role, and the role of the HMAS Sydney Foundation Trust, are discussed below.

The HMAS Sydney Foundation Trust

8.82    The HMAS Sydney Foundation Trust (hereafter referred to as the Trust) was established 'to locate the wreck and commemorate those who were lost. It is committed to a non-invasive inspection of the wrecks of HMAS Sydney and, should it be found first, HSK Kormoran. The wreck-sites will then be treated as "graves-at-sea", and protected accordingly'.102 It has Trustees 'representing the Returned Service Organisations, business, technical search audit expertise, technical search companies and institutions, world-recognised archivists, the Western Australian Maritime Museum, and the legal profession'.103

8.83    The Trust has been established as a charitable trust104 and lays claim to being 'probably the only Australian organisation suitably equipped from the technical and organisational standpoints to search for HMAS Sydney. The Trust therefore represents a significant collaborative initiative involving a broad cross-section of scientific, technical and industrial expertise'.105

8.84    The Trust has indicated that a critical part of its business plan involves a public appeal for funds. While the appeal has been deferred pending the outcome of this inquiry, the Trust has indicated it has the legal and financial arrangements in place to start, including an auditing process. The Trust has indicated the appeal will seek funds for the technical audit; commemoration activities; the in-water search; and the operating costs of the Trust (which have largely to date been funded by the Trustees, companies associated with them, and some public donations).106

8.85    The Trust in its submission proposed that consideration be given to the Commonwealth Government setting aside:

8.86    The Trust provided the Committee with a number of estimates for various components of its program. To complete the work to identify the target area, an amount of $93,000 was sought, as follows:

8.87    The budget for the actual search contains a number of options which obviously vary the expenditure. The estimates range from $3.53 million up to $4.08m.109 However, the preliminary stages involve more modest amounts of expenditure:

8.88    The major expense foreshadowed by the Trust is in the Phase 3 (in-water swath survey $1.7m) and Phase 4 of the project (close inspection by Remotely Operated Vehicle $1.79m).111

8.89    The Trust believes that 'considerable cost savings can be achieved by having various services donated. These could well include Freight, Airfares, Accommodation, Port Charges and Fees including pilotage, wharf fees, wharf labour, Vessel hire, Vessel crew donating their services free of charge, fuel and communications'. Indeed, the Trust has argued that 'the funding of this exercise may well combine a combination of resources'.112 In compiling budget estimates, no allowance for savings such as these were included.113

8.90    As noted earlier, the Trust has stated that there are vessels available for charter in Australia capable of undertaking the survey work. For the ROV work, there are around four vessels in Australia (three operating in the offshore oil and gas industry) and one working with the RAN, capable of remaining over one location without anchoring while the ROV is deployed.114 It is the express desire of the Trust that Australian companies be utilised in the search,115 and the Committee endorses this approach.

8.91    The Committee is aware, however, that the establishment of the Trust and its operations have not been universally welcomed. There has been some concern expressed about the possible conflict of interest between some Trustees who have businesses that might be involved in the work of the Trust as it undertakes the search. There has also been concern expressed that the Trust is more a money-making venture than an organisation dedicated to the commemoration of those lost on Sydney.116 The Committee notes these concerns but does not share them.

8.92    After having examined the Deed of Trust and having reviewed the material provided by the Trust to the inquiry, the Committee believes there are adequate safe-guards to ensure that funds raised in the name of the Trust are used properly. The Committee notes that under the Deed of Trust establishing the HMAS Sydney Foundation Trust, the accounts of the Trust are to be audited.117 The Committee also acknowledges the many hours of unpaid work undertaken by the Trustees and the facilities provided by their companies to date. However, in the dispersal of publicly raised funds, the Committee believes it is important that the Trust ensures that any of its work involving the use of commercial enterprises be undertaken following an independent tendering process.

8.93    The Committee has concluded that it would be appropriate for the Commonwealth Government to be involved in the search for HMAS Sydney, giving support not only morally but also in a tangible way. While the Committee believes the HMAS Sydney Foundation Trust should be the prime co-ordinator of the search, RAN resources should also be made available to assist in the search as required. To this end the Committee would like to see closer liaison between the Trust and Navy, along the lines of the MOU signed between the Trust and the Western Australian Maritime Museum.

8.94    The Committee recommends that:

8.95    The Committee also supports the provision of Commonwealth funding to the Trust on the following basis:

8.96    The Committee recommends that:

Management Issues

8.97    The Committee's primary concern, should the wrecks be located, is that they be adequately protected as the final resting place of so many Australian servicemen. The importance of the wrecks is such that there was no question in any of the submissions that a proper management plan should be developed.

Protection of the Wrecks

8.98    The protection of historic shipwrecks and relics located within Australian waters is provided for by the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 (HSA). Australian waters are defined as being 'from the low water mark to the outer edge of the continental shelf but not including State waters'.118 In practice this means that 'if the wreck is anywhere in waters from Australia's low tide mark to the continental shelf, it would be covered by the act'.119 Departmental officers with responsibility for the Act confirmed that the Act extends to the extent of the continental shelf, irrespective of the economic zone boundary.120

8.99    The Act prohibits damage, interference, removal or destruction of an historic shipwreck or associated relics, except in accordance with a permit, and is administered in co-operation with the States, the Northern Territory and Norfolk Island.121 Under the Act, the Minister for the Environment and Heritage has delegated certain of his powers under the HSA to the States and Northern Territory: the Minister's delegate in Western Australia is the Director of the Western Australian Maritime Museum.122

8.100    The Department advised that wrecks covered by the Act may be protected in three main ways:

Recommendations for the declaration of shipwrecks as historic and for the creation of protected zones are usually made to the Minister by Delegates, but may also be made by any member of the public.123

8.101    The Western Australian Maritime Museum indicated that permits for access to a protected zone would be issued:

8.102    Penalties of up to $10,000 ($50,000 for corporations) and five years in gaol apply for breaches of the Act. The Act also provides for a reward to persons who 'first provide a description sufficient to enable a historic shipwreck to be located'.125 The Department stressed that its funding did not cover the financing of searches for wrecks.

8.103    It is apparent from para 8.100 above, that the second and third methods of protection would best apply to HMAS Sydney, should she be located within Australian waters.

8.104    The Committee recommends that:

8.105    Anyone is able to go searching for the wrecks. The protection provided under the HSA only applies once the location of the ship is known and the Minister has made a determination under the Act. As an officer of the then Department of Communications and the Arts advised:

8.106    The Department of Defence considers that:

8.107    One submission to the inquiry argued that, should the wrecks be found:

8.108    While the Committee does not endorse keeping the location secret, it is concerned that the wrecks be protected from exploitation and interference. Even with the declaration of a protected zone around the site, there is still concern that it would not prevent unscrupulous people diving on the wreck and trying to take souvenirs. Of course, much will depend on the depth of the water, but even Titanic, resting in 4000 metres has not been totally protected from the curious and the avaricious. Mrs Glenys McDonald has advocated community involvement in protecting the site and reporting of unauthorised activity; 'we need the community to do that protecting with the help of the authorities, not by the authorities alone'.129

8.109    The Committee believes there is merit in Mrs McDonald's suggestions of involving fishermen, dive clubs and others in monitoring the site, and would hope that the Western Australian Maritime Museum would consider community involvement in the steps it puts into place to protect the site. The Navy should also be involved in the development of a management plan for the protection of the wreck sites, as should other 'stakeholders', defined by the WAMM as including 'the RAN, other Museums (notably the War Memorial and the National Maritime Museum), the German Government, the HSK Kormoran Survivor's Association, Australian Statutory Authorities (such as the Department of Veterans Affairs), the Geraldton-based search and research groups, individual researchers and authors, family groups, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and the HMAS Sydney Foundation Trust'.130

8.110    The Committee recommends that:

8.111    If HSK Kormoran is found in Australian waters, the German Government will obviously be closely involved in decisions about its protection and management. In 1991 the WAMM, through the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs, advised the German Government that should Kormoran be located:

These principles were endorsed by representatives of the German and Australian Governments and other stakeholders, establishing 'the precedent for all future deliberations on the management of the two wrecks'.131

8.112    Should the wrecks be found to be in international waters, the situation with protection is less clear. If in international waters, 'warships are generally claimed by the country that originally owned that warship', according to Mr G Henderson, the Director of the Western Australian Maritime Museum.132 However, Mr Henderson also advised that:

8.113    There is no legislative basis, however, on which to impose access restrictions on a site in international waters:

A War Grave?

8.114    Suggestions have been made that the wreck should be declared an official 'war grave'.135 The Australian War Memorial, in fact, noted that the 'wreck is a war grave'. While the wreck is certainly the final resting place of those lost during a wartime engagement, the term 'war grave' has specific connotations. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission commented:

The Trust/WAMM MOU

8.115    In July 1996 a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between the Western Australian Maritime Museum and the HMAS Sydney Foundation Trust. The MOU is a 'statement of general intent between the parties'.137

8.116    Under the MOU, the Trust Fund will be used as follows:

The Museum's intentions are also listed in the document, and include provision of curatorial and educational assistance to the Trustees, provision of expert advice on archival work, and co-operation with the Trustees in examining wrecksites.139

8.117    The Trust has indicated that it 'will facilitate protection of the sites by inviting staff from the Museum ... and from the Department of Defence, to attend and observe all in-water search operations'.140 Furthermore, it has indicated that a plan for inspection of the wreck will be developed and then reviewed by the WAMM, who will also observe the inspection, as will representatives of the relevant service and ex-service agencies. Procedures will include a wreck identification procedure, a survey to determine the general state of the wrecks, and a photographic record of the exposed surfaces of the vessels. The Trust has assured that 'all of the procedures will be non-invasive'.141

8.118    The establishment of an MOU is a sensible step, listing as it does the extent of the co-operation between the Trust and the WAMM. However, the Committee wishes to stress that the WAMM, as the delegate under the HSA, must retain full and final control of who has access to the site of the wrecks for research purposes, and must be vigilant in its moves to protect the wreck sites. The WAMM has acknowledged the need for independence in this matter:

8.119    The Committee endorses the Trustees declared intention to abide by the HSA, and in regard to the located wrecks, that no entry will take place within the structure of either ship, and that there will be no disturbance of the site or removal of items from the site or surrounding seabed.143

8.120    The Trust has proposed that, should the wrecks be located, video footage be obtained, via the deployment of a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV). In its submission, the Trust states: 'All video, together with navigation data relating to the vessel and ROV are stored electronically, commonly on CD disc (sic) for later examination and processing and archiving'.144 The Committee has no difficulty with such video footage being taken, providing that it is available to other researchers and interested parties, perhaps via the Virtual Memorial.


8.121    The search for Sydney and Kormoran is not guaranteed of success. If it does succeed, it may provide those interested in the fate of the ships some further insights into the events of 19November 1941. If the search is unsuccessful, it does not mean that people will no longer wonder about the final resting place of the ship. However, an attempt to find the Sydney will be a sign that Australia cares about the 645 men who gave their lives in defence of their country, as well as their families and friends.

1 .    Pless, Submission, pp. 223-224.
2 .    Fraser, Submission, p. 3549.
3 .    Terms of Reference, paragraph (3).
4 .    Detmers, op. cit., p. 187.
5 .    Bray, Submission, pp. 30-31.
6 .    Munyard, Submission, p. 93.
7 .    Western Australian Maritime Museum, Submission, p. 148.
8 .    Department of Defence, Transcript, p. 9.
9 .    McDonald, G, Submission, p. 171.
10 .    Kirsner and Dunn, Submission, pp. 2738-2739.
11 .    ibid.
12 .    Edwards, Transcript, pp. 180-181
13 .    Burnett, P, Transcript, p. 487.
14 .    Creagh, Submission, pp. 1011-1012.
15 .    Olson, Transcript, p. 213.
16 .    Sheldon-Collins, Submission, p. 622.
17 .    Department of Communications and the Arts, Submission, p. 352.
18 .    Department of Defence, Submission, p. 1844.
19 .    ibid., pp. 1920-1930.
20 .    McCarthy, 'HMAS Sydney/HSK Kormoran and the Western Australian Maritime Museum', in Western Australian Maritime Museum, Submission, p. 4065.
21 .    Department of Defence, Submission, p. 1920.
22 .    ibid., p. 1930.
23 .    ibid., p. 1844.
24 .    ibid.
25 .    Hardstaff, Transcript, pp. 438-439.
26 .    ibid., pp. 438, 445.
27 .    McCarthy, in Western Australian Maritime Museum, Submission, p. 4065.
28 .    ibid.
29 .    Western Australian Maritime Museum, Submission, p. 146.
30 .    Department of Defence, Submission, p. 1845.
31 .    Frame, op. cit., p. 225.
32 .    Slade, Submission, p. 2603.
33 .    Department of Defence, Submission, p. 1845.
34 .    ibid.
35 .    King, Submission, p. 3983.
36 .    Montagu, Submission, p. 110.
37 .    McDonald, E, Submission, p. 547.
38 .    Knight, Submission, p. 2207.
39 .    Eagles, Submission, p. 3611.
40 .    Hardstaff, Submission, p. 47.
41 .    Kirsner and Dunn, Submission, p. 4039.
42 .    Quoted in Kirsner and Dunn, Submission, p. 4039.
43 .    ibid.
44 .    McDonald, G, Submission, p. 174.
45 .    HMAS Sydney Foundation Trust, Submission, p. 843.
46 .    ibid., pp. 824-825.
47 .    Kirsner and Dunn, Submission, pp. 2727-2742.
48 .    ibid., p. 2734.
49 .    Kirsner, Transcript, p. 173.
50 .    HMAS Sydney Foundation Trust, Transcript, p. 169.
51 .    Kirsner and Dunn, Submission, p. 2729.
52 .    McDonald, G, Submission, p. 3351.
53 .    ibid., p. 3354.
54 .    ibid., p. 3352.
55 .    Kirsner and Dunn, Submission, p. 2734.
56 .    McDonald, G, Submission, p. 3354.
57 .    Kirsner and Dunn, Submission, pp. 2736-2737.
58 .    ibid., p. 4045.
59 .    McDonald, G, Submission, pp. 3359 and 3361.
60 .    Kirsner and Dunn, Submission, p. 4045.
61 .    McDonald G, Submission, p. 3361.
62 .    ibid., p. 173.
63 .    Hardstaff, Submission, p. 3753.
64 .    The Trust has established 'a technical audit procedure to review the position analyses, the feasibility of an in-water search, and technical issues associated with the in-water search'. The audit would involve a select group of international experts (Submission, p. 828). The Committee believes the Trust would also welcome the contribution of Australian researchers as well as international experts.
65 .    The KDLS, developed by Mr Knight, 'consists of a Transmitter/Receiver, and a set of specially constructed and tuned hand held aerials. In addition, a magnetometer and a computer is used ... To use the system, the operator tunes the transmitter to broadcast the predetermined KDLS resonant frequency of the substance to be detected. If the substance is present in the ground or under water, at any depth, the micro energy from the resonating target material is detected' (Knight, Submission, p. 2219).
66 .    ibid., pp. 2204-2206.
67 .    ibid., pp. 2206-2208.
68 .    Knight, Transcript, p. 394.
69 .    ibid., p. 392.
70 .    Frame, op. cit., p. 226.
71 .    'KDLS Targets can be located at any depth regardless of type of cover' (Knight, Submission, p . 2218).
72 .    Knight, Submission, p. 2221.
73 .    ibid., p. 2222.
74 .    Kirsner and Dunn, Submission, p. 4026.
75 .    Whittaker, Submission, pp. 3636-3639.
76 .    ibid., p. 3642.
77 .    Kirsner and Dunn, Submission, pp. 4026-4027. Modern wrecks are defined as ships lost since 1900. 78 .    ibid., p. 4043.
79 .    ibid., p. 2735.
80 .    ibid.
81 .    Templeton, Transcript, pp. 473 and 475.
82 .    ibid., p. 476.
83 .    Western Australian Maritime Museum, Submission, p. 4060.
84 .    Olson, Submission, p. 217.
85 .    Penrose, Transcript, p. 171.
86 .    ibid., p. 172.
87 .    ibid., p. 169.
88 .    Graham, Transcript, p. 160.
89 .    Penrose, Transcript, p. 161.
90 .    ibid.
91 .    Department of Defence, Submission, p. 1845.
92 .    Slade, Submission, pp. 2603-2604.
93 .    Punchard, Transcript, p. 175.
94 .   Hardstaff, Transcript, p. 448.
95 .    Hardstaff, Submission, p. 78.
96 .    Ross, Submission, p. 476. Emphasis in original.
97 .    Pless, Submission, p. 224.
98 .    See for example Poniewierski, Submission, p. 3593.
99 .    For example, Mr J Montagu indicated that his group was quoted a cost of A$1,000,000 per calendar month by the Woods Hole Institute several years ago, with no guarantee of success (Submission, p.2673).
100 .    Montgomery, Submission, p. 638.
101 .    HMAS Sydney Foundation Trust, Submission, p. 798.
102 .    ibid., p. 3627.
103 .    Punchard, Transcript, p. 176.
104 .    HMAS Sydney Foundation Trust, Submission, p. 798.
105 .    ibid., p. 831.
106 .    ibid., p. 832.
107 .    ibid., pp. 3256-3259.
108 .    ibid., pp. 3628-3633.
109 .    ibid., pp. 3628-3629.
110 .    ibid., pp. 3630-3632.
111 .    ibid., p. 3628.
112 .    ibid.
113 .    ibid., p. 3633.
114 .    ibid., p. 825.
115 .    See for example, McDonald, E, Transcript, p. 227; Hardstaff, Transcript, p. 449; End Secrecy on Sydney Group, Submission, p.2066.
116 .    HMAS Sydney Foundation Trust, Submission, p. 3628.
117 .    Department of Communications and the Arts, Submission, p. 349. Note, responsibility for the HSA now resides with the Department of the Environment and Heritage (Administrative Arrangements Order, 21October 1998).
118 .    Department of Communications and the Arts, Transcript, p. 60.
110 .    ibid., p. 61.
120 .    Department of Communications and the Arts, Submission, p. 349.
121 .    ibid., p. 350.
122 .    ibid.
123 .    Western Australian Maritime Museum, Submission, p. 146.
124 .    Department of Communications and the Arts, Submission, p. 350.
125 .    Department of Communications and the Arts, Transcript, p. 65.
126 .    Department of Defence, Submission, p. 1860.
127 .    Creagh, Submission, p. 1012.
128 .    McDonald, G, Submission, p. 182.
129 .    Western Australian Maritime Museum, Submission, p. 4060.
130 .    ibid., pp. 146-147.
131 .    Western Australian Maritime Museum, Transcript, p. 128.
132 .    ibid.
133 .    ibid., p. 132.
134 .    Australian War Memorial, Submission, p. 580.
135 .    Commonwealth War Graves Commission, included in Department of Veterans' Affairs, Submission, p.347.
136 .    Exhibit No. 55a, para 2.
137 .    ibid., para 3.
138 .    ibid., para 4.
139 .    HMAS Sydney Foundation Trust, Submission, p. 817.
140 .    ibid., p. 827.
141 .    McCarthy, in Western Australian Maritime Museum, Submission, pp. 4068-4069.
142 .    Exhibit No. 55a, para 5.
143 .    HMAS Sydney Foundation Trust, Submission, p. 3632.

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