Station HYPO note:

The Montevideo Maru was not the only merchant ship carrying prisoners of war that was attacked and sank during World War II.  See Station HYPO’s story following CCNs story to learn about LCDR Francis D. Jordan, USN, Japanese language officer and the Japanese “Hell Ship,” Arisan Mara.

(CNN) A Japanese merchant ship that sank during World War II while carrying over 1,000 prisoners of war in Australia’s largest loss of life at sea has been found.

The Montevideo Maru was discovered off the northwest coast of the Philippines’ Luzon island at a depth of more than 4,000 meters (13,000ft) in the South China Sea, Australian Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles confirmed in a video he posted on Saturday from his Twitter account.

The discovery brought to an end to “one of the most tragic chapters in Australia’s maritime history,” he said.

The vessel was transporting approximately 1,060 prisoners from around 16 countries, including 850 Australian service members, from the former Australian territory of New Guinea to what was then the Japanese-occupied island of Hainan when an American submarine torpedoed and sank the ship — which had not been marked as transporting prisoners of war — on July 1, 1942.

“The absence of a location of the Montevideo Maru has represented unfinished business for the families of those who lost their lives,” Marles explained.

Australian authorities commended those who had taken part in the search, including deep-sea survey specialists and members of Australia’s armed forces, thanking them for providing closure to those who lost loved ones 81 years prior.

“I want to thank the Silentworld team and the dedicated researchers, including the Unrecovered War Casualties team at Army, who have never given up hope of finding the final resting place of the Montevideo Maru,” Chief of the Australian Army Lieutenant General Simon Stuart said.

“A loss like this reaches down through the decades and reminds us all of the human cost of conflict. Lest We Forget,” Stuart added.

“The extraordinary effort behind this discovery speaks for the enduring truth of Australia’s solemn national promise to always remember and honor those who served our country. This is the heart and the spirit of Lest We Forget,” Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese wrote.

Remembering LCDR Francis Dixon Jordan, USN, Japanese Language Officer

LCDR Francis Dixon Jordan
June 16, 1906 – October 24, 1944

A Japanese Language Officer who received his Japanese Language training in Japan from 1934-1938, LCDR Francis Dixon Jordan, USN, was serving as the executive officer of USS Luzon (PG 47) until ship was scuttled in Manila Bay on May 6, 1942,  shortly before Corregidor surrendered.   Following the ship’s scuttle, Jordan, was captured by the Japanese held as a Prisoner of War (POW) on the Japanese “Hell Ship,” Arisan Maru (A).  While in captivity, he was killed on October 24, 1944 when an American submarine, probably the USS Shark (SS 314), sank the Arisan Maru.

On October 21, Arisan Maru departed Manila for the final time, joining convoy MATA-30 heading for Takao. The convoy was composed of 13 merchant vessels, three destroyers as escorts and one fleet supply ship. Arisan Maru was one of the slowest ships in the convoy, capable of making no more than 7 knots (8.1 mph). On October 23, the destroyers began picking up signals from American submarines. Roughly 200 nautical miles (230 mi) west of Cape Bojeador, Luzon, the convoy was ordered to break up due to the sheer number and to sail at fastest possible speed for Takao (modern day Kaohsiung Taiwan) due to the American submarine threat.

Arisan Maru

On October 24, 1944, Arisan Maru, by then traveling alone, was hit by a torpedo from USS Shark, at about 5 p.m. in the No.3 hold. The ship buckled amidships, the engines stopped and the aft mast fell, but the freighter stayed afloat. She finally sank around 7:40 p.m in the Bashi Straits between Formosa and Luzon, South China Sea. 

In response to the torpedo attack, the destroyers Take and Harukaze attacked and sank Shark. After engaging the American submarine, the two destroyers returned to Arisan Maru to look for recover only Japanese survivors.  No POWs were killed by the torpedo strikes and nearly all were able to leave the ship’s holds. Only nine of the 1,773 prisoners aboard survived the event. Five escaped and made their way to China in one of the ship’s two lifeboats. They were reunited with U.S. Forces and returned to the United States. The four others were later recaptured by Imperial Japanese naval vessels, where one died shortly after reaching land.

Each POW was given eight five-gallon oil cans for their waste, which quickly overflowed due to a number of men afflicted by dysentery. The POWs suffered through unsanitary conditions, extreme heat within the hold (120 °F) and a lack of water.

(A) 6,886 ton Type 2A freighter constructed in 1944 during World War II and was one of Imperial Japan’s hell ships. The vessel, named for a mountain on Formosa, was initially used as a troop transport. The vessel was turned over for use for the transportation of POWs from the Philippines to Manchuria, China or Japan.

His wife was listed as next of kin. He has a memory marker in North Carolina.

Source: The Last Voyage of the Arisan Maru