The Australian navy believes it may have discovered the wreckage of the nation’s first military submarine, AE1, which disappeared a century ago off the coast of Papua New Guinea.
A navy mine hunter reportedly made a “contact of interest” while conducting an underwater search for AE1, a British-built 800-ton E class light submarine which vanished during World War One, with 35 Australian and British sailors aboard, on September 14 1914.
The contact was detected in the Duke of York Islands, about 500 miles northeast of Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea.
“We need to get more detailed analysis. That is what we are doing at the moment,” an unnamed defence official told Fairfax Media.
The search area was determined using local historical accounts, including one from Pacific islanders who spoke of a “monster” that approached a nearby reef and then disappeared.
AE1 was deployed at the request of Britain to operate against Germany’s colonies in the Pacific and helped in operations to occupy German New Guinea.
Its disappearance – the day after the German surrender of Rabaul, a town in Papua New Guinea – has long been regarded as one of Australia’s great maritime mysteries.
The ship was deployed alongside an Australian naval vessel, HMAS Parramatta, to conduct patrols and was last seen at 3.30pm on September 14. Seas were calm at the time, though a German cruiser was at large in the area. The Australian War Memorial website says “it has been presumed that AE1 struck an uncharted reef and sank”.
Family members of the missing sailors travelled on the mine hunter and held a wreath laying service in the waters where the submarine is believed to have sunk.
“Hopefully they will find it, and then we will know where it is, but it should remain where it is and untouched,” said Robyn Rosenstrauss, whose great-uncle, James Fettes, served on AE1.