Maritime archaeologists from the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM) and the National Research Centre of Archaeology Indonesia/Pusat Penelitian Arkeologi Nasional (ARKENAS) will conduct a joint dive on the wreck of the Australian World War II vessel HMAS Perth next month (March) amidst a program of commemorations in Indonesia and the United States.
HMAS Perth, alongside American cruiser USS Houston, was sunk with 353 crew following a fierce sea battle against the Imperial Japanese Navy on the night of 28 February 1942 off the coast of Bantam Bay on the northwest tip of Java in Indonesia, where the wrecks remain today.
The research dive will be the first detailed survey of the wreck since 2014 and follows up on a remote sensing survey of the site carried out by the museum and ARKENAS in December last year. The 2017 survey will provide important information on the extent of any removal of material from the vessel.
ANMM began working closely with its colleagues at ARKENAS in 2014 following reports of illegal salvaging on both vessels and other WWII wrecks in the vicinity. In August 2015 both organisations signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work together to research and, where possible, protect the remains of sovereign warships lost in Indonesian waters.
The joint dive was originally scheduled for October last year however the early onset of the monsoon season prevented it from taking place. In the interim, ANMM and ARKENAS jointly commissioned a multi-beam sonar survey of the wreck last December which aimed to provide some information on the extent of any salvaging while gathering important DGPS information necessary for securing legislative protection of the wreck site.
“Unfortunately the results of the sonar survey were inconclusive,” said ANMM director Kevin Sumption today.
“Very poor weather conditions at the time impacted on the quality of the images collected and we just can’t say definitively what kind of disturbance there has been to the site.
“A physical dive on the site with both ANMM and ARKENAS archeologists will be the only way to gain a clear picture of what remains of Perth,” he added.
It is expected that the results of the March dive will take some months to be analysed. Information obtained will be used to confirm the condition of the wreck site, analyse the site’s stability and ongoing corrosion processes, verify if it has been interfered with in recent salvage events, and its historical and archaeological significance. This information will then be used to prepare, in consultation with ARKENAS, a Conservation Management Plan for the wreck site and a Case for Declaration under the Republic of Indonesia’s Cultural Heritage Legislation.
“We are very aware that there are concerns in the community and we are doing everything we can, working in close partnership with our Indonesian colleagues, to secure formal protection of the site,” Mr Sumption said.
ARKENAS director, I Made Geria MSi said, “Based on the results of the recent sonar survey and forthcoming dive on HMAS Perth by ARKENAS and ANMM, we will take immediate action to secure the underwater heritage protection for the site. ARKENAS understands the significance of the Perth wreck, both historically as a WWII vessel and the final resting place for over three hundred sailors, and we will continue to work with ANMM to achieve the site’s protection.”
The March dive will be preceded by a series of commemorative exhibitions both in Indonesia and the United States to mark the 75th anniversary of the battle and the loss of both ships.
“Attaining legislative protection for the site will be a very significant milestone, however it is one of many steps we will be undertaking with our colleagues at ARKENAS. Under our MOU, we will develop with ARKENAS a joint conservation plan for the wreck including practical solutions to monitoring and preserving the site.
“Beyond this, we are also committed to ensuring the story of HMAS Perth, USS Houston and the bravery of both their crews are not forgotten.” said Mr Sumption.
The exhibition Guardians of Sunda Strait, part of the Australian National Maritime Museum’s USA Programs and funded by the USA Bicentennial Gift Fund, will open at the Houston Public Library on 1 March 2017 before touring in Australia. A text and image version of the exhibition will also tour the USA via the vessels of the US Historic Naval Ships Association.
Guardians of Sunda Strait brings together emotional accounts from survivors of the battle as well as significant objects from various international collections including items from the Australian War Memorial, the Royal Australian Navy’s Heritage Collection, the Sea Power Centre Australia, the University of Houston and the US Navy’s History and Heritage Command.
In Indonesia, a graphic panel exhibition about the Battle of the Java Sea and the vessels involved including HMAS Perth and USS Houston will open at the Bahari Museum in Jakarta on 27 February. This exhibition has been developed by the Australian National Maritime Museum together with the Australian, British and US Embassies in Jakarta.