Page last updated at 12:15 GMT, Sunday, 10 January 2010

Sunk Australia WWII hospital ship Centaur: first images

Underwater image of the wreck of the Centaur hospital ship
The wreck of the Centaur was located off the Queensland coast late last year

An Australian World War II hospital ship, the Centaur, has been seen for the first time since it sank more than 60 years ago with a loss of 268 lives.

Images of the wreck, more than 2km (1.3 miles) below the sea, were captured by a remote-controlled underwater camera.

The ship's location was discovered last month following a hi-tech search.

Australia says the ship, which went down in May 1943, was torpedoed by the Japanese. Japan says the circumstances surrounding its sinking are unclear.

The search team found the ship on 20 December off the Queensland coast, about 30 miles due east of the southern tip of Moreton Island.

Favourable conditions allowed the crew to send down a camera on a remotely-operated submersible vehicle over the weekend. Further dives are planned.

Centaur hospital ship in 1943 (image courtesy of Australian War Memorial, copyright expired)
The Centaur was clearly marked as a hospital ship

Search director David Mearns told AFP news agency he hoped the images would "hopefully end a 66-year quest for unanswered questions and bring comfort to many families across Australia and beyond".

"The wreck was found leaning over towards its port side at an angle of approximately 25 degrees and the bow is almost completely severed from the rest of the hull in the area where the single torpedo hit," he said.

"Although the wreck is very badly damaged, characteristic markings and features that identify the wreck as the Centaur were clearly visible."

Among the identifying features revealed by the camera were the large red crosses marked on each side of the bow.

Australian government propaganda poster following sinking of the Centaur (image courtesy of Australian War Memorial, copyright expired)
The sinking of the Centaur became a symbol of wartime determination

Images also showed the number 47, which designated the vessel as Australian Hospital Ship 47.

Announcing the search for the ship last year, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the loss of the Centaur had struck deeply at the heart of the nation and become a symbol of determination in the fight against a brutal enemy.

The Australians believe the ship was attacked without warning, the BBC's Nick Bryant in Sydney reports, which the acting premier of Queensland, Paul Lucas, has called barbaric and senseless.

He has demanded an apology from the Japanese government, but a statement from the country's embassy in Canberra said the details surrounding the sinking were inconclusive.

Of the 332 people on the ship, only 64 survived. Eleven of the 12 nurses on board died.

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