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Australia

Ship Stats

Location: 35°7'24.85"N, 75°21'12.35"W (35.12357, -75.35343)

Depth: 110 feet

Vessel Type: Tanker

Length: 509 feet Breadth: 70 feet

Gross Tonnage: 11,628 Cargo: 110,000 barrels fuel oil

Built: 1928, Sun Shipbuilding and Drydocks Co., Chester, Pa., USA

Hull Number: 107 Port of Registry: Wilmington, Del.

Owner: Texaco - The Texas Co.

Lloyd's Register Details: Two diesel engines, dual shaft, two screws

Former Names: Mary Ellen O'Neil (California Petroleum Co., 1928-1929)

Date Lost: March 16, 1942

Sunk By: U-332 Survivors: 36 of 40 survived (4 dead)

Data Collected on Site: Still and video photography; high resolution multibeam

Significance: Casualty of World War II's Battle of the Atlantic

Wreck Site

The remains of Australia have a small section of high relief, located at the stern of the vessel. Site conditions, including shifting sands due to its location, cover up the vast majority of any remaining sections of the vessel. At a depth of 110 feet and located in a dynamic zone, site conditions can vary from year to year.

The amdiships section of the wreck site can be buried and uncovered at various points throughout the year. The bow section, when uncovered, is the second most prominent section of the wreck site.

Reson 8125 scaled multibeam survey of Australia
Scaled multibeam survey of Australia wreck site. Click here for a larger image. Image: ADUS
The engine of Australia
Engine features located at the stern of Australia. Click here for a larger image. Photo: NOAA

Historical Background

Australia was an American tanker of 11,628 tons built in 1928 and originally named Mary Ellen O'Neil. It was renamed Australia in 1929 for the Texas Co, Wilmington, Del., Texaco. On March 16, 1942, Australia was sailing from Port Arthur, Texas to New Haven, Conn., loaded with 110,000 barrels of fuel oil. The tanker was sailing alone and unarmed. As it approached the Diamond Shoals of the North Carolina coast, the crew was fully aware of the dangers of German U-boats because of radio reports from the torpedoed ships Olean and Ario.

Suddenly, a single torpedo from U-332 struck on the starboard side and exploded in the machinery room, rupturing fuel lines and shattering auxiliary pipes. Four men on watch in the engine room were killed instantly. The crew was ordered to abandon ship, and they made it into three lifeboats. About an hour and a half after the attack, 36 survivors were picked up and brought to shore. Survivors reported seeing the vessel with the stern resting on the bottom with the bow afloat and none of its cargo holds ruptured.

With part of Australia above water, a salvage tug, Relief (SP-2170) was dispatched to inspect the damage. It reported it was a total loss. The ship later broke apart and sunk, with evidence of it being further broken apart in 1954.

Australia partially underwater
Australia still with bow floating, dated March 20, 1942. Click here for a larger image. Photo: Courtesy of National Archives

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