Australia says discovery of WW2 shipwreck ends 'tragic' maritime chapter

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia's Defence Minister Richard Marles said on Saturday that the wreck of a Japanese merchant ship, sunk in World War Two with 864 Australian soldiers on board, had been found in the South China Sea, ending a tragic chapter of the country's history.

Marles said the SS Montevideo Maru, an unmarked prisoner of war transport vessel missing since being sunk off the Philippines' coast in July 1942, had been discovered northwest of Luzon island.

The ship was torpedoed en route from what is now Papua New Guinea to China's Hainan by a U.S. submarine, unaware of the POWs onboard. It is considered Australia's worst maritime disaster.

The long-awaited find comes ahead of April 25 commemorations for Anzac Day, a major day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand for their troops killed in all military conflicts.

"This brings to an end one of the most tragic chapters in Australia's maritime history," Marles said in a video message.

The search for the wreck, found at a depth of more than 4,000 metres (13,123 feet) was led by a maritime archaeology not-for-profit and deep-sea survey specialists, and supported by Australia's Defence department, according to the government.

"The absence of a location of the Montevideo Maru has represented unfinished business for the families of those who lost their lives until now," Marles said.

More than 1,000 men - POWs and civilians from several countries - are thought to have lost their lives in the tragedy.

(Reporting by Sam McKeith; Editing by Kim Coghill)