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03 July 2009

Aussie ambassador leads ‘hell ship’ remembrance in Subic

Sixty-seven years after the sinking of “hell ship” Montevideo Maru off the coast of Luzon, Australian nationals led by their ambassador to the Philippines Rod Smith went all the way to Subic Bay to honor their fallen countrymen.

In a simple ceremony held at the Hellship Memorial fronting the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) administration building, Smith and World War-II veterans, as well as relatives of those who perished onboard Montevideo Maru, unveiled a plaque memorializing “Australia’s greatest disaster at sea.”

Smith said “hell ships” refer to vessels used by the Japanese Imperial Army to transport Allied prisoners of war (POW) to places where they would be used for forced labor.

As Allied forces closed in at the end of World War II, these POWs were transferred in cargo holds of hell ships with little air, food, or water for journeys lasting for weeks.

These hell ships, or “Jigoku Sen” in Japanese, were unmarked, making them legitimate targets for the Allied forces.

The ill-fated Montevideo Maru which took off from Rabaul, Papua New Guinea on June 22, 1942 has 1,054 people onboard, including 71 Japanese crewmen and guards. It was torpedoed by the American submarine Sturgeon nine days later, as it was on its way to Hainan Island..

“There was no trace of these men taken prisoner, and the families of these men still grieve,” said Smith.

The Australian nationals consoled each other through prayers, and laid wreaths during the ceremony here which started at 11:00 a.m. and ended promptly at noon..

“This is ample proof that emotional wounds never really healed,” said a teary-eyed Clive Troy, member of the Australian Return Service League (RSL), who promotes Australian support for the Hellships Memorial here.

Also present at the ceremony, aside from members of the Australian Embassy and SBMA officials, were Papua New Guinea Association of Australia representative Andrea Williams, Olongapo City Mayor James “Bong” Gordon Jr., and members of the Papua New Guinea Volunteer Rifles Association, RSL Subic Bay, and RSL Angeles.

The Subic memorial, which was built through private donations and inaugurated in 2005, commemorated the sinking of the hell ship Oryoku Maru that limped into the Subic Bay after being attacked by U.S. Navy aircraft on December 13, 1944. On board were 1,600 American prisoners en route to Japan.

The Oryoku Maru burned off Subic’s Naval Station after additional attacks, then sank about 100 yards off the site where the hell ship memorial stands today. (SBMA Corporate Communications)


PHOTO:
Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Rod Smith pays tribute to compatriots who perished in the “hell ship” Montevideo Maru, which sank off Luzon during World War II.

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