MARITIME archaeologists from the CSIRO have discovered the resting place of SS Iron Crown, an Australian freighter torpedoed by a Japanese submarine during World War II.

SS Iron Crown, a 100metre ore freighter, was sunk on 4 June 1942 while sailing through Bass Strait with a cargo of manganese ore.

The ship went down in less than a minute with only five of a crew of 43 surviving.

Maritime archaeologist with Heritage Victoria, Peter Harvey, said it was one of Victoria’s worst maritime disasters.

“The Iron Crown is historically significant as one of only four World War II shipwrecks in Victorian waters and is the only ship to have been torpedoed by a submarine in Victorian waters,” Mr Harvey said.

“There were 43 crew from the Australian Merchant Navy on board the ship and 38 lost their lives in the attack. Locating the wreck after 77 years of not knowing its final resting place will bring closure for relatives and family of those that were lost at sea, as well as for Australia’s maritime community.”

Iron Crown was found using multibeam sonar equipment and a special drop camera on research vessel Investigator, which returned to Hobart this week.


Voyage chief scientist Emily Jateff from the Australian National Maritime Museum led the search and said the wreck was located about 100km off the Victorian coastline south of the border with New South Wales.

Chief Scientist, Emily Jateff, Australian National Maritime Museum. Photo: Max McGuire / CSIRO

“The wreck of Iron Crown appears to be relatively intact and the ship is sitting upright on the seafloor in about 700metres of water,” Ms Jateff said.

“We have mapped the site and surrounding seafloor using sonar but have also taken a lot of close up vision of the ship structure using a drop camera. This will allow us to create a composite image of the whole site to assist in follow up surveys for its conservation and management.”

Camera images shows the intact bow of the ship.

Image: CSIRO

Ms Jateff said it was an exciting but solemn moment.

“This is an important discovery for Australia and all on board feel honoured to have been involved in this successful search,” she said.

“The fact that so many lives were lost in the sinking of Iron Crown was something that hit home with all scientists, staff and ship crew working on board Investigator.”

CSIRO research vessel Investigator. Photo: Owen Foley / CSIRO

Finding the wreck involved many hours of prior survey work from volunteers of the Maritime Archaeology Association of Victoria.

A memorial service is planned for the site. CSIRO research vessel Investigator has discovered a number of historic shipwrecks in recent years, including finding the wreck of SS Macumba, an Australian merchant ship sunk in World War II during a Japanese air attack in Northern Territory waters.