Call for witnesses for damage to protected WWII Japanese midget submarine

Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Media release
14 March 2013

The federal environment department is seeking witnesses regarding damage to the wreck of the Japanese midget submarine (M24) near Sydney Harbour.

Officers from the department are investigating an incident that was identified during archaeological inspections of the wreck in September 2012.

The shipwreck site of the Japanese midget submarine and associated relics were declared a protected historic shipwreck under the Australian Government’s Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 in 2006 and a protected zone was declared around the shipwreck site.

It is believed that unknown divers entered the protected zone illegally and damaged the hull of the midget submarine removing protected relics from the site. 

The resulting damage includes the breaking off and removal of two of three visible propeller blades from the contra-rotating propeller assembly of the submarine, causing permanent damage to a significant piece of Australia’s WWII heritage.

Under the Act penalties for any damage or disturbance of the wreck, or the removal of relics include a fine up to $10 000 or imprisonment for a period of up to five years for each offence. 

The shipwreck site is also protected under the New South Wales Heritage Act 1977 with a breach of this Act incurring maximum penalties of up to $1.1 million.

Following initial investigations federal environment officers are now appealing for anyone who may have witnessed the incident or have any information to contact the department on 1800 110 395 or via email at compliance@environment.gov.au.

All information will be treated in a confidential manner.

The Japanese midget submarine known as the M24 is a very important piece of Australia’s and Japan’s shared maritime heritage. The M24 was one of three midget submarines that entered Sydney Harbour on the night of 31 May 1942.

One midget submarine became entangled in the boom net across the harbour, and the occupants blew the submarine up. The M24 followed and fired torpedoes at the cruiser USS Chicago. The M24 missed the Chicago but one of its torpedoes hit the HMAS Kuttabul, killing 21 naval personnel.

The M24 then disappeared into the night with its fate completely unknown until 2006, when scuba divers discovered the wreck off Sydney’s northern beach.