Last updated: January 12, 2010

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First photos of hospital ship Centaur


First pictures of the bow of the hospital ship Centaur sunk by Japanese torpedo during WWII. Photo: Bruce Long

AMAZING pictures taken more than 2km below the surface show the torpedoed hospital ship Centaur resting on the sea floor.

The incredibly sharp images show the Centaur sitting on the sandy ocean bottom just over 2km down, the vessel listing at an angle of about 25 degrees.

Its red cross denoting its hospital ship status is clearly visible, as is the green band painted around the ship.

The photos were taken shortly before 3am today after shipwreck hunters sent down a remote controlled submarine to take the first ever footage of the wreck of an Australian hospital ship that was torpedoed off Queensland during World War II.

The water is so deep it took the submersible almost two hours to reach the wreck.

The Centaur was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in 1943, killing 268 of the 332 people on board.

The attack made the front pages of newspapers around the world and was used by the Australian government at the time as propaganda to "avenge'' the 11 nurses who died aboard.

The reconnaissance mission started at 8.15pm (AEST) yesterday with the crew onboard the Seahorse Spirit spending the next five to 10 hours co-ordinating a million dollar underwater robot named Remora 3 to take high definition film and photos of the wreck.

The crew now intends to revisit the site a further three times over the next two days.

World renowned shipwreck hunter David Mearns found the Centaur on December 20 last year, 48km east of the southern tip of Moreton Island.

Mr Mearns - alongside a crew of 33 and the submarine robot - set off from Brisbane on Friday evening to film a nearby test wreck before tackling the Centaur wreck search.

Favourable weather conditions and a mild East Australian Current - flowing at an ideal one knot - allowed the crew to make an early dash over to the Centaur last night.

Mr Mearns said he was still unsure when the best time to lay the memorial plaque near the site for the 268 people who died onboard would be, but said it could be as early as today.

"The first dive is a reconnaissance dive, second dive we take a lot of photos, then it will probably be the third dive,'' he said.

"Generally we like to do it last ... but I don't want to leave it too late in case the weather changes.''

However he said it was forecasted that the East Australian Current will continue to experience mild knot speeds over the next few days.

Earlier yesterday, Mr Mearns sent the submersible robot 178-metres deep on a test run to film high definition video footage of the SS Kyogle wreck.

The Kyogle was used by the RAAF for target practice 17km off the coast of Moreton Island in the 1950s and was incorrectly believed to be the remnants of the Centaur in the 1990s.

Mr Mearns has more than 50 wreck discoveries to his name, including HMAS Sydney in 2008, which he has written a book about, and the world's deepest ever shipwreck the Rio Grande, found at 5762 metres.

All Centaur footage will be shot more than one metre away from the wreck as it is listed as a war grave and remains protected under the Commonwealth's Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976.

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