Former submariners and retired admirals want the federal government to stump up “a fraction” of the taxpayer money spent on the search for Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 to try and find Australia’s first submarine.
The nation’s most enduring military mystery - the disappearance of AE1 at the start of WW1 - could be solved in September when a five-day search will be undertaken by a navy mine hunter.
Three previous searches failed to find any trace of the 750-tonne, 60-metre-long submarine.
A Navy Mine Hunter Coastal vessel will be deployed to conduct an intensive five-day sonar grid search of five square nautical miles of sea bed close to the reef down to 300 metres. The ship also carries a remote underwater vehicle to investigate contacts.
The target area was determined by experts working with AE1 Incorporated, an organisation dedicated to locating the wreck.
If the operation is not successful then the government will be asked to fund a search using technology deployed in the deep ocean search for Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370
President of AE1 Incorporated Michael White said that if the search failed his organisation would push for a deep water search.“It would be nice if a fraction of the funds spent searching for MH370 could be spent on AE1,” he said.
Mr White said he was delighted with the navy’s latest effort to search for the lost boat and if the submarine was in reasonably shallow water he was hopeful that it would be found.
AE1 disappeared on September 14, 1914 with the loss of all 35 crew during operations against German forces with her sister ship AE2 and several surface ships off Rabaul in New Guinea.
AE2 was lost in Turkey in April 1915 during operations to support the Gallipoli landings.
The submarine was last seen by the destroyer HMAS Parramatta at 3.20 pm on the 14th east of Duke of York Island when she was supposed to head for the base at Rabaul.
Instead she steamed away from the harbour and her fate is a mystery. Experts believe the boat may have struck a reef near Mioko Island and sunk with all hands.
Natives on Mioko speak of a “monster” approaching the reef and then moving away to the north-east.
The search area is located in the world’s most active earthquake zone and 68 quakes have rocked the Rabaul region this year alone.
Retired Rear Admiral and former submariner Peter Briggs describes research into the disappearance as “knowledgeable supposition” rather than fact.
He said the Mine Hunter Coastal would only be able to cover 40 to 50 per cent of the overall search area.
“The remainder is too deep for effective sonar coverage,” he said.
AE1 Incorporated produced a detailed report calling for the government to fund a comprehensive search operation.
“Finding the submarine may be the only way to solve the puzzle.....we assess that there are no undiscovered sources of truth as to what happened on that day - that all died with the crew of AE1.”
Earlier this month Prince William unveiled a memorial to the AE1 and AE2 at the British Submarine Museum.
A commemorative service to mark the arrival of AE1 and AE2 in Sydney a century ago this week was held at Garden Island Navy base last week