Shipwreck discovery in the Coral Sea

Media release

6 September 2019

With September marking the 80th anniversary of the start of the Second World War, Australian researchers believe they have made an exciting discovery in the Coral Sea Marine Park—the wreck of a US oil tanker USS Neosho, sunk defending Australia in the Battle of the Coral Sea. 

The James Cook University team led by Dr Robin Beaman aboard the CSIRO’s research vessel Investigator, in collaboration with the Department of the Environment and Energy, found the possible wreck near the tanker’s last reported position in the Coral Sea at nearly 3 km depth. It was not far from the aircraft carrier USS Lexington, which was sunk in the same battle in 1942 and only discovered last year.

Following the discovery, a memorial service was held with a number of wreaths laid in remembrance of the 182 crew who died in or as a result of the conflict, including one wreath provided by Special Envoy to the Great Barrier Reef the Hon Warren Entsch MP.

The Battle of the Coral Sea was a significant moment in our heritage. The Neosho was hit seven times and struck by a Japanese aircraft as the US worked with Australia to defend against Japanese advance.

The Department will now work with the US Naval History and Heritage Command and researchers to study the archaeological and environmental values of these Coral Sea sites. The project will align with the themes of the upcoming UN Decade of Ocean Science 2021-2030 and will shed further light on this significant moment in Australian and US history.

Australia and the United States entered into a Memorandum of Agreement in 2010 to promote cooperation in underwater cultural heritage resource management, maritime archaeological research, education and resource protection efforts in the Pacific.

The USS Neosho site is now among the 8000 shipwrecks, sunken aircraft and underwater cultural heritage artefacts protected under The Underwater Cultural Heritage Act 2018. Each has a unique story to tell, from a small cooking pot recovered from the hull of a trader ship, through to downed military bombers and famous shipwrecks like the nation’s first flagship HMAS Australia.

The Coral Sea Marine Park is one of 58 Australian Marine Parks managed by Parks Australia. The marine park contains over 45 known shipwrecks and data from this discovery will help inform future management activities and protect the heritage values of this significant offshore marine environment.

Minister for the Environment