Wreck of ill-fated Australian freighter Blythe Star found off Tasmania

Bathymetric mapping showing port view of the wreck of Blythe Star (Photo: CSIRO)

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) of Australia has confirmed its recent discovery of the wreckage of a coastal freighter that had sunk off the coast of Tasmania nearly 50 years prior.

The discovery is the first ever sighting of the 44-metre freighter Blythe Star following its disappearance off Tasmania on October 13, 1973.

Unbeknown to the rest of the world for nearly two weeks, the ship had listed and then suddenly sunk off the southwest coast of Tasmania on the morning (local time) of the said date.

All 10 crew had been able to escape from the rapidly sinking vessel in an inflatable liferaft. Tragically, three of the crew died before the survivors were finally able to find help.

The location of the wreck of Blythe Star was confirmed by CSIRO’s research vessel Investigator on April 12, 2023, during a research voyage off the west coast of Tasmania. The primary purpose of this voyage, led by the University of Tasmania, was to study a massive submarine (underwater) landslide on the continental shelf in the region.

The voyage included a “piggyback” project to investigate an unidentified shipwreck in the region. This had been pinpointed by fishing vessels and previous seafloor surveys.

The survey by Investigator, led by CSIRO’s project team, started by mapping the unidentified shipwreck using multibeam echosounders. This was followed by a visual inspection of the shipwreck using two underwater camera systems.

The seafloor mapping showed the unidentified shipwreck was lying in approximately 150 metres of water. The shipwreck is intact and sitting upright on the seafloor with its bow pointing towards the northwest, almost in the direction of King Island, its final destination at the time it disappeared.

Importantly, the bathymetry showed that the shipwreck matched the dimensions and profile of Blythe Star.

The mapping was used to plan the deployment of the underwater cameras from Investigator.

The team onboard would carefully manoeuvre the cameras from the stern to the bow of the wreck, searching for key features to confirm its identity. They would compare the vision from below to the many historical photos of Blythe Star that were available on board Investigator.

CSIRO said the visual inspection identified many distinctive features that confirmed the shipwreck was indeed that of Blythe Star. Most significantly, part of the vessel name, the word “Star”, was identified on the ship’s bow.

The bathymetry and visual inspection showed the vessel was intact and in relatively good condition. It was covered with minimal growth of algae and seaweed and inhabited by many marine creatures such as crayfish.

CSIRO hopes that the bathymetry and video imagery gathered may provide additional information to help answer questions about what caused the vessel to sink.

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