On 13 October 1973, the freighter Blythe Star sank suddenly while sailing from Hobart to King Island. The likely cause was overloading of the vessel. Although all crew members managed to abandon ship in time on a life raft, the protracted search operation resulted in the deaths of several sailors.
Unfortunately, the described events took place in an era before the invention of the satellite phone or EPIRB. The survivors therefore had no way of communicating their exact location to rescuers. As a result, a massive search operation was carried out, the largest ever undertaken in Australia.
Eventually, after twelve days, rescuers managed to find seven surviving crew members. Unfortunately, during this time, three other survivors died before help could arrive. Due to the length of time that had elapsed since the disaster, the exact position of the Blythe Star’s wreck also remained unknown.
In the spring of this year, the CSIRO’s RV Investigator vessel set off on a five-week exploratory expedition. The researchers’ aim was to investigate underwater landslides located off the coast of Tasmania. In turn, as a side project, the CSIRO specialists used available instrumentation to investigate an unidentified wreck.
The vessel was located some time ago at a depth of 150m and about five nautical miles off Tasmania’s south-western Cape. However, its identity has not been established to date. On 12 April, the RV Investigator crew carried out a detailed scan of the wreck and its dimensions coincided with the Blythe Star. The investigators then decided to carry out a visual inspection using an ROV and underwater camera system. The operation cleared all doubts and finally confirmed the identity of the wreck – the Blythe Star had been found.
Part of the name on the bow was clearly recognisable. A close inspection of the wreck located visible damage to the stern, as well as the missing rudder. In contrast, the freighter’s hull was largely intact.
In the aftermath of the MV Blythe Star tragedy, the analysis of the incident led directly to important regulatory changes to significantly improve safety at sea.
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