Australia’s first submarine, the HMAS-AE1 was an E-class submarine and was built in England by Vickers Armstrong at Barrow-in-Furness starting in 1911. It was commissioned as Australia’s first submarine in February 1914. The submarine disappeared in the early weeks of the First World War along with a crew of 35 British, Australian, and New Zealander sailors off Rabaul, Papua New Guinea on September 14, 1914.
About 103 years after its disappearance, Australia’s first submarine has been found by a robotic submarine. The autonomous submarine Hugin 1000 was operating from the survey vessel MC Fugro Equator and discovered the HMAS-AE1 earlier this week off the coast of the Duke of York Island group in Papua New Guinea.
When the boat was lost in the World War, initial searches did not reveal anything and efforts were given up. These efforts resumed once again in the 1970s, and there have been a number of attempts to locate the missing submarine since then but none had proved fruitful.
This latest expedition was funded by the Australian government and the Silentworld Foundation, with help from the Submarine Institute of Australia, the Australian National Maritime Museum, Fugro Survey, and the Papua New Guinea Government. A team of maritime surveyors, naval historians, and marine archeologists were aboard the MV Fugro Equator.
What proved to be a key to finding AE1 was the robotic submarine Hugin 1000. It is capable of operating at a depth of 3,000 m for up to 100 hours without human intervention and is equipped with a High-Resolution Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Sonar (HISAS), an EM2040 multi-beam echo sounder, side-scan sonar, sub-bottom profiler, still image camera, turbidity sensor, and Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP).
According to the Australian Royal Navy, the robotic submarine was traveling 40 meters above the seabed on a pre-programmed 20-hour mission when it detected something. When it was observed further, it was confirmed to be the wreckage of AE1. The images show that even though the submarine is heavily damaged, it was still in one piece and well preserved.
A small commemorative ceremony was held aboard the Fugro Equator after the submarine was identified and the Navy intends to contact the descendants of the crew. The exact position of the wreck is still classified as it is still the property of the Australian government and an officially designated war grave.