Research vessel searches for sunken U.S. battleship in Ormoc Bay

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  • Photos from the RV Petrel show the wreckage of sunken Japanese warships in Surigao Strait.

Ormoc City (CNN Philippines, December 4) A research vessel conducted a two-day exploration for a World War II battleship that sank in the waters of Ormoc Bay.

Research Vessel (RV) Petrel conducted the search for USS Ward on December 1 to 2. The historic warship from the United States fired the first shot against the Japanese during the Pearl Harbor bombing in Hawaii. It was sunk by a kamikaze, or a Japanese suicide pilot, in December 7, 1944.

There is no update yet on whether the underwater wreckage found includes the remains of the USS Ward.

"You have on the sea bed three U.S. destroyers, six Japanese destroyers, a... Japanese submarine, and many Japanese cargo ship we call 'maru,'" said Jake Miranda, a technical diver and local project consultant.

"We have six targets and these are in deep water, so these are not accessible by divers, not exposed to the risk of salvage... The good thing is, this particular wreck has a story, so that story can be retold, recreated and put somewhere else like a museum," he added.


However, there have been other discoveries in these waters, as RV Petrel explored five shipwrecks in Surigao Strait in November 21. These were the sunken battleships of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN), possibly Yamashiro, Fuso, Yamagumo, Michishio and Asagumo.

"However, positive identification of the wrecks Yamagumo and Michishio is unanswered and will need further study by historians. Yamashiro, Fuso and Asagumo are identifiable based on the class of ship and their geography," the RV Petrel team announced on Facebook on November 29.

It added that more details, including photos, video, and an overview of the shipwrecks were forthcoming.

Ormoc Bay is located off the west coast of the island province of Leyte, while Surigao Strait lies to east of the island.

The research aims to "to provide valuable new data and actual discoveries for the benefit of naval and war historians, underwater archaeologists, stakeholder nations in addition to the Philippines," the National Museum said. It added that it also sought to give this information to "the families of those who were lost" during the war.

The exploration is conducted in league with the National Museum of the Philippines and Navigea Ltd., which owns RV Petrel.

The RV Petrel can explore a depth of about 6,000 meters. It uses a $6 million remotely operated underwater vehicle that sends images back to the surface.

The team is supported by American businessman and Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen, and led by Robert Kraft, Allen's Director of Subsea Operations.

With coordination from the National Museum and Philippine Coast Guard, the team previously discovered the wreck of Japanese battleship IJN Musashi in the waters of the Sibuyan Sea, Romblon, in 2015. Earlier this year, it also identified and recorded the wreck of USS Indianapolis in the Philippine Sea, about halfway between Guam and the Philippines, at a depth of 5,500 meters.

These previous discoveries allow "a greater sense of closure for the descendants of the thousands of servicemen who perished at sea aboard these vessels over seven decades ago," the National Museum wrote in a post.

These expeditions by the research vessel could also be the first of many in the region.

On November 29, the administrators of RV Petrel wrote on their Facebook page: "While we're not at liberty to publicly discuss our upcoming projects, [we] can certainly say there are several in this region being considered, including more here in the Philippines in the coming months and years ahead."

Stringer Wilmark Ali contributed to this story.