Ocean Researchers Solve Mystery of Tasmanian Shipwrecked Freighter That Was Lost 50 Years Ago

BY Michael Wing TIMEMay 25, 2023 PRINT

The mystery of a shipwreck off the coast of Tasmania that began 50 years ago has now been solved.

Marine explorers aboard Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Research Vessel (RV) Investigator first embarked on a 38-day voyage to study an underwater landslide off Tasmania’s west coast.

The expedition, led by the University of Tasmania, incorporated a piggyback project that would realize the finding of a lost coastal freighter that sank almost 50 years ago.

On October 13, 1973, the 44-meter Motor Vessel (MV) Blythe Star set sail from Hobart bound for King Island and, reportedly due to instability, not long into the voyage suddenly took on water and capsized.

All ten of MV Blythe Star’s crew members made it into an inflatable lifeboat, yet, tragically, three crew members died before they could be rescued. MV Blythe Star sank beneath the waves, and for nearly half a century its location remained a mystery.

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CSIRO RV Investigator. (Courtesy of CSIRO)
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The approximate location of the shipwrecked MV Blythe Star. (Courtesy of CSIRO)
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CSIRO researchers explore MV Blythe Star from aboard RV Investigator. (Courtesy of CSIRO)

Following reports from fishermen and underwater surveys that pinpointed an unidentified shipwreck located 10.5 kilometers (approx. 6.5 miles) southwest of South West Cape, RV Investigator set sail to inspect the finding.

On April 12, 2023, the University of Tasmania researchers positively identified the sunken vessel as the MV Blythe Star, CSIRO revealed in a press release.

Utilizing multibeam echosounders and two underwater camera systems, they were able to systematically map the sunken ship and discern the word “STAR” on the ship’s bow, confirming her identity beyond a shadow of a doubt.

MV Blythe Star was found intact, sitting upright on the ocean floor, though she showed some signs of damage, particularly on her stern.

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MV Blythe Star was mapped using multibeam echo-sounding equipment. (Courtesy of CSIRO)
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Video footage shows the bow of the sunken MV Blythe Star, nearly 50 years after she sank. (Courtesy of CSIRO)
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A view of the upper boat deck of MV Blythe Star. (Courtesy of CSIRO)

Various marine life was found on and around the sunken coastal freighter. The shipwreck was covered with minimal growth of algae and seaweed, while crayfish, schools of fish, and several fur seals were filmed swimming in her surrounds.

After the discovery was made, it was revealed to key stakeholders, including the Blythe Star Memorial Group, who will hold an event in Hobart in October to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the maritime tragedy.

“In the aftermath of the MV Blythe Star tragedy, reviews of the incident would directly lead to important changes in maritime safety laws in Australia to significantly improve safety at sea for future mariners,” CSIRO stated.

“CSIRO is pleased to be able to assist in providing closure to this 50-year mystery and confirm the final resting place of the MV Blythe Star.”

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A view of the stern of MV Blythe Star. (Courtesy of CSIRO)
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The CSIRO project team who identified MV Blythe Star after she sank almost 50 years ago. (Courtesy of CSIRO)

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Michael Wing
Editor and Writer
Michael Wing is a writer and editor based in Calgary, Canada, where he was born and educated in the arts. He writes mainly on culture, human interest, and trending news.
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