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Captain blamed for loss of HMAS Sydney -

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Captain blamed for loss of HMAS Sydney

Samantha Hawley reported this story on Wednesday, August 12, 2009 12:44:00

ELEANOR HALL: Almost 70 years after HMAS Sydney went missing after its battle with the German
raider Kormoran, the families of the 645 sailors who died have some answers. This afternoon, at the
Australian War Memorial in Canberra, the head of the commission of inquiry into the incident,
Terrence Cole QC, released his report.

And he has found fault with the Sydney's captain, Joseph Burnett. Our reporter Samantha Hawley
joins me now from the war memorial, Sam, what did Terrence Cole say about the actions of the Sydney
captain?

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Well Eleanor he's release a very extensive report of 1500 pages and he clearly
lays blame with the captain of HMAS Sydney, Joseph Burnett. Terrance Cole has found that Captain
Burnett made a fatal decision when he accepted that the German raider the Kormoran was a friendly
Dutch merchant ship and he approached it at speed.

As we know HMAS Sydney approached that ship after being tricked into thinking it was an ally, and
the gun battle that followed saw HMAS Sydney sink and the 645 Australian crew on board die.

Terrance Cole has found Joseph Burnett the captain, would have been able to check what friendly
ships were in the area at the time but he didn't, that the captain failed to realise that the ship
was much larger than the one it purported to be and that also its signalling was certainly unusual.

And here's a bit of what Terrance Cole had to say a short time ago.

TERRENCE COLE: Wish to emphasise that although I am satisfied that Captain Burnett made errors of
judgement, I have not made any findings of negligence.

Wartime command involves assessments and risks, one cannot say (inaudible) if placed in Captain
Burnett's position would have acted, it is never to be forgotten that Captain Burnett and his crew
lost their lives during performance of their (inaudible) military duty while investigating an
unknown vessel while protecting Australia's shipping lanes.

ELEANOR HALL: That's the head of the commission of inquiry into HMAS Sydney at the incident with
the Kormoran - Terrance Cole QC. Now Sam, has the Government responded to his report?

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: It has, the Defence Minister John Faulkner was here today to launch, or co-launch
the report. He welcomed the finding and he also said that he hopes that some 70 years after this
tragedy - the worst maritime disaster in this nation's history - that this report will give the
families of the victims some closure and here's what the Defence Minister John Faulkner had to say.

JOHN FAULKNER: A tragedy is still within the living memory of many people. And while this report
won't repair dreadful loss, it will at least answer many of the lingering questions about the
sinking.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Defence Minister John Faulkner. Now of course Sam some of the questions have
been raised by many people with conspiracy theories, did Terrance Cole say anything about any of
these theories today?

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: He did Eleanor, in fact he had a lot to say about the many conspiracy theories
that we've had over the years about the sinking of HMAS Sydney, in fact he's dedicated a whole
volume of his report to actually discredit each and every one of those conspiracies. He says that
they have no substance whatsoever and that they should not be relied on into the future.

He says the German account of what occurred on that day in 1941 is correct, and he also, of course
as we've heard he points to rather the misjudgement of the captain of HMAS Sydney for blame rather
than obviously any of these conspiracy theories.

ELEANOR HALL: Samantha Hawley thank you. That's our reporter Samantha Hawley at the Australian War
Memorial in Canberra.