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Australian merchant mariners honoured.

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DVA 85 Sunday, 8 October, 2000

Australian Merchant Mariners Honoured

The contribution of Australian merchant mariners during both World Wars was honoured at a ceremony in Canberra today marking the 10th anniversary of the unveiling of the Merchant Navy War Memorial.

The Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Bruce Scott, laid a wreath at the memorial in King’s Park, honouring more than 850 Australian merchant seaman who died supporting the Allied war effort during World War I and II.

"The Merchant Navy’s contribution was vital to the allied victories in both World War I and II, and yet the role of its seaman, the dangers they faced and the losses they suffered are largely unknown to the general community," Mr Scott said.

"They were in constant mortal danger from submarines, commerce raiders, hostile aircraft, mines and appalling weather conditions, particularly in the North Atlantic.

"Their ships, heavily laden with troops or other vital wartime cargoes were bigger, slower and less manoeuvrable than their naval counterparts, and as a result were easy targets," the Minister said.

Mr Scott paid particular tribute to the crews of petroleum tankers, whose chances of survival if attacked were extremely remote. Their vessels would explode into flames when hit by shellfire, bombs, mines or torpedoes, and those who managed to abandon ship often perished as blazing oil spread across the ocean surface.

"The actions of the crews of tankers like the San Demetrio and the Ohio epitomise the courage and endurance we are honouring today. Despite the risk of a fiery death, they stayed with their badly damaged vessels, nursing them into port to deliver their vital cargoes," he said.

Mr Scott said merchant mariners were very much in the ‘front-line’. The first Australian to be killed in World War II was merchant seaman Maxwell Rochfort, who died when the steamer Aviemore was torpedoed off the English coast just 13 days after war was declared.

Officially, 675 Australian merchant mariners were killed during World War II. World War I losses have been set at 181.

"Most historians agree these figures are well short of the real total since service records and casualty figures were the preserve of the shipping companies, many of which no longer exist. While we may never know the exact number who were lost, we pledge ourselves to continue to commemorate their gallantry and sacrifice through ceremonies such as we are holding today at the Merchant Navy War Memorial," Mr Scott said.

Media Contact: Mark Croxford 02 6277 7820 or 0408 645 787


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