Sunken wreck confirmed as WW2 cruiser USS Houston

The cruiser USS Houston in the harbour of New York in a circa-1935 photograph. Photo / AP
The cruiser USS Houston in the harbour of New York in a circa-1935 photograph. Photo / AP

Navy divers from the US and Indonesia confirmed that a sunken vessel in the Java Sea is the World War II wreck of the USS Houston, a cruiser sunk by the Japanese that serves as the final resting place for about 700 sailors and Marines.

The Japanese sank the Houston during the Battle of Sunda Strait on February 28, 1942.

The ship carried 1,068 crewmen, but only 291 sailors and Marines survived both the attack and being prisoners of war.

The Houston's commanding officer, Captain Albert H Rooks, posthumously received the Medal of Honor for extraordinary heroism.

US Pacific Fleet commander Admiral Harry Harris said Monday that divers have documented evidence the watery gravesite has been disturbed.

Assessments conducted in June to determine the condition of the Houston found that hull rivets, a metal plate and unexploded ordnance were removed from the ship.

There is also oil actively seeping from the hull.

Officials are working on measures to keep the site from further disturbance.

"In my discussions with our Indonesian navy partners, they share our sense of obligation to protect this and other gravesites," Harris said in a statement.

"Surveying the site, of course was only the first step in partnering to respect those sailors who made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure the freedoms and security that we richly enjoy today."

The Navy History and Heritage Command concluded that all of the recorded data is consistent with the identification of the former USS Houston.

The Houston was nicknamed the "The Galloping Ghost of the Java Coast." Resting off the west coast of Java, Indonesia, the ship, which remains sovereign property of the United States, is a popular recreational dive site, the Navy said.

The Navy estimates there are more than 17,000 sunken ships and aircraft resting on the ocean floor worldwide.

- AP

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