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SYDNEY - Australian Navy scientists have moved closer to identifying the remains of a sailor believed to have been killed in the country's greatest naval tragedy, the mysterious World War II sinking of a warship with the loss of all 645 hands.

The sailor, whose remains were found buried on remote Christmas Island late last year, is thought to be from the cruiser HMAS Sydney II, which sank after a battle with a German ship, the Kormoran, in 1941 off the west Australian coast. The Sydney has never been found after it sailed ablaze over the horizon at the end of the fierce 30-minute battle.

The Defence Department said cloth fragments found with the body indicated that the sailor was likely to be a technical officer or warrant officer.

Taking into account the results of physical examinations, the body could be one of three engineering officers: Lieutenant Allan Wallace Wilson, Sub-Lieutenant Allen James King or Sub-Lieutenant Frederick Harold Schoch.

The Navy will conduct further DNA testing and the Defence Department is asking relatives of the men to come forward.

It has been unable to find any relatives of Wilson, it said.

- REUTERS