Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

United States shipwrecks from Battle of the Coral Sea now protected under Australian law

Media release
4 May 2012

Heritage Minister, Tony Burke, today declared the United States warships the USS Lexington, USS Sims and USS Neosho sunk during the Battle of the Coral Sea as protected historic shipwrecks.

Mr Burke said the remains of these warships are a poignant reminder of the service and sacrifice of Australian and US serviceman who fought during the battle and are, for some, their last resting place.

“It is a great honour to be making this declaration today, the 70th anniversary of one of the most fiercely fought days of the battle, and I hope in some way it conveys the gratitude and condolences of all Australians to Coral Sea veterans and their families,” Mr Burke said.

“These shipwrecks are a tangible link to one of the most dramatic events in Australian and US military history and one of the most defining moments of World War Two - the Battle of the Coral Sea.

“To protect and preserve their exceptional heritage value these shipwrecks are now protected under Australia’s Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 and any actions that may result in damage, interference, removal or destruction of these shipwrecks or their associated relics are now illegal.”

On 7 May 1942 aircraft from the USS Yorktown and the Lexington sunk the Japanese aircraft carrier Shoho just before noon. At about the same time, and in a separate engagement, dive bombers from the Japanese carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku sunk the destroyer USS Sims and left the US fleet oiler Neosho a crippled wreck.

Later that day a support group including the HMAS Hobart and HMAS Australia were attacked by another force of bombers, which were based at Rabaul in New Guinea. The battle continued on 8 May, when the two main carrier forces engaged directly for the first time, resulting in the loss of the Lexington with 216 members of her crew.

“In early 1942 Japanese control of south east Asia and the northern Pacific was virtually unchallenged and for many Australians, who kept an ever watchful eye on events as they unfolded in the Pacific, it would have been easy to believe Australia was next,” Mr Burke said.

“Victory in the Coral Sea was the first major defeat for Japanese forces and the beginnings of the long and difficult road towards victory.

“The significance of the battle is not only that it marked a turning point and the emerging importance of aircraft carriers in the Pacific war, but also that it was the first joint military action between Australian and US forces.

“The sacrifice of those who took part in the battle lives on in the strength and vitality of the US-Australian alliance, that has grown and developed into a firm friendship over the last 70 years and continues today.

 “In making the declaration today the Australian government recognises and acknowledges the exceptional heritage significance of the shipwrecks of the USS Lexington, USS Sims andUSS Neosho and is ensuring their remarkable legacy is protected forever under Australian law.”

For more information on the shipwrecks from the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 go to www.environment.gov.au/heritage/shipwrecks/index.html