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Navy divers confirm sunken wreck is World War II cruiser Houston

Navy divers confirm sunken wreck is World War II cruiser Houston
An official 1930 photo of the U.S. heavy cruiser Houston. Navy divers Monday confirmed that a wrecked vessel in the Java Sea is the Houston. (U.S. Navy)

U.S. Navy divers confirmed Monday that a wrecked vessel in southeast Asia is the World War II heavy cruiser Houston, a ship sunk by the Japanese that serves as the final resting place for about 700 sailors and Marines.

The Houston, nicknamed "The Galloping Ghost of the Java Coast," sank in the Java Sea during the Battle of Sunda Strait on Feb. 28, 1942. It carried 1,068 crewmen, but only 291 sailors and Marines survived both the attack and subsequent imprisonment by the enemy.

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The survival of those men came as a shocking, though welcome, surprise in August 1945, the month the war in Asia ended with the surrender of the Japanese.

In a wire story published in the Los Angeles Times under the headline "Men of U.S.S. Houston Come Back From Dead," a military official said that five men had escaped from a prisoner of war camp in Thailand and confirmed there were about 300 other survivors. By then 42 months had passed since all aboard the cruiser had been presumed dead.

In recent months Navy archaeologists worked with Indonesian Navy divers to survey the wreck over the course of 19 underwater searches, said U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Harry Harris.

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

Documented evidence shows the gravesite was disturbed, noting that hull rivets and a metal plate were removed from the ship. Both U.S. and Indonesia officials are working to coordinate protection of the historic site, which is also a popular recreational dive location.

The report voices public safety and security concerns, citing "active seepage of oil from the hull."

A final report will be completed in the fall as underwater archeologists continue to collect data from the dives.

The Navy estimates more than 17,000 sunken ships and aircraft rest on the ocean floor.

Twitter: @NicoleCharky

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