Project Long Shot campaign about to go live

This is one of our most exciting projects yet – to film the discovery of the first shot fired in World War 1

(We plan to launch the fund-raising campaign on April 10, but here is what the campaign looks like)

Few people are aware that the first shot of the Great War was fired from Point Nepean, south of Melbourne.

On August 5th 1914,  Australian forces attempted to stop the German cargo ship, the SS Pfalz, from leaving Melbourne.

War had just been declared and all German activity in the Commonwealth was now considered hostile.

Despite numerous warnings to cut her engines, Pfalz Captain Kuhiken ordered full steam ahead and a dangerous game of chicken ensued.

From Point Nepean Coastal Fort, the Australians signalled the Pfalz to stop.

When they received an order to either ‘stop her of sink her’ they fired the first shot of the Great War across the Pfalz’ bow, missing the ship by metres.

The Pfalz  eventually  surrendered to Australian forces who boarded her at 1.00pm. The German crew was interned in Melbourne for the duration of the war.

The ship itself was soon refitted as a troop carrier for the war effort and was used in the Gallipoli landings under the name HMT Boorara.

She had a busy time in the Dardanelles: transporting Australian soldiers onto the battle arena, being twice torpedoed, and housing Turkish prisoners of war. She was eventually shipwrecked off the Vancouver coast in 1926 when she was operating as a Greek trade vessel.

We hope to find the shell

Southern Ocean Exploration, Australia’s most successful shipwreck discovery team, will volunteer all of its resources to find the shell: divers, boats, fuel and insurances – but we need this equipment if we are to have any chance of finding the shell.

Whitewater Documentaries will provide a film crew to document the event, with a view to telling the fascinating story of the Pfalz in a one-hour television documentary.

The catch: the magnetometer we need will cost $130,000.

Whitewater and SOE have set up an Indiegogo fundraising campaign to enable SOE to buy the necessary equipment. SOE will be able to use this equipment to find the shell, as well as other elusive shipwrecks. Whitewater gets to film it all. So it’s all very exciting.

We will be launching the campaign in April and expect a lot of interest.

As you can imagine, this is a ‘Long Shot’, but just think  how exciting it would be to participate in the making of Australian and international history.

Most of the credit for making this project a reality goes to author Keith Quinton whose recent book, Stop the Pfalz,painstakingly and accurately recreates the Pfalz’ last moments. His information and assistance has helped SOE narrow the search grid to a practical area.

Terry Cantwell


Herald Sun, March 8, 2014.  “Hunt for first shell fired in World War 1 steps up”

Coramba Presentation updated

Short video about the Coramba discovery created as a Southern Ocean Exploration presentation.

For educational purposes only

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“Action” makes History

By Terry Cantwell

The boat that  discovered Australia’s most searched-for shipwreck has become a historic vessel herself.

Justin McCarthy’s World War Two patrol boat MTB 02-14 Action has just been accepted onto the Australian Register of Historic Vessels.

Action will share this exclusive honour with notable vessels such as the beautiful schooner Alma Doepel, America’s Cup winner Australia 2, and Australia’s oldest surviving sailing vessel, The City of Adelaide.

Built in Brisbane in 1942 for the war effort, Action was one of twelve PT boats deployed by the RAAF as search and rescue vessels in New Guinea. The PT boat came under Japanese fire at Milne Bay, New Guinea as it rescued downed Australian airmen from the seas.

Action continued ceremonial duties after the war, such as carrying Queen Elizabeth across Sydney Harbour in 1953, before being sold into private hands at the Williamstown Yacht Club in 1960.

An Adelaide consortium purchased Action in the late 1970s and in the mid 1990s Action formed the platform for a television documentary about the Murray Darling Basin.

Justin McCarthy, a diver and member of Australia’s most successful independent shipwreck discovery team, Southern Ocean Exploration (SOE), purchased Action earlier this year.

SOE has since been using Justin’s PT boat as its primary search vessel.

In May this year Action discovered the wreck of the TSS Coramba, which sank in Bass Strait in 1934, taking 17 lives.

The Coramba was one of Australia’s most searched for shipwrecks. Its discovery closed a contentious chapter of Australian maritime history.

Justin McCarthy is delighted with his boat’s inclusion in Australia’s pantheon of significant vessels.

“It’s fantastic that she will be recognised for her part in our country’s history. It’s also wonderful that she is still contributing to our national story,” he said.

Other Media

Radio 98.7FM interview

Mornington News

Cranbourne News

Pakenham Gazette




Divers Discover the “Ship that the Sea Swallowed”

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By Terry Cantwell


One of Victoria’s most searched-for shipwrecks has finally been discovered.

Last Sunday (May 29) archaeological divers Southern Ocean Exploration (SOE) discovered the wreck of the TSS Coramba, which sank in Bass Strait in 1934.

The Coramba was en-route from Warnambool to Williamstown with a cargo of condensed milk and wool, when Captain John Dowling attempted to find shelter in Westernport.

The ship was no match for the huge seas that also swamped much of the mainland on Novemebr 30, 1934.

17 men drowned in what was one of Victoria’s worst hurricanes and the wreck’s  whereabouts has remained a mystery until now.

The Coramba’s sinking was a huge blow to a state already reeling from a crippling depression. Relatives received little compensation and many children grew up in poverty after losing their family breadwinner.

Divers have been searching for the wreck for over 70 years. In 1935, legendary salvage diver John Johnstone claimed to have found the wreck near Seal Rocks, Phillip Island: a claim that was accepted by a marine inquiry at the time. However, last week’s discovery places the wreck many miles to the west of Johnstone’s coordinates.

Fairfax/Whitewater video report

The Ship that the Sea Swallowed author and maritime historian, Des Williams has been searching for the Coramba since the 1980s.  “The Coramba has been a big part of my life for the past 35 years. I’ve searched for it on many occasions, written a book about it and have become very close to the families of those who drowned,” he said.

Southern Ocean Exploration has been searching for the wreck for eight years and has surveyed almost 15 square kilometres of Bass Strait. The team’s chief researcher, Peter Taylor, has painstakingly researched all available data. He recently decided to change the search grid on a hunch that team may have been looking in the wrong area. “It’s a great relief. There have many days when we’ve returned from a Coramba search very despondent. This is absolutely wonderful,” Mr Taylor said.

SOE Team Leader Mark Ryan says that the Coramba find is one of SOE’s finest moments. “This is the sweetest find of all. We have discovered nearly a dozen wrecks now, but this one required a special resilience. There were many occasions when we were about to write her off,” he said.

Other Media:

Sunday Age report

Sydney Morning Herald video report

WA Today report

Westernport News Report (pp 18-19)


Mornington Leader report

Hobsons Bay Leader feature about Peter Taylor

Guardian Mildura

Frankston Leader

Hobsons Bay Leader follow-up interview with Norma Dowling.

Brisbane Times Video

Canberra Times Video

Ayrshire Post Scotland

Sunday Business Post Ireland

photos by Brenden Stevenson, Vikki Ryan, Des Williams, Mark Ryan, and Whitewater Documentaries.

Chief Engineer’s great-grandson dives the Glenelg

Gordon before his dive.


October 1, 2011
Terry Cantwell

After an intense week’s dive training with Mark Ryan of Aquability and Southern Ocean Exploration, Gordon Fyfe has dived on the Glenelg shipwreck to pay tribute to his great-grandfather,  chief engineer David Fyfe.

Mark Ryan discussed the possibility of a site visit with Gordon earlier this year, suggesting that Gordon learn to dive.

Gordon was  tentative at first, but excited by the opportunity.

In september Gordon and his wife Liz began their training – first in a suburban swimming pool and later in Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay.

“I hadn’t been in the water for decades; and I had no familiarity whatever with being under the water. It was an astonishing proposition for any landlubber to contemplate – that Fyfe could go from having no underwater experience, to diving more than 30m deep in the space of one week”, he said.

Despite his trepidation, Gordon came through with flying colours.

The week wasn’t without incident though: Liz developed severe ear pressure problems halfway through her training that almost spoilt her opportunity to dive.

However, conditions were perfect on the day. Assisted by three boats, a beautiful flat sea, clear skies and almost the entire SOE crew, Gordon and Liz experienced a perfect dive. 

A very special day

Gordon speaking after his dive.

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For a detailed report, read this Canberra Times feature about the event.




Camera: Mick Whitmore,  Terry Cantwell.

Sound: David Muir.