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RV Petrel spots USS Ward?

* Ormoc Bay a watery grave to 9 warships

ORMOC CITY – The RV Petrel, a research vessel owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, is currently in Ormoc for an underwater exploration of World War II battleships that were sunk in the area, said to be the site of the bloodiest naval battle during the war.

Ormoc Bay is also where the first US Sumnerclass destroyers saw battle.

RV Petrel have already “sighted” nine warships (3 US and 6 Japanese) and one submarine, including the USS Ward, the historic warship that fired the first shot against Japanese invaders during the Pearl Harbor bombing in Hawaii, USA. Robert Kraft, expedition leader, told city officials led by Vice Mayor Leo Carmelo Locsin Jr., that they are doing a confirmatory exploration today and tomorrow, to make sure if the wreckage their sonar equipment picked up is the USS Ward. The vice mayor, together with councilors Mario Rodriguez and Tommy Serafica, met with the underwater archeologists in the ship, where they were also given a tour of its facilities.

Together with Paul Mayer, lead researcher, Kraft explained that the RV Petrel can explore up to the depths of 6,000 meters or 6 kilometers, using their sonar equipment. He said their sonar equipment picks up sounds of things that are not supposed to be in the ocean, then “draws” a picture of it, and that is when they know it is a ship or not. Kraft added that aside from the warships, they also have reason to believe that there were also merchant ships that sunk in the area. He said that after they document the ships and take real photos of it, they will leave some for the City to use for the Ormoc Museum that is being developed. Dr. Gay Lacsima of the National Museum, who is also on the RV Petrel, said that the Ormoc expedition was done on the request of Mayor Richard Gomez.

“Around 2 years ago, Mayor Gomez came to the National Museum to ask for an exploration of Ormoc’s waters,” she said. When RV Petrel came, f irst to explore the Surigao Strait, the National Museum requested them to include Ormoc and was glad it was approved. Jake Miranda of the Battle of Surigao Memorial Council, who is acting as the RV Petrel’s liaison with local officials, said finding the USS Ward will catapult Ormoc into a historical limelight. “Your “forgotten battle” will no more be forgotten,” he said. He added that the exploration also aims to find the USS Ward’s specific gun that f ired the first shot and take a picture of it.

While Kraft and Mayer have not categorically said that the wreckage the RV Petrel found is definitely that of USS Ward, Jake Miranda said they are confident it is because it matches the coordinates where the ship reportedly sank. He said it is exactly as reported at “Kawit Strait south of Ormoc.” Mayer, on the other hand, emphasized that RV Petrel only does underwater archaeology. They don’t do retrieval, except in the case of HMS Hood, the last battleship built for the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom, where only three survived after it was sunk by German shelling in the Strait of Denmark. They retrieved its bell for the sake of the survivors. Vice Mayor Leo Carmelo Locsin, on the other hand, said he is very excited with RV Petrel’s find.

“This will put Ormoc on the map,” he said. He also profusely thanked Kraft and Meyer for “doing this, not only for us, but for the whole world.” Mayor Richard Gomez, reached through his phone, said that he is happy that his effort to establish a museum for Ormoc is beginning to see reality.

By Lalaine M. Jimenea

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