Mother Nature has created many beautiful animals and corals for scuba divers to enjoy. From the majestic Whaleshark, seen by divers at many locations around the world, to the Great Barrier Reef, one of the 7 natural wonders of the world, the adventures are endless.
Man has also contributed to the exciting scuba adventures to be had, responsible for the many wrecks available for the adventurous diver to explore.
Planes, Trains and…Ships!
Ships, planes and even trains have created extraordinary dive sites, offering the scuba diver a mix of history and often, excellent marine life. There are two reasons we have the opportunity to dive wrecks…
In recent years man has contributed, often charitably, in order to increase scuba diving activities or take pressure off existing reefs by deliberately sinking, decommissioned ships, often ex-military vessels.
The other reason is tragedy. There are literally thousands of ship wrecks laying on the ocean floor, torpedoed during war, a sad reminder of a less charitable side to the human spirit.
Whatever the reason, diving wrecks make for a fascinating experience, offering a completely different atmosphere to your dive, giving you a unique sense of scale to the vessel you would simply not get on land.
Wrecks sunken during war time can give you an amazing insight into history as you swim through rooms still containing soldiers equipment and decks full of tanks and jeeps that never made it to battle.
UNESCO estimates that worldwide over 3 million shipwrecks, some thousands of years old, lie on seabeds creating underwater museums for scuba divers to visit.
Once a wreck reaches its final resting place, the transformation from thousands of tones of ugly grey steel begins in earnest as Mother Nature springs into action. The hard, cold steel surfaces provide attachment points for corals, oysters and algae.
These will grow and provide food sources and shelters for small fish, which in turn will attract bigger fish creating a new eco-system for marine life to thrive as the wreck literally becomes a new breeding ground for marine life of all shapes and sizes.
Although scuba diving wrecks is a truly exciting experience you should not become complacent with your scuba skills. Ensure you are correctly trained to dive wrecks, and use good buoyancy on all wreck dives.
It may look very tempting to enter a wreck and swim through history but without the proper training you could quite easily become lost and disorientated inside.
Taking a wreck adventure dive as part of your advanced open water course will teach you some of the hazards associated with wreck diving and how to avoid them. Sharp objects, entanglement hazards and silt are just a few of the new obstacles that you may have not experienced before.
The PADI Wreck Diver specialty is one of the most popular and fun scuba diving course available. This course will enable you to navigate inside boats, planes and automobiles and exit them safely. You will be shown how to evaluate a wreck, correct techniques for using a line and reel and taught how to avoid and deal with dangerous situations.
Once completed, your appetite will be whet and you wont be able to wait to use your new skills on wreck dive sites all around around the world. Taking a wreck course is also the perfect opportunity to become an enriched air diver as you will be sure to want more bottom time to explore.
A lot of wrecks sit in deep water meaning reduced dive times due to increased nitrogen exposure. Diving with enriched air will help with diving wrecks within the recreational limits. With higher amounts of oxygen in you tank, you will be able to extend your limits.
Here on Koh Tao we are lucky to have two ship wrecks, both deliberately sank to provide additional scuba diving adventures, as well as take pressure off existing dive sites.
Located in close proximity to the Island, and at good depths for recreational diving, the HTMS Sattukut is the perfect spot to take a wreck diving adventure dive and become a wreck diving specialist.
The Sattukut is Koh Tao’s premier shipwreck, originally built to serve in World War 2 for the United States navy in the pacific theatre.
After surviving the war the ship was sold to the Thai navy and served as a patrol boat until being sunk just off Koh Tao in June 2011.
The wreck itself is relatively deep, with the keel sitting at a maximum depth of 31metres. The shallowest part of the Sattakut is the top of the captain’s cabin, at around 18 metres.
The ship was sunk, in collaboration the Thai Navy, and several private sponsors in order to provide Koh Tao with an alternative dive site, taking pressure off some of the islands more popular sites, as well as provide a wreck to conduct wreck training courses on.
The Sattakut has become home to lots and lots of marine life, and you are likely to bump into giant groupers, snappers and even pufferfish once you are inside.
The MV Trident was originally a German coastguard boat, bought and refitted for recreational diving in Asia. In 2005, a team of Technical divers from Koh Tao bought the boat, fitted her out for technical diving and spent several years exploring the waters in the Gulf of Thailand for new wrecks.
The crew located over 30 new wrecks including the WWII Submarine, the USS Lagarto, before she was retired, stripped, cleaned and made environmentally friendly in readiness to become an artificial reef on Koh Tao after the local scuba diving community raised the necessary funds.
Sank off the south end off Shark Island and smaller in size than the Sattakut, the Trident is 29 meters long, 5.5 meters wide and 7m tall vessel. The bottom of the Trident rests in around 35 metres of water (depending on tides) and has been anchored down to provide stability and to minimise any movement of the wreck.
There are often strong currents, and dives are best timed with this in mind.
Wreck Diving Around The World
Some of the coolest dive spots around the world just so happen to be ship wrecks. These sites have been transformed from lumps of metal into amazing underwater habitats combining history with stunning marine life:
USAT Liberty (Tulamben, Bali)
A WW2 cargo ship that was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine, the boat was saved from sinking straight away and was pulled up to the shore just off the coast of Bali. This site makes for a great shore dive with the wreck just 40m from the beach, the 120m long wreck sits at a 90 degree angle from the beach with the wreck starting at just 4m depth sinking down to around 35m.
This wreck is teaming with marine life from macro up to pelagic animals such as sharks, the guns have been covered in corals making a home for pygmy seahorse.
S.S Yongala (Queensland, Australia)
The Yongala Wreck is a former steel passenger and freight ship, which sank in 1911 in a tropical cyclone with all its 124 passengers. 100 years on and the wreck is still in very good condition with the masts and even the toilets still in place, it lies on a sandy bottom at 33m deep with the top rising up to 15m from the surface.
S.S Thistlegorm (Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt)
A British Merchant navy ship that was carrying war supplies sank in 1941 in the Red Sea after being hit by 2 bombs from German planes and still holds most of its cargo making it a true war time wreck. It still contains tanks, motorcycles, rifles and even 2 locomotives!!! It attracts lots of marine life, and you will likely see great barracudas and big jacks hanging around the ship.
German High Seas Fleet (Scapa Flow, Scotland)
Lying at a depth of between 12m – 45m sits the wrecks of 3 battleships, 3 fast cruisers and a mine layer ship from the German navy. The fleet was scuttled in June 1919 under orders by the German admiral in command. He did this so the British Navy could not seize the ships and use them for their own means, thus creating a German Navy graveyard.
The area is prone to currents and with a dry suit essential for diving this site, advanced certification is a must.
Japanese Supply Fleet (Coron Bay, Philippines)
In September 1944, 24 Japanese navy ships were sunk by an American air raid, only 12 of which have been discovered up to now. The wrecks are all large up to 160 m in length with depth ranges of 12m to 30 m, with one wreck being deeper down at 43m.
This site is perfect for penetration dives with many entry and exit points dotted around the ships, you can pick your way through passage ways, going through the different levels even stop off in the kitchen which still is full of pots and pans.
When planning penetration dives here be sure to include enriched air as part of your equipment so you can fully and safely explore these sunken giants. The exterior of the ships are encrusted with corals and teaming with life with anti-aircraft guns still in place for you to explore.
Author: Neil Davidson (PADI MSDT #294100)