Sunday, April 01, 2007

Diving the Wrecks of Coron

30 minutes ago, I just finished the last of four dives out of Coron, in the Philippines. Outside of Coron, eleven sunken Japanese cargo freighters carrying war materials lurk beneath the warm, tropical waters. Coron is known as one of the most accessible areas in the world for diving in sunken ships. Few places on Earth hold so many large ships in the same area at reasonably accessible depths.

Before driving the Japanese out of the Philippines, a United States Navy Carrier task force launched a raid after learning the location of the supply convoy. Curtis SB2C Helldiver bombers from Aircraft carriers launched the raid from 550 km away, a record distance for launching naval air attacks at the time.

And now today, scuba divers from around the globe converge on the otherwise obscure island of Busuanga to go into the different wrecks. During the past two days, I had the opportunity to dive in three different ships. The Akitsushima, formerly a seaplane tender and the largest of the wrecks at 118 meters (389 feet), sports a giant crane. As it sank, it fell to its port side, so the crane now lies across the surface. We entered through a giant hole where the hull split. After that, we swam across the now upright bow of the ship, through a control tower and were able to view two big anti-aircraft gun emplacements. The guns had already been salvaged. Lying36 meters underwater (119 feet), this was my deepest dive to date.

The second dive of the day would turn out to be the most spectcular. The Olympia Maru also fell onto its port side as it sank. Large, spacious, open cargo holds allowed us to swim through a section of it. Visibility was good. We swam through most of the upper deck of the ship and emerged through a gaping hole on the starboard side (presumably where a torpedo hit the ship.)

My third dive the following day took me again to 36 meters, where I entered the upper two decks of the Irako Maru. Unlike most of the wrecks in the area, the Irako Maru is unique in that it still lies upwright. Our first sight was a giant So while the upper floors just below deck were tighter and more complicated, the fact that the ship was upright made it very realistic. One could imagine people walking around on this old freighter. Obvious flights of stairs, windows, handles, pipes and other attached implements were everywhere. Unlike the other wrecks, this one really was a place you could see other people. But today, sunburned tourists float around the holes kicking up sediment and knocking their heads and air tanks on ceilings and doorways.Overall, a great dive, except for a ridiculously strong current that put a damper on things.

We returned to the Olympia Maru later that day for a second dive. This time, we penetrated deeper into the ship to view the boilers in the engine room. I saw some interesting electrical equipment above me and other rusty old machinery.

Today, I also had the pleasure of meeting Salid, a Frenchman who took some pictures for me during the dive. So I can now say I have pictures of the wrecks!

No comments: