Wreck diving has always held a strong fascination for scuba divers. The main attraction to many is the link to an interesting part of history. The wreck maybe a ship that was struck down during a war bombing raid, or it may be a historic cargo vessel that used to ply trade routes and ran aground due to navigational error, or it may be a passenger vessel that ended up on the sea floor during a storm. Descending on to and exploring an underwater relic such as this can bring history to “life”, bring a story in to sharper focus, and one can better appreciate the events and emotions that must have taken place during life-changing and often catastrophic moments.
Often wrecks have become encrusted with coral and other benthic life forms and are now the super structure for living and thriving organisms. Such wrecks are often a home for spectacular macro life, such as rare types of shrimp, colourful and flamboyant nudibranchs, furtive octopus, and cryptic creatures such as frogfish and stonefish. They might be important refuges for juvenile reef fish which seek shelter and safety within its deepest and darkest recesses, and this often attracts predator fish species such as trevally and barracuda on the lookout for prey.
Indeed these days objects are often deliberately sunk or scuttled as part of a reef or marine life rehabilitation project. Small boats are popular choices for such initiatives, but sometimes they might be decommissioned military vessels, helicopters, even old cars and tyres have been used. The advantage of such artificial reefs are that they can be strategically positioned for the greatest benefit to the marine life and also within recreational diving depths, creating a valuable source of revenue for some coastal communities.
Another attraction for some divers is the extra challenges they present. Often wrecks lie at depths beyond the reach of recreational divers and require the use of mixed gases and other advanced equipment such as safety stages and twin tanks. Other wrecks may present easy penetration opportunities to explore cargo holds and captain’s cabins; whilst others may require more technical planning and the use of penetration lines and torches to explore hidden decks, corridors, and sections with potentially dangerous objects.
Whatever your interest in wreck diving, Dive The World can help you find the top locations and options that best match your needs.
Most coastal regions of the world have a few wrecks these days, but some have more than their fair share …
Given its proximity to Europe and its colonial past, it is unsurprising that the Red Sea is home to some of the best war wrecks in the world. Most notable are the Sinai Peninsula’s HMS Thistlegorm and the Umbria Wreck, just outside Port Sudan. A ship from either side of the warring factions, but they share astonishing cargoes of war vehicles, ammunitions and bombs, and anti-aircraft guns. No museum can bring you closer to the history of World War II than these 2 extraordinary ship wrecks, but these are really only the jewels in the crown… and the crown is very large.
In Egypt there are dozens of top quality wrecks, so many in fact that many cruises specialise in wreck tours. There is the Rosalie Moller - another victim of the war in the northern Hurghada area. There are transport vessels such as the Ulysses, the Gubal Barge, the Dunraven and the Kingston. Then there is the incredible Abu Nuhas reef system that has 5 fabulous wrecks lying at various depths on it. And more recently in 1991 on its return from Mecca, the overcrowded Salem Express sank with huge loss of life. But even the southern marine parks have Egypt have some great wrecks to dive, with several at the Brother Islands and Zabargad Island.
As well as the Italian Umbria wreck, the Sudanese Red Sea is home to the Blue Belt wreck, a cargo ship that was loaded with Toyota cars, trucks and tractors. Shaab Rumi is where Jacques Cousteau constructed his underwater research laboratory. Now one of the most unique wrecks in the world, Cousteau's Conshelf (aka the Precontinent II) was a temporary home to several ‘oceanauts’ who lived there and made a television series about the underwater world.
The war time history of the Solomon Islands is an integral part of any scuba diving trip here. Some of the most brutal battles of World War II took place in the Solomons and so much military hardware sank near Guadalcanal that the waterway was renamed Iron Bottom Sound! There are warships from both sides, fighter planes, cargo vessels, even a submarine! There are also ports and beaches used as dumping grounds for military paraphernalia which are now popular muck diving sites thanks to all the equipment which has become home to various marine critters. Given that the Solomons are located in the Coral Triangle and the reefs are in superb condition, the islands are a favourite for those seeking a varied range of reefs and wrecks of the very highest quality.
The battle for Peleliu Island in Palau is where some of the most fiercest fighting took place between Japan and the USA. Although the Japanese government sought special permission and salvaged many of the wrecks from the area, there are still several excellent wreck dives here. The warships Teshio Maru and Chuyo Maru were torpedoed and bombed and sank in Peleliu’s waters. There is also a cargo vessel and an American sea plane. All these wrecks have been reclaimed by the tropical ocean and are now thriving habitats for Palau’s marine life. In addition it’s also possible to dive at Orange Beach, site of the US amphibious landing, where the sea floor is littered with war debris. Most dive operators conduct land visits too, where you can visit a museum full of artefacts, and walk around the runways, and see the rusting hulks of amphibious landing vehicles and an old Japanese tank.
The Micronesian state of Chuuk is one of the most famous wreck diving destinations in the world. This far flung region of the Pacific may seem way off the beaten track these days but back in the 1940s it was the centre of conflict in World War 2. The Japanese were using the lagoon as a heavily fortified naval base which attracted the attentions of the US Air Force that bombed and sank over 60 vessels in one small area. In terms of scuba diving, these wrecks are among the best in the world, both in terms of historical interest with artefacts scattered throughout the holds, and in marine life – both encrusting and fish species that seek shelter inside their structures. You can recall the action onboard a diving cruise with the Truk Master.
Coron Bay was the secret hideaway of a fleet of 24 Japanese vessels in the Philippines during World War II. They were subject to a surprise aerial attack in 1944 and all were sunk, including 12 in relatively shallow water, making it one of the richest places in the world for accessible diving wrecks. Many of the vessels are huge, requiring more than one dive each to cover the entire structures, and mostly they are in excellent condition, making them highly interesting artefacts to divers interested in the history of WW2. Besides its wrecks, Coron is also home to some unusual cave dives, some beautiful reefs, and a coastline of seagrasses where endangered dugongs live.
Better known for its amazing marine diversity, PNG was also the stage of battles during World War II. You will find many great wreck dives on the liveaboard tours of Tufi, and Solonon-PNG transit trips near Kokopo, including B17 and B25 bombers, P39 fighter plane, Japanese cargo ships and CHI-HA tanks..
After the end of Second World War the USA carried out nuclear bomb tests on an impressive fleet of naval vessels at Bikini Atoll. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, the area has an unsurpassed number of wrecks and has been cleared for re-opening. Not only has it garnered a reputation as the number one wreck diving destination on Earth, but its enforced closure over recent decades have created a unique marine sanctuary of staggering proportions. Tec-divers can now discover this spectacular location on Bikini Atoll expeditions with the Truk Master.
Some locations in the world might not have a huge number of wrecks, but they do have one that is so good that it has achieved international acclaim …
Just off the shoreline of Tulamben in north east Bali lies the USS Liberty, a World War II cargo ship and one of the most famous wrecks in the world. Lava flow from the nearby Mt Agung volcano pushed the vessel off the shoreline into shallow water. Its easy access and the mild sea conditions mean that everyone can enjoy the splendour of the most beautifully colourful wreck you can imagine. Larger fish that frequent the wreck include great barracuda, Napoleon wrasse, bumphead parrotfish, and occasional sunfish. But the wreck is equally bedazzling at night where divers can use their torches to help spot small cryptic such as the myriad crustacean species that live here.
Australia’s largest and most famous shipwreck, is the SS Yongala, arguably one of the best shipwrecks in the world. It was a passenger and freight steamer which sank in 33m of water during a cyclone in 1911 off Townsville, Queensland with all its 122 passengers with her. It was discovered in 1956 and is now home to some amazing marine life such as giant groupers, eagles rays, turtles, sea snakes, and huge schools of Barracudas. Giant trevally hunt in the area, as do various pelagic shark species such as bull sharks. From June to November, it’s even possible to see minke whales here. There are very few scheduled cruises out to the wreck, however the Spoilsport and the Spirit of Freedom do organise occasional expeditions in the area. Note: penetration of the wreck is prohibited to avoid corrosion and fin damage.
Built and launched in 1945, the USS Kittiwake was a submarine rescue boat in the US Navy. Decommissioned in 1994, the vessel was transferred to the Cayman Islands and sunk as an artificial reef in 2011 in 20m of water off 7 Mile Beach, Grand Cayman. With the visibility often at around 30m, it is one of the most photogenic and best loved wrecks in the Caribbean. Schools of horse-eyed jacks and barracuda often swirl around the structure, groupers lurk under the hull and in the holds. Macro lovers can find peppermint and banded coral shrimps, arrowhead crabs, and fire worms all over the wreck. Garden eels populate the surrounding sands and they attract the attention of southern stingrays and eagle rays.
Note: wreck diving penetration and deep wrecks require specific and advanced training in order to participate. It should also be noted that the taking of artifacts or property from wrecks as mementos or souvenirs not only diminishes the attraction of a wreck for all future visiting divers, it is often illegal in many jurisdictions. So always ensure you have appropriate training and please leave the wrecks in the same state as which you found it.
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