The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Out of the blue

Nestled in the waters around the island this week we look at shipwrecks and coral reefs worth exploring at seven intriguing dive sites

“Shipwrecks are not just lumps of metal rusting under the sea,” says Dharshana Jayawardena. A technical trimix diver with over 850 dives all around the world, Darshana is also the editor of the diving website for tourists www.DiveSriLanka.com. He knows that the corpses of old ships can support coral reefs and become havens for marine life. This is why he and his fellow diving enthusiasts have located and identified several ship wrecks around Sri Lanka including the SS Worcestershire.

Darshana points out that while many other countries recognise their value to fisheries and tourism sectors and spend millions to sink ships and create artificial reefs – in Sri Lanka ships are actually being salvaged both legally and illegally. Unfortunately, processes are not in place to regulate salvage or to protect these artificial reefs. This week, Darshana shares his list of the top wrecks to be explored with the Mirror Magazine.

H.M.S Hermes (1942, Batticaloa)

On April 9, 1942, during the height of World War II, the Japanese launched a daring predawn attack on a British Naval Carrier force near Batticaloa, headed by the H.M.S Hermes, the world’s first purpose built aircraft carrier. The Hermes sank within 10 minutes of the attack and now is a world famous wreck dive and has been listed several times among the top 100 dives of the world. Although lying on its deck, the wreck is intact and key features such as guns, superstructure and propeller can still be seen. The ship is covered with black coral and is lush with marine life such as large tuna, shoals of snapper, barracuda and trevally. At 53m the dive is challenging and for expert technical divers only.

Car Wreck (1980’s, Colombo)

Sunk in the 1980’s this massive car carrier lies scattered at a depth of 30m about 5km west of the Galle Face Green. It is a very popular shipwreck among divers of all levels for its great collection of fish, coral life and because parts of the cars can still be found on the decks.  The stern area is very scenic with large cavernous spaces home to great schools of marine life.

British Sergeant (1942, Mankerni)

The same attack that saw the demise of the H.M.S Hermes sank the British Sergeant on April 9, 1942. The wreck now lies in two pieces at a 30m depth near Mankerni. The bow section has many large and magnificent caverns which harbor shoals of trevally and snappers during day time.

This is a large ship and both the bow section and the broken stern will require many dives to explore.  This ship sadly is now under threat from shipwreck salvagers. If it is salvaged it will be a huge blow for marine tourism and fisheries in the area.

Colombo Cargo Wreck (1993, Dehiwela)

Purportedly an Indian Cargo Ship carrying onions that sank in 1993. It is 7km west of Colombo, and is one of the most popular dives because of its rich marine life and easy accessibility. The ship is very scenic as its completely intact and lying on its side at a 30m depth. Here divers generally see schools of fish, stingrays, large groupers and on occasion eagle rays, dolphins and whale sharks.

The Conch (1903, Akurala)

On June 3, 1903, The Conch was on en-route to Madras from Novorossisk when she struck the Akarta rock off the coast of Hikkaduwa. Spurting oil, she swiftly sank to the bottom and rested against the rock at a depth of 22 m. This is a dive with a high fun factor for all types of divers and a big tourist attraction in Hikkaduwa. There is a small cavern to explore and various types of reef fish can be seen in and around the wreck. Highlights are the large engine block, boilers and the propeller that lie in the debris field.

SS Worcestershire (1917, Mt Lavinia)

On February 17, 1917, The British Armed Merchant SS Worcestershire sank after hitting a sea mine laid by German Mine Layer Wolf. This gigantic ship was recently located 15km off the coast of Mt Lavinia lying upright at 57m.  This is an extremely rewarding dive for experienced technical divers.

The fish life and hunting action is phenomenal. The bowl of the ship constantly harbors a massive shoal of smaller big eye trevally that is constantly hunted by roaming giant trevally. The ship is in a bad state of deterioration and only the hull and the collapsed bridge can be seen.

Medhufaru (2009, Mt Lavinia)

The Medhufaru – a Maldivian cargo ship sank off the coast of Mount Lavinia in 2009. It sits perfectly up right and from a depth of 30m rises to 15m making it a very popular site for divers at all levels. Even though it has been submerged for less than three years, it is teeming with marine life including lionfish, scorpion fish, schools of batfish, trevally and snappers. A highlight is the front loader that can be found on the deck.

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