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A small dive experience.

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It was April 2000. In Pattaya an exploration trip to 3 sunken warship in the Gulf of Thailand, close to the coast at Prachuabe Kirikhanes. The trip has been a smashing success. We had found and dived 3 old Thai Navy vessels, sunk for target practice in the early 1970's, and although the diving was no better than usual in the Gulf , we were all thrilled enough with just having dived something new. The Hardensleep and the Bhomremen, while fine wrecks, were getting a bit stale, and we had long been on the lookout for other wrecks, of which we knew there to be plenty in Thai waters. I made contact with a captain who is a old fisherman, he can drive my ship Mathilda, and he claimed to know of numerous uncharted wrecks, which he took his clients to. So far, he had certainly made good on that claim, but this outrageous suggestion, that some where in Thai waters there existed a wreck that actually sat vertically in the water column, stretched credibility. How does a wreck sit vertically in the water ? Did it embed itself in the bottom ? Did it founder on a pinnacle and slide down the side of the rock ? All sorts of theories were coined, including one holding that the captain must be getting a bit old, to put it kindly. But considering that he had after all just taken us to 3 wrecks none of us had ever heard of, and done so in a manner that suggested that he could have done it blindfolded, We decided to take a chance and arrange an exploration trip. The fact that he claimed it was sitting in ginclear water, and was teeming with fish, whetted our appetites. So we took off in the evening of Monday, May 4th 2000. We knew nothing of the wreck, other than that the captain said it was there. Details such as identity, depth, state of the wreck, currents, even exact location, were unknown to us, and since the boat does not have a compressor, the trip was further complicated by the fact that all gas had to be brought along pre-pumped. There was only two Trimix-certified diver onboard, the three another divers used air, EAN32, EAN 35 and EAN 36, and had to accept from the beginning that they would probably not be able to go all the way to the bottom. The nearest chamber is in Sattahips, a long way from the area around Kohe Chang that the captain had loosely indicated as the location, and so they did not anticipate doing any decompression dives either, although they were prepared to play it by ear. As the boat steamed southwards and then made a turn to the east, hugging the coast of the Thai Eastern Seaboard, we settled in on the deck of the boat, alcohol was consumed in mild doses, and everyone tried to convince everyone else that there was no way this wreck could exist. Around midnight, we turned in, each with a mattress, a pillow and a blanket, and awoke roughly 8 hours later, to the captain's terse announcement: "Five minutes!" We were in the middle of nowhere. There were indeed some makeshift markers in the water, but apart from that we were alone. There was nothing to see…except for a dark shape just below the surface of the ink-blue water current. Back on the boat, there was a mild frenzy in progress. I have never seen a group of divers get their gear on so fast, and after 15 minutes, we were all on our way down the deck. It was amazing. Diving such a fresh wreck, knowing that apart from one or 2 commercial divers, you are the first diver to see this, is an awesome experience. We were like kids in a candy store, not knowing where to begin. It became clear pretty quickly that there were no penetration points on the deck itself, since it was mainly taken up by the 2 gas storage tanks, but there were lots of nooks and crannies under the poop and beside the tanks themselves. I tried to cut the trap open, but it took me a long time. Funny, normally it's a breeze. Narcosis! I've surely been narc'ed before, but have never quite felt it to the extent I did now. An interesting experience. The computer was rapidly sending me towards decompression, so I left the superstructure and started a slow ascent. The narcosis wore off very quickly and I spent another 20 minutes or so working our way up to the bow for a safety stop. With only a couple of years below, the wreck has not yet accumulated any coral growth, but is covered in clams. After a 2-hour surface interval, we were ready to go again. I managed to swap my Trimix tank for an air tank, as i wanted to go back to the superstructure. Laurent loaded up with air as well, and together with my friend Pekka the Finn, we dive-bombed towards the superstructure. We landed on the bulkhead, then went over the edge a further 40 meters, peering into the bridge. There was not much there, so either the crew took a lot with them before they abandoned ship, or a few commercial scavengers have been there. A total of 5 minutes, then headed for the no-decompression zone, which is a long way away when you are battling rapidly diminishing no-deco time versus a safe ascent rate. Few wanted to leave, but with no gas and high nitrogen loading, we left the site at about 4 p.m. and started the journey back to Pattaya. We arrived 12 hours later, vowing to return soon. Sitting on its derriere, the only point of possible penetration, the superstructure, is of course located further down, and naturally we had to take a look. The top of the superstructure (well, the front, really) begins at 86 meters. Very strange feeling to stand there, on the front bulkhead, looking up at the deck rising above you! I have made 4 dives on the wreck now, and the last 2, I've started seeing the guardians of the wreck: The area around the superstructure is home to the 3 largest groupers I have ever seen and am ever likely to see! These fish have to be seen to be believed, but I have reliable witnesses - including me and my Trimix divers. Most of us estimate that these are 300-kilo groupers! They are very inquisitive, which can be pretty intimidating, but so far have proven to be completely harmless. We have also made it to the bottom, and this area is being visited increasingly often, both by air- and trimix divers. The bottom is at 145,4 meters, and consists of very fine silt, consistent with the general area around Koh Chang. Part of the explanation for the wreck's bizarre position is found here. It is almost certain that the storage tanks on the deck are empty, and on this type of vessel, the engines are located aft, putting the center of gravity such that she would logically have sunk stern-first. She hit the bottom hard, and embedded herself there, almost all the way up to the smokestack. So there is a good 5-6 meters of ship below the bottom, and this combined with the buoyancy of the empty tanks contribute to her bizarre position. The lack of any noticeable current in the area certainly helps, and it is likely that she will remain vertical for a long time, since the tanks are made from stainless steel and will only rust very slowly. So who was she ? What happened ? We don't know it all, but we do know that her name was originally "Kohonosa Maruca No. 5", and that she was sold or chartered to Thai operators, because her original name has been painted over with Thai characters. Of "Kohonosa Maruca No. 5", we know the following: She was built at the Ura Kyodo Shipyards in Japan as Hull Number 312, and launched on December 1st 1994. Registered as a Kurashi-type tanker vessel with a deadweight tonnage of 1,250 metric tons and a Gross Registered Tonnage of 498 metric tons, she was powered by a 6LH28 engine capable of approximately 12 knots service speed. Her length

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Stewart Seglare 2001-08-17 15:29:00
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