Friday, April 07, 2017

Shipwrecks provide tourism potential for Labuan

LABUAN: The ships that sank during World War II off the waters of Labuan hold tremendous potential for underwater tourism.

This fact was attested by 18 divers from 10 nations during their just concluded 4-day familiarisation trip to the island.

The Professional Association of Diving Instructors [PADI] certified divers noted that the ship wrecks now colonised by marine life and located not far from the island, are ready to serve as popular dive sites.

One of shipwrecks is the Australian Wreck, located some 13 nautical miles away, near the Rusukan Besar island southwest of Labuan.

Though it is not an Australian vessel, but was named so by the locals as it was sunk by an Australian aircraft in 1945 during World War II. It is actually a Dutch merchant ship captured by the Japanese then fitted with weapons. Nature and the passage of time has transformed what was once a lifeless wreck to an underwater natural wonder, rich in coral and other marine life.

A particular feature of the wreck is the presence of resident palm-sized frogfish or anglerfish. Large groupers can be seen swimming about looking for an easy feed among the profusion of marine life and divers are forewarned where to place their hands as many stonefish and lion fish lie camouflaged around the wreck.

Just 1.5 kilometres away, lies the American Wreck, the USS Solute (a minesweeper). During the Battle of Labuan, while the Allied forces were preparing for the invasion of the Brunei Bay, the minesweeper struck a mine midship. She buckled when she started to sink, with the bow portion folding back over on top of the stern section.

The wreck lies 33 metres below on the sandy bottom with tangled masses of metal and cable. Depth chargers, ammunition shells, shoe, culinary and wire bottles can still be found scattered around the wreckage.

To get into the two mentioned wrecks, divers must be certified in wreck diving or have previously logged experience in wreck diving.

Situated about 11 nautical miles from Labuan, east of Kuraman Island, lies the 105-metre modern freighter MV Tung Hwuang that sank in 1980.