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Thread: The WWII Japanese Pacific shipwrecks of Palau

  1. #1
    Wreck Ferret in training Garspeed is on a distinguished road Garspeed is on a distinguished road Garspeed's Avatar
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    The WWII Japanese Pacific shipwrecks of Palau

    Recently returned from a fantastic couple of weeks wreck diving with my good friends and dive buddies Rod MacDonald and Paul Haynes in Palau checking out the remains of "Operation Desecrate One" at the end of March in 1944. As some of you will know, Rod is a wreck researcher and author and is probably best know for his original title "Dive Scapa Flow" which has long been regarded as the bible for those diving the German WW1 wrecks at Scapa Flow in Orkney, an island north of the UK mainland. Last October he released his latest title "Dive Truk Lagoon" which has been very well received and he is now working hard on his next offering "Dive Palau - the Japanese WWII Pacific Shipwrecks". Paul is well know for his extensive rebreather knowledge, particularity in the military environment and is on a personal mission to ensure leisure divers learn from the safe practices the military have been using for years such as the use of mouthpiece retaining straps. As for me, I am just your average "wreck ferret" who has been lucky enough to live close to both these guys and managed to get myself a seat on their RIB to enjoy some local wreck diving and researching.

    Paul, myself and Rod at "Sam's Tours" in Palau




    So the story goes a bit like this...

    We all had a ball last Oct diving together in Truk where Rod released the latest book. Both Rod and Paul had been invited to once again attend and present at OzTek in Australia and they had decided to stop off on route back from there to visit Palau. Of course, Rod always intended to do the Palau book and this would allow him and Paul to carry out detailed survey dives on the wrecks that Rod wanted to write about. This is especially important for Rod as he always has a professional artist draw up detailed pictures of the wrecks as they can be found on the sea bed, thus helping divers plan their dives and see the main items of interest. At the time I was very interested in attending as well but did not think that I could afford the funds or the time away from the family. Anyway, that was before I was with them in Truk and I think that it was on our first beer at the end of the first day's diving that I turned to them both and said "I'm coming with you guys to Palau!".

    Anyway, fast forward 5 months and after many hours in airports and several days in planes, I finally arrived at Sam's Tours in Palau. Sam's is a large commercial outfit with many boats and even more staff. I have to admit that I was very anxious at first as I generally prefer smaller outfits where you get a little more personal attention. That said, I shouldn't have worried as Rod had sorted things out with Paul Collins, the Ops Manager, and Paul had set us up with a private boat, our own local skipper and several dive guides including himself. Over and above all of this we also had Paul himself and Mike Gerkin of Evolution Underwater Imaging (also the skipper of Truk Odessey liveaboard) both taking underwater film and stills for use in corporate advertising which would be used along with the launch of Rod's book to try and better promote the local wreck diving.

    Our local skipper Jimmy, Paul, Mike Gerkin, myself, Rod, Paul Collins and Mikey Bransfield (dive guide)




    As I had arrived a day before the OzTek guys, I had sorted myself out with a seat aboard a normal boat with the bubble blowers so I spent my first day like all the other divers doing the squidgy stuff (I would normally use another work here but it's not polite!) on the outer edges of the atoll. Don't tell Rod and Paul but I have to admit, seeing around 15 turtles along with tons of other critters on dive 1 on Dexter's Wall was pretty special. It was not until dive 2 on Blue Corner that I got the real feel for normal Palau diving. For those that don't know, Blue Corner is the very edge of the atoll with a depth approx. 15m on top of the reef and a wall that disappears down to best guess 1km deep. The divers all jump in, drift along the wall and once you get towards the edge of the reef at the corner itself you find a nice dead piece of coral, attach your reef hook and then fly like a kite in the substantial current. With hook in place, you are then able to stay put and enjoy the spectacle of pelagic sea life cruise by. I think I got up to around 20 sharks before I gave up counting so all in all, I saw more large sea critters in 2 dives that I have done in almost the rest of my diving career.

    Anyway, back to the wreck diving. With day 1 over, Paul and Rod arrived and we sorted ourselves out for our easy shakedown wreck dive the following day on the famous Helmet wreck, so called because of the stacks of Japanese helmets all rusted together in the holds. Prior to this dive, as would become the normal for our trip, Paul Collins would brief us on what to expect on the dive and Rod would then inform us on particular aspects of the wreck that he would like us to investigate, for example look for torpedo damage here, measure the size of the ships beam or even measure the size of the engine cylinders. After an excellent dive on the unknown wreck we headed back to the dive centre for our post dive debrief (which would again become the norm) where we shared the information we had collected, reviewed the video footage and then helped Rod pull together as much info as possible to both allow the artist to draw the wreck but also give Rod ammunition to try and establish her true identity.

    The above became our template for our dives with Rod and Paul Collins agreeing which wrecks we would dive and us all completing our assigned missions for data collection prior to "play time". Play time would generally consist of us squeezing into as many interesting places as possible including engine rooms, auxiliary steering gear, workshops etc. where again we would take careful note of anything interesting that Rod may chose to include in his book.

    In the course of our time in Palau we surveyed the following wrecks...

    Helmet Wreck (unknown name)
    Tesio Maru
    Iro
    Kamikaze Maru
    Bichu Maru
    Bouy No.6 Wreck (unknown name)
    Recently discovered unknown wreck
    Raizan Maru
    Ryoku Maru
    Amatsu Maru
    Chyou
    Sata
    Nagasan
    Kibi Maru
    T1 Transporter
    Urakami Maru
    Patrol Boat (very recently discovered and unknown)
    Jake's Seaplane

    Below are some of the stills our team and Richard Barnden who also works with Sam's and came diving with us when available captured on these wrecks...













































    At the end of our trip I once again found myself having a dive day to myself and Richard kindly offered to take me on one of his special Manta Ray dives. Richard has become the local specialist in Manta feeding habits and through dedicated research and hours of searching and diving can now find huge numbers of these magnificent creatures feeding at the edge of the atoll. Being in the middle of 20 or so 4m wide Manta Rays flying in formation as they scoop up plankton is a site to behold and I can highly recommend this trip to everyone.

    Another trip that is an absolute "must do" is the day's visit to the southern island of Peleliu which saw some of the fiercest fighting of the whole Pacific campaign. Here you can visit "Bloody Nose Ridge" where the Japanese were dug into tunnels and held the American's at bay for almost 2 months before finally being burned or buried alive in the very caves they were living in!

    For those looking to compare Palau wreck diving with Truk I would say the following...
    - the wrecks are approx. 10-20m deeper so you get much more time on them for very little deco obligation
    - the wrecks are almost all very close to the islands so the viz suffers due to water run off and is no where near as good as Truk (still 100 times better than UK however!)
    - due to shallower depth, many of the wrecks have been salvaged so there is little to be seen in most of the holds or even inside the accommodation blocks
    - likewise, some of the engines have been removed requiring serious salvage operations and it can be hard to figure out what was bomb damage and what was salvage

    Thousand's of divers visit Palau every year for the world class scenic diving and every one of these divers pass over the top of world class wrecks without giving them a second thought. On occasion, the dive centre drops divers on the shallowest of the wrecks for a 3rd dive close to home but very few of the wrecks are ever dived - this is a crying shame!

    I hope that you have found the above post of interest and encourage you to look out for Rod's book "Dive Palau" which should be available via Amazon some time towards the end of the year or into Q1 next year. I would also encourage anyone heading to Palau to dive to consider contacting Paul and Richard at Sam's Tours who looked after us very well.

    Big thanks to Paul and Rod for inviting me along and to Paul, Mike, Richard and the rest of the guys at Sam's for making it so memorable. Hearing Mike, who is well used to wreck divers at Truk, call us "the rustiest wreck divers he had ever met" really made our day!

    Thanks guys
    Gar
    Last edited by Garspeed; 19th April 2015 at 09:03.

  2. #2
    Nils Möllerström nilmol will become famous soon enough nilmol will become famous soon enough nilmol will become famous soon enough nilmol will become famous soon enough nilmol's Avatar
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    Re: The WWII Japanese Pacific shipwrecks of Palau

    Fantastisc trip, beutiful pics. You are one lucky guy! Thanks!

    /nils

  3. #3
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    Re: The WWII Japanese Pacific shipwrecks of Palau

    Looks like an amazing trip - thanks for sharing.

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    Cognitive surrender TopLeft is an unknown quantity at this point TopLeft's Avatar
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    Re: The WWII Japanese Pacific shipwrecks of Palau

    Thanks for the input and pics! My big trip to Palau/Chuuk is set for mid 2016.

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    Re: The WWII Japanese Pacific shipwrecks of Palau

    awesome pics and read thanks for sharing

  6. #6
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    Re: The WWII Japanese Pacific shipwrecks of Palau

    Nice write up thanks for posting!

    Best regards,
    Chett. L

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    Re: The WWII Japanese Pacific shipwrecks of Palau

    Great stuff! Thanks for sharing!

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    RBW Member IainC is an unknown quantity at this point IainC's Avatar
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    Re: The WWII Japanese Pacific shipwrecks of Palau

    Nice, makes me want to plan a trip

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    Custom Title Allowed! Robert Cook is on a distinguished road Robert Cook is on a distinguished road Robert Cook's Avatar
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    Question Re: The WWII Japanese Pacific shipwrecks of Palau

    Looks like you had a great trip. I'm going there in 3 weeks - which wrecks should I be trying to get myself onto (assuming that I can get myself onto any of them)?

    Thanks,
    Robert

  10. #10
    Wreck Ferret in training Garspeed is on a distinguished road Garspeed is on a distinguished road Garspeed's Avatar
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    Re: The WWII Japanese Pacific shipwrecks of Palau

    Quote Originally Posted by Robert Cook  View Original Post
    Looks like you had a great trip. I'm going there in 3 weeks - which wrecks should I be trying to get myself onto (assuming that I can get myself onto any of them)?

    Thanks,
    Robert
    Iro and sata tankers were my favourites, iro is right way up and huge, sata is sister ship which is upside down but large hole port side near stern allows easy access to engine room, boilers etc

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