Mystery Wreck of Palau
Mystery Wreck of Palau
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Most people who have heard of Palau think of the azure blue waters, majestic mantas and menacing sharks that are prevalent with this beautiful island nation. Most aren't aware though that beneath the warm tropical waters, beside the stunning walls are more than two dozen Japanese wreck sites that were sunk there in 1944 during WWII. This is a fact that myself and the guys at Unique Diving Expeditions of Sam's Tours, Paul Collins and Richard Barnden are trying to change. Recently, wreck diver and author Rod MacDonald came to Palau to explore and document the wrecks for his new book scheduled to be released this year on wreck diving in Palau. I tagged along with the team to photograph and film the wrecks. Although we dived 20 sites in 10 days, this report focuses on only one of the dives; the mystery Japanese warship that we visited on the last day.
Paul and Richard, some weeks prior to our arrival, were approached by a mutual friend of theirs who had come across the location of an unknown wreck that was stumbled on while researchers were conducting oceanographic studies with side-scan sonars. The wreck had been dived on by only 3 or 4 people to date but, nothing had been documented or photographed. This was a golden opportunity for Rod Macdonald and team members Paul Haynes and Gary Garspeed along with myself, Paul and Richard to explore the wreck and look for clues that could help identify the origin and name of this ship. In addition we were keen to capture the first images ever. Anytime a wreck diver has the chance to dive on a new wreck site is one he or she will not pass up.
It wasn't until our last day of the Palau Wrecks Expedition that we slated this mystery wreck in to our itinerary. I guess it was the old saying 'save the best for last'. Finding the wreck wasn't difficult with the waypoints that we had in our possession. We were told by the divers who first found the wreck, that we need to enter the water up current from the dive site and follow the the sloping wall down to about 150-160' and the wreck should there. We did just that and with great results.
I can't speak for the others but, my adrenaline was high while scanning the sea bed looking for the wreck. When I first saw it it was a mere faint outline and I could see the other divers in the team all pointing at the wreck at the same time. With my video camera rolling, we swam up to the bow first and immediately saw a gun mounted on the very tip of the foredeck. We all new it was likely that what we had here was a warship; a small one but, a warship all the same. After shooting some video and taking a few still pics it was time to explore the rest of the vessel. At 155' time was not on our side and we needed to work quickly.
What we found would classify this wreck as a Japanese auxiliary submarine chaser with a length of approximately 130'. Depth chargers were discovered on the stern while a hydrophone was found on the keel. Two distinct clues that this ship was used to hunt and destroy enemy subs. In addition, the wheelhouse was collapsed but, the helm stand clearly visible in the wreckage. A large cable winch was found along the port side that was likely used to haul in and out of the water anti-sub hunting gear called paravanes. The smoke stack was intact but broken off at the base and neatly laid out in the sand. This would indicate that the vessel didn't roll down the sloping wall but sank and then rolled to the side.
Mystery wreck dive team (left to right) Capt Jimmy, Paul Haynes, Mike Gerken, Gary Garspeed, Rod MacDonald, Paul Collins, Michael Brainsfield
Even though many of the team members were diving rebreathers, the time went by very fast and it was time to make our way up. I took this opportunity to take a few birds eye shots of the wreck before surfacing. You can see this and much more in the video highlights above. Unfortunately, this was to be our only dive to this site on this trip but, the information we retrieved was substantial. We do not know the identity of this long lost remnant from WWII but, Rod has a pretty good idea and will announce his finds when he knows for sure. I hope to join the team next year for further exploration of the mystery warship as well as the many other significant wrecks of Palau.
Most of the dives we made in the Palau ten day expedition were interesting and very worthy of diving by recreational and technical divers all the same. However, for me it was diving to the unknown that became the dive that stood out the most. It's only fitting that I report this wreck first. In the near future, I will have additional Blog Reports on Palau wrecks such as the fleet oilers Sata and Iro. Stay tuned for more to come.