April 9, 2013: Going diving today on the wreck of a Japanese freighter from World War Two. We may have been just a little excited. Up early. Breakfast gobbled down. Gear ready. Let’s go!
The Tashina was our dive boat and it picked us up at the El Rio pier. First a stop at Club Paradise and Dugong Dive Centre to pick up our dive guide, another dive guest and a bunch of tanks.
The 12-year old son of the Tashina’s captain steered on the 30-minute boat ride to the dive site, passing a couple of big pearl farms along the way. You certainly wouldn’t want to try and navigate this area at night. The pearl cages hang from floats set in rows in the water but would be pretty hard to see in the dark. Not to mention that they are watched over by security guards with machine guns that hang out in a shack over the water.
On the way, we had plenty of time to meet the people we would be diving with. There was Gerald, the guide. He’s a Filipino from Coron who’s been guiding for years. Stefanie, an instructor from Germany who just started working at Dugong Dive Centre a few days before. It would be her first dive on the wreck. And Rebecca, a doctor in residency from Toronto who likes to travel and dive in Asia. A nice small group!
Once at the site, Gerald gave us a dive briefing. The Kyokuzan Maru was a Japanese military cargo ship hiding out in a cove off northern Busuanga with two other ships near the end of World War Two. A bunch of other Japanese supply ships were tucked in to Coron Harbour on the south side of the island. Busuanga was thought to be safely out of range of US bombers based on land or sea. So the attack by 120 bombers and fighter escorts on September 24, 1944 came as a complete surprise to the Japanese.
The Kyokuzan Maru was the last of the eleven casualties on that fateful day that are within recreational diving limits. It sits mostly upright in about 40 metres of water, is in good condition and enjoys visibility averaging about 20 metres.
With the briefing behind us, we jumped in the water and descended along the mooring line to the top deck for a slow tour around the stern of the vessel. The amount of life on this wreck is incredible. Not surprising given that it’s been supporting life for nearly 70 years now. In the briefing, Gerald told us to be on the lookout for a car in one of the cargo holds. When we got there, all that was left of it were the four tires and the engine block.
To keep out of deco, we limited our dive to the area around the upper deck and ended it on one of the tall masts before returning up the mooring line for our safety stop at five metres.
After a suitable surface interval, we did our second dive around the bow which allowed for a few short swim throughs and a swim past a truck in a forward cargo hold. Like the car on the first dive, it was all tires and not much else. Aside from the bridge itself, which is quite damaged, the rest of the ship is remarkably intact. All too soon it was time to return up the mooring line and get back on the boat.
We kicked ourselves afterwards that we hadn’t done the dives on Nitrox so we could have extended our bottom time. But we were really glad for our wetsuits on these dives. There were lots of stinging jellyfish tenticles in the water and all exposed skin (like hands, neck and face) was fair game.
Back at El Rio resort, there was still plenty of time for a swim in the pool and a nice shower before dinner. Another great day!