Truk Lagoon (Global Adventures): The island atoll of Chuuk, better known as Truk Lagoon, is a wreck divers dream comes true. Located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean north of New Guinea, 140 miles (225 kilometers) of reef protect a natural harbor and several small islands, all part of the Federated States of Micronesia.
During World War II,
Truk Lagoon served as the forward anchorage for the Japanese Imperial Fleet. The place was considered the most formidable of all Japanese strongholds in the Pacific. During Operation Hailstone, the Americans did sink 60 Japanese ships and 275 airplanes. Cut off from reinforcements and supplies, the remaining Japanese forces on Truk run low on food and faced starvation before Japan finally surrendered on August 15, 1945 (Japan standard time).
French oceanographer and explorer Jacques Cousteau visited the island atoll in 1969 and produced a television documentary, which aired around the world starting in 1971. After that, the atoll of Chuuk became a scuba diving paradise attracting both recreational and technical divers.
Scattered around the islands of Dublon, Fefan, Moen, Shichiyo and Uman, shipwrecks lie in crystal clear waters less than 49 feet (15 meters) below the surface. Devoid of ocean currents, divers can easily swim across decks littered with gas masks and other artifacts. In the massive ship holds are row upon row of fighter aircraft, tanks, bulldozers, railroad cars, motorcycles, and torpedoes, boxes of munitions, radios, spare parts, and old weapons.
The 10,020 ton Shinkoku Maru is a perfect example of ships lying on the bottom of the lagoon.
Built in 1939 as a tanker by Kawasaki Dockyards for the Kobe Sanbashi K.K. Line, her first voyages where dedicated to oil transports from the United States to Japan. The Imperial Japanese Navy then converted her to a fleet oiler before she participated in the Pearl Harbor attack as part of Admiral Chuichi Nagumo’s strike force.
Sunk by torpedo plans from the USS Bunker Hill (CV-17) on February 18, 1944, the 499 feet (152 meter) long wreck sits upright in 125 feet (38 meter) of water at her stern. After entering the superstructure, divers can explore the former sick bay with operating tables and medicine bottles still on display. The bridge holds engine telegraphs, and the bow gun is encrusted with soft and hard corals. Hydroids and other marine life that emerges after dark make for a perfect night dive.
Fuel still leaks from the Kiyosumi Maru,
a former armed transport. The wreck sits on her port side at a maximum depth of 102 feet (31 meters) with the starboard hull at 40 feet (12 meters). Hold number two of the 8,614 ton vessel contains large drums, two bicycles and spare propeller blades. Divers will find pots, pants and human remains on the lower deck. While the gun platforms still remain in place, the guns were removed in October 1943 when the ship was demilitarized.
Another interesting wreck is the Yamagiri Maru. The ship was built in 1938 by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries as a passenger and cargo carrier for the Yamashita Kisen Line and later used as a military transport. The 6,439 ton wreck lies on her port side in 49 to 112 feet (15 to 34 meters) of water, with two twin masts reaching out. Hold Number 5 still contains 14 inch battleship gun shells, a steamroller and construction equipment.
While the bridge is already stripped of artifacts,
except for some beer bottles and an encrusted bronze ship whistle. The engine room with a human skull embedded in the roof and the remains of a skeleton on a table below is probably the most photographed part of any wreck in the lagoon.
The superstructure of the Kansho Maru is reached at a depth of 60 feet (18 meters). The passenger and cargo ship sits on the sea floor with a light list to port. The bow reaches the ocean floor in 69 feet (21 meters), and the stern sits at 131 feet (40 meters). While the deck has collapsed all the way from the forecastle to the end of hold two, the wreck still contains many artifacts.
The main attraction on the vessel is the large and easily accessible engine room.
After entering through a skylight. Also Divers can exit through a door on the port side that will lead to the galley. Pots and pans are littered all over the place. Toilets and a bathroom can be seen in hold number three. A compressor is the main attraction in hold number four. The 4,862 ton freighter was powered by a six cylinder 642 hp diesel engine.
Reaching and exceeding recreational diving limits. The Nippo Maru sits on a sloop between 100 and 165 feet (30 to 50 meters). The 353 feet (108 meter) cargo ship sank upright with a light list to port. A tank parked on the port side next to hold number two is one of the main attractions, and holds four and five contain thousands of (empty) sake bottles and huge gun mounts. Divers will find the wheel mount and telegraph still intact in the wheelhouse. The 3,764 ton vessel is encrusted with corals, and shoals of glass fish call the structure home.
Truk Lagoon has enough opportunities to keep wreck divers occupied for weeks.
The water temperature is normally a balmy 82 degrees, and visibility is around 60 to 100 feet (18 to 30 meters). But heavy silt covers the inside of many wrecks. Excellent buoyancy is necessary on most penetration dives. Reels should be used if lower decks without access to the open water are explored. Explosives, mines, munitions, detonators, torpedoes and shells are still “live”, so divers need to be careful.
The wrecks of Truk Lagoon, often called the “underwater fleet,” rest amidst an infinite variety of marine life. 266 species of reef fish have been recorded in the area. Many wrecks are encrusted with colorful soft and hard corals. While exploring Truk Lagoon, divers need to remember that all wrecks are considered war graves.
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