Thursday, August 28, 2008

Ship wrecks of the Pacific Ocean, popular diving sites which also pose pollution threats to the marine environment


by Charles Roring

Shipwrecks in the Pacific region have always been attractive to scuba divers. Places like Palau islands, Shinwa Maru wreck in Manokwari of West Papua, and Coral Sea are favorite diving destinations for divers from around the world. Exploring underwater wrecks are interesting and fun. However, after lying intact for more than sixty years, they are corroding rapidly and posing serious threats to the surrounding environments.

oil tanker USS Mississinewa
(picture taken from wikipedia)

The Pacific region experienced World War II between 1941 and 1942. The attack of Japanese Imperial Navy on US Naval Base in Perl Harbor started the war. The US then pushed them back from one island to another along the Pacific Ocean. Fierce battles occurred at sea. The war involved battleships, aircraft carrier and tankers. Both sides lost thousands of ships. According to South Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP), there are at least 3,800 shipwrecks, including 333 tankers, scattered throughout the region.

These wrecks are concentrated mainly in the Coral Sea, Salomon islands with more than 200 wreckages, the Federated States of Micronesia, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea and West Papua, Fiji.

For instance, during the battle of Guadalcanal, at least 50 ships were sunk by both sides. In Palau islands, there are over 30 documented WWII Japanese wrecks. Some of them such as the Chuyo Maru and the Teshio Maru have become popular diving sites which are visited regularly by local diving tours. Although shipwreck diving gives substantial economic contribution to local communities. The wrecks themselves are also seen by experts as environmental time bombs for the nearby coral reefs and marine habitats.


Rapid deterioration of hulls and oil tanks puts the surrounding waters in greater risk of marine pollution. One of these sunken ships, oil tanker USS Mississinewa in Ulithi Lagoon of the Federated States of Micronesia, leaked oil in 2001. Similar incident occurred in New Caledonia when the corroding hull of Ever Prosperity released an eight square mile of oil slick. The wreck is located near Amedee islet which is a favorite diving site and a prime tourist destination.

Another environmental bomb is oil tanker USS Neosho which sunk with the giant USS Lexington aircraft carrier and the destroyer USS Sims during the battle of Coral Sea in 1942. This tanker is only 200 nautical miles of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, one of the most favorite diving sites in the world.

Immediate actions have to be taken by governments who own the sunken ships and the governments whose waters are environmentally threatened. Although it is exponentially expensive with the increased depths of the sea, the pumping of oil trapped in tanks of sunken ships is seen as a must solution to prevent more damages to the environment.