15 – 17 June 2010
S2 22.226 E150 07.872 – Sanko Maru wreck and Japanese mini-sub
S2 21.915 E150 06.901 – Tunnung Island
We set off for a three day exploratory trip with our friend Dietmar Amon with five other divers or NFFs (new found friends) to New Hanover. Lissenung Island Resort has these special trips once a year and again, how lucky were we to be part of this grand annual endeavor?
On their new catamaran which can comfortably fit 10 divers we set off to new Hanover with two exciting dives to anticipate – the Sanko Maru wreck and Chapman’s Reef. After two hours traveling from Lissenung to the northern tip of New Hanover on calm seas, we reached Sanko Maru wreck.
We could see a 60 year old wreck from where we were moored! Yogi & I have dived this site about 6 years ago on the no longer operating liveaboard Mike Ball Paradise Sport and it was a stunning dive full of massive soft and gorgonian corals – 60 years of coral growth!
Not far away from the big Japanese WWII tanker is a mini-sub also well encrusted with corals. For a bit of history about these two wrecks:
16 February 1944, Sanko Maru a 5461‐ton Japanese tanker, was anchored in shallow water with an unidentified submarine sitting partially submerged next to it. It was hit repeatedly by 500‐pound bombs set off by USAAF 38th and 345th Bomb Groups. The nearby “#39 Subchaser”, which was there to guard the “Sanko Maru” and the submarine, was also badly hit, went out of control and ran aground on a shallow reef, burning slightly from the bomb damage. Some of the Japanese sailors tried to get to shore, but were strafed repeatedly and none of them survived.
The “Sanko Maru” and the subsequently identified Japanese Type C midget submarine sank on the spot. The next day, the 500th Squadron returned to the area and found a 1500‐ton freighter anchored in shallow water less than one kilometer from where the Subchaser had been sunk the previous day. They bombed this freighter, which may have been the “Kashi Maru”, in a quick attack, which split the vessel in half and sank it. Both the “#39 Subchaser” as well as the 1500‐ton freighter sit in two adjourning bays off the mainland of New Hanover in 2 – 14m of water.
The Sanko Maru was such a brilliant dive, we asked to dive it again and again. We were not much of explorers, as we were all happy repeaters! All our dive companions had cameras, and we had the great opportunity of photographing the wreck in wide angle and then getting the minute details on the second macro dive. The third was the night dive – what a treat!
With the wreck being full of gorgonian corals, Dietmar Amon was in his element. Dietmar is an ovulid fanatic – one shell is even named after his island! He also has an Olive shell named after him, so you can see that he has a keen eye for these little things. And he found us three stunning allied cowrie snails to photograph!
We stayed in Tunnung Island and much to our surprise, an old friend Clem (who we first met as a local dive crew onboard Mike Ball’s Paradise Sport) owned the guest house where we stayed. Clem was equally surprised to see us and it was all like a grand unplanned reunion! Clem’s Place as it is called is brand new. Clem and his wife Sophie opened to guests in 2009 mainly catering to surfers with season starting in November and lasting till April. This being June, Clem was on vacation, but we were a welcome change to surfers!
Clem has about 10 fishermen from his island catching fish and lobster for him which he delivers to Kavieng once a week. He apologized to us because he only had fresh fish and fresh lobsters for dinner for the two nights we stayed there!
We were so close to the Sanko Maru it was easy to make a night dive. And we were so glad to have done it as there were so many brilliant basket stars out in full glory. I love basket stars!
Then we had a superb dive at Chapman’s Reef. There was current which brought out all the fish as we hovered in what is known as the amphitheater. In an hour’s dive at 18 meters, we saw many grey reef sharks, schooling batfish, schooling jacks, schooling barracudas, dogtooth tuna, many schooling pyramid butterflyfish, and three wonderful eagle rays who flew above us and then down and then whooosh, gone. As the current was running, and a curtain of diver bubbles in front of us, we could just describe this dive and not much to show for it. But here’s an image of how close the schooling batfish came to us.