We’ve just returned to Koh Tao from a spectacular TEC liveaboard, visiting WW2 wrecks in the South China Sea. We laid commemorative wreaths on the HMS Repulse and Dutch Submarine KXVII, plus dived two shallow wrecks off Tioman Island, Malaysia.
Image; YC Lee passes over the HMS Repulse shipwreck, propelled by his DPV
For this dive expedition we joined Dr. Y.C. Lee & Wee Chee aboard the converted tug liveaboard ‘Mata Ikan‘ (Fish -eye). This vessel has been converted for tec diving with 10 twin sets onboard, diver lift (for easy exits), small inflatable chase boat and hydraulic crane plus lots of deck space making for an comfortable tec dive trip.
Image 1; Sunset on the South China Sea, viewed from the Mata Ikan Tec Liveaboard
Image 2; The top deck of the Mata Ikan tec dive liveaboard
Departing from Mersing, Malaysia on 19th Sep we sailed overnight to HMS Repulse, way out into the South China Sea.
Launched on 8th January 1916, HMS Repulse is an enormous 794.2 feet long British Battleship, weighing 38,300 tonnes at full load. Armed with 6 x 15 inch caliber deck guns, plus 9 x 4 inch guns and anti aircraft armament, she was paired together with the HMS Prince of Wales in a resistance effort known as force Z. Sadly both vessels were sunk during 1941 as a result of Japanese aerial attack, suffering great losses.
Image; A diver swims along the enormous HMS Repulse wreck
Our objective for this series of dives was to lay a commemorative wreath on HMS Repulse, in memory of those lost.
Image; The DJL Dive team, about to lay a wreath on the HMS Repulse. From left, William, Leona, Sunniva, Gary, Kieron, Peter & Tim.
We arrived on site early on 20th September. YC Lee filled us in with the details – her final resting place on the seabed is at a depth of around 55 metres. The HMS Repulse lies in an almost inverted position, way over on her port side. The South China Sea can suffer strong oceanic currents, plus the weather had thrown up 1 – 2 metre waves, making for tricky diving.
Image 1; William and Leona prepare for a deep wreck dive
Image 2; Kieron, Tim, Peter & Leona analyze gases, getting ready to dive the HMS Repulse
Our first dive team (Tim & Kieron) dropped down the shot line to secure our anchor line in a bomb crater above the bridge. Visibility was fantastic allowing a stunning view of HMS Repulse during descent. After securing the line, the guys made a quick survey before ascending.
Throughout the rest of the day we made three more dives, photographing the wreck, surveying both the bridge and toward the bow of HMS Repulse. On all these dives we encountered a 6 – 7 metre long whale shark during ascent, circling the wreck and anchor line, Wee Chee capturing some great photos.
Image; YC Lee gets a close encounter diving with a decent sized whale shark
Image; A diver swims along the enormous bow of the magnificent HMS Repulse
On the last dive of the day Tim, William, Leona and Kieron laid the wreath on the bridge of HMS Repulse.
Image; The wreath laid on the bridge of the Repulse by the DJL Diving team
Overnight, wave heights picked up and our anchor line broke, leaving us adrift till morning.
Early on the 20th Gary, Sunniva and Peter dropped down to re-secure our anchor line, this time on the stern of the Repulse, just below the rudder. It’s a bizarre sight seeing the enormous rudder and propeller as you approach the wreck. HMS Repulse is gigantic. The hull of the Repulse is now covered with spectacular soft corals and masses of fish life.
Throughout the 20th, our scuba dive teams stuck to 50 metre dive profiles, exploring the outside of the rear of the wreck, photographing our dives. We encountered another whale shark during our ascents – this time it was an inquisitive juvenile.
Image; Fantastic scuba diving encounter with a whale shark (& cobias) above the HMS Repulse
It came very close to our dive teams, colliding with both the ascent line, and the stern of the Mata Ikan. It seemed to be exploring and investigating it’s surroundings, much like a child. Combined with the scale of HMS Repulse this made a very special dive experience.
Image; The inquisitive juvenile whale shark breaches the surface as it comes close to the Mata Ikan tec dive liveaboard vessel.
Image; From left Kieron, William, Leona & Tim decompressing on the line after a deep wreck dive.
Throughout the night, a spectacular lightning storm blew by, but this time the anchor line remained secure.
Image; Sunset aboard the Mata Ikan scuba diving liveaboard vessel
On the morning of the 22nd Tim, William, Leona & Kieron, plus YC & Wee Chee returned to dive the bridge section, primarily to recover our shot plus photograph the wreath. Once that was done it was left to Gary, Peter & Sunnivar to free up the anchor line to the stern, before we left the HMS Repulse.
Image 1; Peter Nieuwhof poses next to one of the giant propellers on the HMS Repulse
Image 2; Gary frees up the anchor line at the end of a deep wreck dive
With Dutchman Peter Nieuwhof part of the dive team, we decided to make our next dive on the Dutch WW2 Submarine KXVII.
The KXVIII submarine was part of the KXVI Class – 74 metres in length, 1045 tonnes displacement when submerged, she had a maximum diving depth of 80 metres and was capable of 17 knots on the surface. On 21st December 1941, KXVII struck a mine whilst exiting the Gulf of Siam. The submarine and all 36 hands were lost.
Because of the five hour voyage from HMS Repulse, we only had time for one dive on the Dutch submarine. The sea state was calm, but with only two hours of daylight remaining we had to make the dive in a 2.2 knot current.
Our dive team descended down to find the shot line dragging in soft silt – we swam down the trail against the strong current for 18 minutes but the effort was rewarded, locating the KXVII submarine upright at 50 metres. She is now covered in many fishing nets, and low visibility prevented us from taking any good photographs. We laid a second commemorative wreath on the KVII, before swimming round the coning tower and ascending up to deco stop depth.
Image 1; Tim laying a wreath on the wreck of the Dutch Submarine KXVII
Image 2; The diver lift makes life easy getting out of the water in full scuba diving gear!
Overnight we sailed back to the shelter of Tioman island. On the morning of the 23rd, with a view to future dive expeditions we checked out one of YC’s BSAC Extended Range Diver training sites – two trawlers sunk in Temek Bay, Tioman island. These wooden wrecks lie on the seabed at 30 metres, linked by a line to make navigation easy. There’s lots of marine life – lionfish, stonefish, chevron barracuda and many small pufferfish. The wooden hulls are rotting away making it easy to peer inside, and the props are still intact. A perfect shallow technical diver training site.
Image; Peering inside the wooden trawler vessel, scuba diving off Tioman island, Malaysia
In summary, we’ve enjoyed some great diving on truly spectacular wreck dive sites. Diving these WW2 wrecks of the South China Sea was a truly humbling experience.
The Mata Ikan was a comfortable pleasant boat to tec dive off, and we greatly appreciated the briefings, assistance and company of Dr. YC Lee, making our dive expedition memorable.
Image; BSAC South East Asia Coach & Experienced Tec diving instructor Dr. YC Lee
Image; Tec diver Wee Chee takes a self portrait – he captured great photos of our wreck diving expedition
We look forward to returning to the South China Sea for more tec /wreck diving liveaboards aboard the Mata Ikan. The area is rich with wrecks of historical importance - not only the HMS Repulse, Dutch Submarine KXVII and trawlers which we dived on this expedition but also the following wrecks which we hope to explore in the near future;
HMS Prince of Wales; Lying inverted on the seabed at 70 metres.
Seven Skies Supertanker; Swedish supertanker, sunk on it’s maiden voyage as a result of an elecrical fire on 6/10/1969. The top of the funnel is at 22 metres, deck at 45 metres, aft superstructure intact, with a tank section blown out on the port side.
Banka coastal freighter, sunk in the 1960′s lying upright.
Kuatan Wreck – Coastal freighter, lying in just 20 metres of water.
Aur supertanker, enormous wreck sitting upright at 50 metres on the seabed.
In addition there’s another WW2 Dutch submarine (the O-16) plus many new marks to explore throughout the South China Sea.
In terms of capability, the Mata Ikan can accommodate around 10 – 12 technical divers – helium and oxygen are available onboard, so trimix / nitrox / rebreather diving is possible.
The best time to dive off the Mata Ikan is during September through till November and March – May. Sea state is calmest during these periods. Flights are available direct into Singapore where the Mata Ikan is moored.
Contact DJL Diving if you’re interested in joining one of our tec liveaboard dive expeditions. If you have a group of divers we can probably arrange a dive liveaboard schedule to suit you. We are also happy to combine technical diver training with a diving liveaboard trip.
Image; A deco stop above the HMS Repulse – Tim, Kieron, Leona & William with YC Lee above
I’d like to thank Wee Chee for contributing the fantastic photos of our wreck diving. DJL Diving Koh Tao Thailand.