Many shipwrecks have a spectacular past and continue to tell their stories in submerged retirement. Some older wrecks may be no more than flattened steel or rotting timber, while newer ones still house the cargo they were meant to deliver. Whatever their tale, we dive them like a history lesson: we are usually party to a briefing of their life and how they ended up under the sea, then we learn how to navigate them to scout out features and points of interest. When descending onto a wreck, the anticipation and thrill is like no other dive. If you have a lust for rust, see our guide below of 5 of the best overseas destinations of where to find them!
- Truk Lagoon, Micronesia
An entire Japanese fleet was sunk within Truk Lagoon during Operation Hailstone in 1944. Over the space of two days 40 ships were sunk, from destroyers to merchant Marus, from fighter planes to jeeps and tanks. These wrecks are now home to over 76 years of coral growth, and some are unrecognisable as ships at first glance. The concentration of wrecks in such a small area is astounding. Although some are listing, many sit upright. You can dive most of them with a Deep Specialty certificate but to maximise your bottom time at this underwater museum, decompression diving is the way to go!
You can see the expected - munitions and heavy machinery in the holds of the ships, and tools in the workshops - however it is the unexpected that reminds you that the history of Truk Lagoon should not be forgotten – shoes, gas masks, medical supplies, personal items and the remains of Japanese sailors. With 30-40 metre visibility, warm water and very little current, is it any wonder that Truk Lagoon is on the bucket list of most divers?
- Red Sea, Egypt
Unlike some other top 5 destinations, Egypt has a huge number of wrecks that are spread far and wide and can’t easily be dived in a week’s holiday. Some liveaboard itineraries are designed, so you can dive as many as possible, but it is recommended to return a few times. Repeat visits at different times of the day - or even year - can reveal new secrets! Of course, the wrecks of the Red Sea are usually enjoyed alongside the marine life that inhabits them.
Shaab Abu Nuhas is on the northern coast of Shadwan Island in the strait of Gubal. This “ship graveyard” houses 4 wrecks side by side with a cargo history spanning from the 1860s-1980s: the Giannis D, Carnatic, Chrisoula K. and Kimon M. Also in Gubal is the mighty SS Thistlegorm, 131 metres long she is standing upright with her cargo of WWII motorcycles, trucks, plane wings and hospital beds, among other items. The Rosalie Moller was taken down in the same operation as the Thistlegorm but because of her more remote location, is in a more intact condition. Further south, you can enjoy the upended freighter Numidia at the Brothers and pay your respects to the hundreds of passengers returning from Mecca, who perished with the ferry Salem Express.
- Sangat Island and Coron Bay, Philippines
11 Japanese vessels were sunk in 1944 by Hellcat fighters and Helldive bombers when US forces struck the navy at anchor in Coron Bay. These are some of the best preserved wrecks in the world. Gun boats, supply vessels and seaplane tenders lie between just 12 and 40 metres. Although the dives are not particularly deep, you can extend your bottom time here diving with a twinset and stage cylinder or a rebreather.
Sangat is a small limestone tropical island on the northern boundary of Coron Bay and is one of the Coral Triangle’s best kept secrets. The Irako Maru sits upright in 45 metres at the mouth of the bay. At 147 metres long, you will need to do a few dives to see all of her!
Just over 3 hours direct flight from the UK, Malta and Gozo boast a massive volume of wrecks at varying depths, some of which can be dived from the shore. Scuttled, bombed or shot down there is a multitude of majestic rust on the ocean floor ranging from paddle-wheeled steamer tugs (HMS Hellespont) to 70 metre long submarines (HMS Stubbon), a ferry and sister ship to Cousteau’s Calypso (The MV Imperial Eagle) and also planes (The Maltese Bristol Beaufighter). Some deeper wrecks may require a trimix certification. However, many are within recreational limits, such as the British Destroyer HMS Maori. Sunk in 1942, she sits in just 14 metres in Valetta harbour; at Cirkewwa you can also enjoy the tugboat Rozi with an average depth of 20 metres.
The Spice Island of Grenada has over 20 wrecks and is known as the “wreck capital of the Caribbean”. The most famous is the 200m long cruise liner Bianca C - often referred to as the Caribbean Titanic. She caught fire after an explosion in the engine room and sank in 1961.
There are 2 cargo ships: the Veronica L - which is covered in colourful coral and sponges and attracts octopus and seahorses – and the German Atlantik which was refitted in 1950 and renamed the Persia II in 1964. Like the small freighter the Shakem - also on the Atlantic side of the island – current around the Persia II brings nurse sharks and a plethora of rays. Grenada holds two dedicated wreck weeks a year.