How to make a dive industry? Coron to Romblon (February14 to Febuary 29).

From the number of people traveling about in Asia seeking the latest in dive sites you would have to assume that diving has become one of ‘the’ traveling attractions in this part of the world. It also seems that the very best way to lure multitudes of deep pocketed, narcosis seeking punters is to sink lots of ships, preferably as violently as possible! It worked at Truk in Micronesia where the American Navy during world war 2 sank a fleet of Japanese supply ships (operation Hailstone).  The Germans at the end of world war 1 provided a plethora of wreck dives at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands (north of Scotland) when they scuttled their fleet, but warm water is probably preferred if you want to attract the crowds! In Malaysia the Japanese did their best to support a future diving industry when they got stuck into the battleships Repulse and Prince of Wales just off Malaysia in the South China Sea; but they could have picked shallower water and arranged for the Prince of Wales to sink upright rather than upside down. At Bikini Atoll after the war the Americans were clearly planning ahead when they set about sinking or trying to sink half a fleet of captured warships and lots of unloved American ships no longer required after the cessation of hostilities. At Bikini however it was probably a bit of overkill using nuclear weapons to do it as a Geiger counter is not generally considered normal diving equipment (although there is every chance it will be included in the next possible PADI, specialty course, ‘Diving around radiological hazards’!!).

At Coron the Japanese seem to have had the best interests of future residents in mind when they moved their supply ships from Manila to Coron to avoid the depredations of American carrier aircraft. It seems they had got sick of losing ships in Manila and probably in a spirit of magnanimity decided to spread their future diving attractions around the Philippines where the ever obliging American Navy was more than happy to drop bombs on them. This happened on September 24, 1944 when dive bombers from carriers in Task Force 38.2 flew 350 miles across the Philippines from east of Leyte and sank 10 of the Japanese ships, the day after they arrived.  On this occasion they got everything pretty much right, water depth 20 to 40 metres, sheltered waters so nobody gets seasick, warm and tropical conditions, close to shore so nobody need travel far, wrecks close together and most of them big. To make things even better for intrepid yachties, the locals nowadays put a bouy on each end of the wreck and all one needs to do is tie up to one and jump in. If the locals are there with their boats (Banka(s)), you just tie up to their boat, if you are there first they just tie up to you and have maybe three or four boats hanging off the bouy.

We were in Coron for around ten days alternating between Coron and the wrecks and managed to dive on most of them whilst there. Great fun swimming around on bloody great artificial reefs covered in the usual tropical growth and fish. Big, open cargo holds, towering masts and derricks, cargos of war material all set for the Japanese army to build yet more fortifications (concrete, wire, tractors etc etc) with the biggest wreck the ‘Irako’, a 10,000 odd ton refrigerated, supply ship, upright and pretty much intact from the weather deck down; also the deepest at 40 metres to the bottom. The two smaller wrecks (probably submarine chasers/gunboats) are inshore near the surface and one can snorkel  around the pointy end of them, but the favourite for the  Gadfly crew would be the ‘Akitsushima’, a 5000 tonne, naval, seaplane tender laying on its side in 36 metres of water with bits blown apart and bullet holes in evidence.

Some of these ships had been salvaged after the war with engines and deck gear removed and a whole load of gear has presumably been taken away by enterprising, hardware seeking divers. Apparently up until two years ago it was a free for all on finding hardware to take home but the dive shops now frown upon people looking for the usual souvenirs that any self respecting wreck diver generally keeps an eye open for. Not that there is much chance in the charter, PADI world of diving for anything more adventurous than sightseeing, what with the dive-masters and instructors herding people around their usual circuit carefully holding hands. Of course diving on ones own gives much greater potential for looking ‘around’ but diving with a pinch-bar does make one stand out from the crowd; pinch-bars, hammers, cold chisels and lift bags not as a rule being included in the PADI world of wreck-diving courses. To avoid drawing the crabs the best course of action is probably to just dive when the masses have gone home but then the charter-boat, dive masters were very quick to assure us that the wrecks have been pretty well stripped and there is nothing to find anyway (there is of course plenty in the dive shops and associated bars). If one did find something like, maybe a porthole what you might do is use a cold chisel and hammer to turn the nuts off the bolts, or maybe break up the steel plate around the porthole and then break the ‘rivets’ holding the thing to the steel plate. To lift it you could use a lift bag (PVC watertight bag with webbing straps) or you might use ropes to lift the thing to the surface; if of course there was anything there to get given that the wrecks have been stripped!

After our shipwreck adventures we once again embarked on our push to windward with a 30 mile day hop pretty much north to Tara Island and a BBQ on the beach with Tim and Barb on ‘Rubicon Star’ out of Tasmania and five years into their SE Asia travels. We had seen Ruby way back in the Andaman Islands and had also spent some time with them in Sabah. Whilst at Coron we also acquired more crew with Danish Maja after working in China joining us for the trip to Romblon. The trip across to Mindoro from Tara is only about forty miles, close hauled and hard work but at least relatively light. We stopped here at the bottom of Mindoro off Ambulong Island in a little bay next to the incomplete ‘Grace’ resort fully equipped with their own zoo, man-made waterfall and floating rooms; one wonders where the water will come from and a waterfall with desalinated doesn’t really seem terribly viable. From Ambulong we had a better angle for a day passage to Caluya Island in heavier conditions and a shore run to visit the local University campus. Next day it was off to the bright lights of Borocay, the tourist epicentre of the Philippines and the obligatory visit to immigration for a visa extension. We picked up a mooring for our four days inside the reef at Borocay, and after sculling about the cafes, bars, etc moved north on Feb22 still in company with Tim and Barb headed up the western side of Tablas Island across the top and easterly over to Romblon.

New hats for the lads!

Romblon is the place in the Philippines to buy marble statues, tables, stools, tiles etc etc and Simon and Amanda when here bought a flash marble basin for their boat; bummer we had no room for that spa! Ollie and Maja headed off here, braving the perils of the notorious Philippino ferry service, Maja to head for Malaysia and Ollie off to Russia to procure a sled and warm clothes to man-haul himself and sled across the ice of Lake Baikal!!!  After waving goodbye Sally and Trevor decided a trip around the island on motor-bikes to check out the marble statuary production was in order but we ended up at the local hospital instead after Sally and her motorcycle were both swallowed by a rather large hole conveniently located almost on the road where she was turning her motorbike around. Next day in the interests of good health we went by tricycle (motorbike – sidecar/shed combination), not as much fun but clearly, infinitely safer.

Kite boarding on the east of Borocay.

The local marble manufacturing on Romblon is something to behold, nothing like a three metre wide circular saw slicing through marble blocks being pushed effectively by hand past the blade; safety first! Here there be mountains of marble, literally with all manner of passed over statues and statue pieces being piled up behind the factories (well open air sheds). The carvers use lathes, grinders and saws to shape the statues then hand tools and hand labour to polish them. The older women down the road sit all day breaking large pieces of marble into smaller pieces to fill holes on the road (lots of them); here they do it tough.

Safety first!!!

On 29Feb we picked up our anchor and headed south-east for Sibuyan and then on to Port Carmen and Cebu. Top of the list of things to do at Cebu is to pick up a part for the autohelm, the solenoid-clutch having given up back in Borocay. On the bright side the non-functioning autohelm gave Trevor the motivation to wire up the still brand-new tiller pilot and strap it to the wind-vane. On the weather, the wind is still east, definitely the way of things here.

Task Group 38.2 and how to provide future diving attractions!

The losses of the IJN at Coron Bay between 24 Sep and 9 Oct 1944 were caused by AG (Air Group) 18, AG 19 and AG 31. AG 18 departed from Pearl Harbor on 15 Aug 1944 aboard U.S.S. Intrepid CV-11, AG 31 on U.S.S. Cabot CVL-28. In company with U.S.S. Enterprise CV-6,  U.S.S. Bunker Hill CVL-25 and various escorts they were to form Task Group TG 38.2

On 23 Sep reports from Combat Air Patrol (CAP) missions revealed unusual enemy activities in the Calamian Island Group, south-west of Mindoro. AG 18 and AG 19 each received orders to equip 12 Curtiss SB2C-3 “Helldiver” bombers with wing tanks and to send them out on a fighter-bomber attack on Japanese shipping in and around Coron Bay. The planes from AG 18 were to carry two 500-pound bombs each. The planes of AG 19 carried a single 1,000 pound / 454 kg bomb. These “Helldivers” were the latest models already fitted with the APG-4 automatic low-level bombing system. In the dive bombing role these planes dove at their target until they had the ship centered in their Mark VIII gunsight and released their bomb(s) at 2,000 feet (600 m.) altitude. Hellcat fighters were also ordered for this attack, some to provide fighter escort and some were armed with bombs to attack the shipping. As a “fighter bomber” the F6F Hellcats would also dive on their target and center it in their gunsight before releasing their bomb. AG 31 was one of the units ordered to provide fighter escort.

Mark Zalick led AG 18`s bomber group VB-18. Taking off at dawn, they surprised 15 Japanese ships in the Bay, the Coron Passage and just west of Coron Island. Ships ranged in size from small freighters to 15,000 ton tankers.

Commander R. McGowan led AG 19’s bombing squadron VB 19 on this raid. Twelve SB2Cs took off but two had to return to the ship. One bomber had engine trouble and another had a fuel system malfunction and couldn’t draw fuel from its’ external wing tanks. Only 10 of the squadron’s planes made the 332 mile flight to Busuanga Island.

It was only after the first American strikes on Palau in early September 1944 that Admiral Toyoda, Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) of the Combined Fleet, realized that a fleet of almost 40 supply vessels had been anchored in Manila Bay or moored in Manila harbor. When TF 38.2 started their strikes against enemy shipping around Luzon in the second week of September, Japanese shipping in Manila harbor suffered severe damage, and numerous Japanese ships were sunk. Toyoda advised Field Marshall Terauchi, commander of the Japanese Southern Army to transfer all supply ships to Coron Bay which had served as a secure assembly place in the past. Terauchi was reluctant to make this decision. When he finally gave orders on 21/22 September 1944 to relocate the vessels he had already sacrificed 15 ships which were bombed and sunk in Manila Bay by repeated air strikes from TF 38.2.

Kogyo Maru (Auxilliary Supply Ship, IJN/Navy)

After she had survived TF 38`s air attacks on Japanese shipping in Manila Bay and Harbor on 21 Sep 1944 she received sailing order to transfer to Coron Bay and weighed anchor at 1730 the same day. She arrived in Coron Bay on 23 Sep 1540 and the night was spent in trying to camouflage bridge and main deck. In the morning of 24 Sep at 0900 she was attacked by U.S. dive-bombers. After she had received several bomb hits the vessel sank with 39 men.

Okikawa Maru (Civilian oiler)

Okikawa Maru arrived in Coron Bay on 23 Sep 1800 and dropped anchor near the town of Concepcion and was attacked at 0855 on 24 September. The first two or more groups just strafed Okikawa Maru and continued to head for the seaplane tender Akitsushima anchored a few cables to the West. At 0910 the dive-bombers scored numerous hits and the vessel began to sink. Three gunners and 5 or 6 sailors were dead. The rest of the crew abandoned the ship.

Olympia Maru (Army cargo ship)

On 24 Sep around 0900 the Olympia Maru had weighed anchor and while trying to evade the attacking planes direct hits to the engine room caused an explosion of the oil tank on the port side. Fire spread after another bomb went through the engine room and with the engine stopped, another series of bombs hit the galley and cargo holds. At 1330 fire spread all over the ship bending the mid-ship section. At 1426 the ship sank by the stern taking 14 crewmen, 3 gunners and 2 passengers.

IJNS Irako: (Navy Provision Store Ship/Reefer)

The Irako arrived in Coron Bay around 22 Sep 1944 and tried to hide her presence between Tangat and Lusong Island. On the morning of 24 Sep a number of fighter bombers of Airgroup 31 expended their bombs on the vessel. Their first strike scored direct hits into the midship section. Set ablaze on the bridge superstructure Irako began to sink by the bow.

IJNS Akitsushima: (Navy Seaplane Tender)

The vessel had suffered minor damage inflicted by U.S. air attacks near Buka Island on 1 Sep 1942 and received two direct bomb hits during “Operation Hailstorm” in Truk Lagoon on 17 Feb 1944. After being repaired in Japan she was back in service by July/August 1944. Akitsushima arrived in Coron Bay almost at same time as Irako and anchored in the narrow sound separating Lajo Island and Manglet Island. Strafed by Lt. (J.G.) Tuaspern and his wing she was first mistaken to be a destroyer escort (DE). VB-18 later scored one direct hit into the aft part of the vessel causing a tremendous explosion most likely of the AVGAS (aviation gasoline) fuel tanks for the flying boat.

She capsized within a few minutes and sank in position 11deg; 59` 20″N / 119deg; 58` 15″E.


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One Response to “How to make a dive industry? Coron to Romblon (February14 to Febuary 29).”

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