• Ship Wreck Diving in Sri Lanka

Ship Wreck Diving in Sri Lanka

In looking back into our history, we see that, Sri Lanka has had many foreign visitors in the likes of explorers, merchants, invaders and warring nations who used Sri Lanka and its shores. These activities, all carried out by ships have no doubt left many ship wrecks of all sorts; from ancient wooden hulls to iron ships of recent times, including Dutch, Portuguese and British in the period in between, among others, around the island. 

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Many belive that HMAS Vampire which survived two near - missed attackers and said to have survived the plunder is lying near Batticaloa 132km south of Trincomalee and is yet be discovered.

Galle, the famous Trading Port from the ancient times and the port that was held by the Dutch, Portuguese and the British for a considerable period, probably has the most numbers of wrecks in the sea close to its coast. Due to the same reasons and due to the fact the international sea lane that circumvents Sri Lanka goes close along its southern coast, the area close to the Southern Coast has many more wrecks that are already found and probably more to be found. Colombo and Trincomalee and their environs are two other areas where many shipwrecks are lying. The Admiralty Floating Deck 23 or AFD23 supposed to the largest ever built, is one important wreck that is lying in Trincomalee.


Lesser Explored Wrecks

Although they would never amount to the most momentary beneficial, -( wrecks like Admiralty Floating Docks 23 (AFD 23) and HMS Hermes make Batticaloa and Trincomalee the wreck diver's paradise.On April 9 1942, the British Aircraft Carrier HMS Hermes and her Australian escort HMAS Vampire were cutting through the water along the eastern coast of Sri Lanka. Around 10.30 am. in the morning 70 Japanese dive bombers attacked the Hermes and within 10 minutes the ship had received 40 hits. The Vampire survived two near misses yet failed to counter - attack successfully. The crew of Hermes abandoned the ship and she sank, split in two.

A year later, a floating dock named AFD 23, reputed to be the biggest ever built, broke its back in Trincomalee Harbour with the battleship H.M.S. Valiant berthed in her. The bows of the ship were soon suspended above the water, with her stern submerged, and to save her from breaking her own back, depth charges were dropped to settle the doc on an even keel. AFD 23, whose twisted superstructure protruded from the harbour waters for the best part of 25 years, was finally raised after many abortive attempts in 1968 by a team of French divers in one of the largest ever salvage operations of its type



It was Sir Winston Churchill, who described the attack on Sri Lanka , by the Japanese during 5 th and 9 th of April 1942, as the "most dangerous moment". It is also during this attack that the British aircraft carrier HMS Hermes and its accompanying Australian destroyer HMAS Vampire were sunk off the East Coast of the Island.

On the 9 th April of this year, during the attack on Colombo and Trincomalee, 70 Japanese bombers attacked these two ships. The HMS Hermes who received 40 direct hits, split in two and went down within 10 minutes. The HMAS Vampire who failed to counter attack, slipped away went down in an unknown location and is yet to be located. The aircraft carrier Hermes that was located in Batticaloa earlier now has to be relocated. The diving expeditions have shown that the Hermes is not where the admiralty charts indicate.

It is interesting to find out why Sir Winston Churchill considered this attack on Ceylon, the "most dangerous moment" of the Second World War for the British. During the first half in this year, Germany and Japan were making steady gains in North Africa, Caucasus and the Indian Ocean. Loss of Ceylon in this war would have meant the loss of control of the Indian Ocean resulting in the loss of control of India. Considering this fact and the fact that Ceylon was the weakest point in the defense perimeter gave rise to this thought.

The importance of this "dangerous" moment in the recent history and the significance of these shipwrecks that have so far eluded the discovery have given material for the making of an interesting documentary film. To enhance the importance and beauty of this film, the makers of the documentary - 'The Battle of Ceylon' for the series 'Shipwreck Detectives', have joined up with four war veterans two of whom have been in the Hermes and other two in the Vampire. These four veterans who have returned to Sri Lanka after 63 years have added immense value to this film.


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