As we started our descent, following the long rope through the blue I was excited. Finally it came into sight, the top of a ten meter high, square framed mast rising from the depths. It was so big it made me feel tiny.
Irako is just one of the six Japanese ships in Coron Bay, Northern Palawan, Philippines. They were sunk on the 24th September 1944 by a US air raid.
15 ships had been brutally bombed and sunk near Manila in the days preceding the Coron attack. The Japanese Navy decided it was necessary to relocate its remaining vessels to Coron Bay. Only 14 hours steam time away and considered to be out of bomber range of the US Navy. Many of these ships arrived safely in Coron on the 23rd September. The following morning 24 American Helldiver bombers took off for Coron Bay. Due to the distance the aircraft had to fly, they only had 15 minutes over their targets before it was necessary to start their return journey. But that was long enough.
An Auxiliary Supply ship of 128 meters. She sits at a depth of 30 meters in an upright position with the deck level at around 20 meters. The middle sections shows considerable damage from a direct bomb hit. However the bow of the ship is still in good condition and covered in large red soft corals. Here we found many Lionfish, a Crocodile Flat-head Fish, schools of Catfish and Fusiliers. I couldn’t believe how much life there was.
Another Auxiliary Supply ship. She is 95 meters long and lies on her starboard side at a depth of 25 meters. This is a very easy wreck to penetrate with large openings and natural light streaming in from doorways and portholes. However my favorite part of the dive was the time spent outside. The deck area is covered with soft corals and large fans. It was inside one of these fans where we found two big yellow Ghost Pipe Fish. Some of the biggest I have ever seen. If this isn’t enough, the top of the wreck is covered with massive hard corals, schools of Razorfish and Batfish.
This 118 metre ship was a seaplane tender with a long crane at the stern. This crane was used for loading and unloading of the airplanes. She lies at 35 meters on her port side with the crane stretching across the sand. Fortunately for the Japanese but unfortunately for today’s divers, Akitsushima was not carrying any planes at the time of the bombings. But an enormous crack has been created from the bombing which is a good entry point to the inner corridors. There is not much coral or fish life on this wreck although there are many jellyfish trapped in the small corners inside the wreck, which makes for an interesting challenge trying to swim around them in the dark.
The Oil Tanker Okikawa is the biggest of the ships at 160 meter long. She is in an upright position at 25 meters with the deck at 12 meters. I really enjoyed exploring inside this wreck, we spent 30 minutes passing through small holes, sometimes with difficulty, into enormous open spaces where your torch light would not hit anything but the fins of your buddy. It was then I really understood the size of these chambers and therefore the size of these ships. There is not much natural light inside and it is easy to get lost so make sure you go with an experienced guide.
Luson Gun Boat
A small Gun Boat of 30 meters lies in an upright position on a slope between 0 and 10 meters. There is not much to see on the boat itself but it is surrounded by beautiful corals, continuing down the slope to 18 meters. This is perfect third dive of the day as it is shallow therefore allowing plenty of bottom time.
The deepest and most famous of the wrecks, the refrigerated provisions vessel Irako sits at 50 meters in an upright position with the deck level at 30 meters and the goal post shaped mast rising to 15 meters. The deck area is covered in soft corals, and schools of Fusiliers with Jacks hunting in them. Inside the rooms are lined with pipes for the refrigeration system, making it look more like a factory than a shipwreck. The depth meant we had a short bottom time so could not spend long inside, so we used up out air examining the mast on our way back to the buoy line. This is where a Giant Barracuda paid us a quick visit while searching for his lunch. Perfect way to end the dive.
Yet another auxiliary supply vessel, 130 meters long lying on her starboard side in 35 meters of water. This is one of the most exciting wrecks because a lot of the cargo was not recovered, including rolls of mesh fencing, sandbags and a tractor. The outside of the wreck is covered in a mix of soft and hard corals with a school of Fusiliers circling around.
East Tangat Gun Boat
My final dive of the trip was another 30 meter gun boat, also in an upright position sloping between 3 and 20 meters. This wreck is still in good condition and you can swim into every inside space. The shallow water has encouraged a vast amount of coral growth and attracts a wide variety of marine life, including a family of giant Nudibranchs.
I only had three days to dives all of these sites, which I believe is not enough. Yes I managed to dive each wreck once but there are some I would like to dive again as I feel there is still a lot more to see.
It is hard to say which of the dives was my favorite because each one offers something different and new to explore, but I will be back to Coron to dive them all again.