Palawan, a WWII wreck divers’ delight

Coron, Phillipines – a wreck divers wet dream that has more than a few surprises in store.

Palawan's waters are teeming with history
Palawan has many small rocky islands which make for excellent snorkelling and diving

My first trip to Philippines took me to a small town in Palawan, Coron. After reading a friends Facebook posts and enviously looking through his pictures I knew I’d need to see and dive the place for myself. With my internet machine on my lap and 2 weeks off work I set about doing some research and getting at least a week of diving in. I’d first need to book the flights – not my strong point, then the dive shop. With many dive centres to choose from I emailed a few, including the one my friend had dived with, but surprisingly got response from only one. Heini took the laptop from me and booked flights via singapore, manilla, getting me to Coron in the morning and hopefully on a dive boat for the afternoon, all she requested is that I check the itinerary.

I flew out to Manilla after a stopover in Singapore, as I landed I unfolded my flight itinerary to check when my next flight took off… 6 hours ago! So I was stuck in Manilla for a day whilst I hastily booked another flight to Coron. FYI Manilla is not the most fun city to be stuck in!!

Laid back Coron town
Coron town, finally made it.

The morning flight went hassle free and once on the tarmac I headed from the airport over to Neptune divers and met Christian, a local Dive-master and a true fountain of knowledge of the wrecks that he’d been diving on for years. For the first day we were to buddy together and dive with Enriched Air Nitrox so to extend our dive time and get the most out of our dive. This is a must if your planning a trip to Koron then take the Nitrox course before you start the dives, though the extra cost of an enriched air tank is around €5 extra, you will more than make it up with almost double dive time (air depending).

The area around Koron is truly a beautiful location, as the boat takes you to the wreck sites you are treated to amazing scenery of many skall islands and secluded beaches with amazing crystal clear reefs. I was excited to get into the wreck and see first hand what others had told me before, though Christian was also very happy to have only 1 diver to guide through his favourite wrecks and as a plus he had a big surprise for me.

Deep penetration, Coron
Every hole is possible – Picture Shayne Ng

We dropped into the water first and plunged down to about 20meters deep to our entry point of the “Kogyo Maru”, the wreck rested on its side and so we entered through what was probably a loading hatch. Torches on we proceed through the whole wreck with Chris leading a few meters ahead, you didn’t have to look hard to find WW2 Japanese gas masts, explosive shells, bulldozers, cement, and even some of the crew… The exit of the wreck was to be through the propeller shaft (unfortunately these wrecks are heavily salvaged and most propellersas and engine have been recovered for scrap), we swam the narrow passage until the end when I realised I couldn’t see Chris anymore and was facing a dead end. Luckily this had all been covered in the briefing and as I spotted a pair of arms poking through a hole I was guided out by Chris.

When we were out I checked my air – 70bar, plenty of spare gas to explore the outside, the visibility was around 10meters on the outside with lots of particles in the water. Glancing to my right the visibility was less, due to a 6-8m whale shark that had chosen to swim with me. I banged my torch on my cylinder to get Chris’s attention but it wasn’t necessary, this was part of the plan. A friend had informed him of the whale shark in the area the day before, and with his knowledge of the sites and this particular shark, he expected it would most likely visit this wreck as it had done previously.

Palawan wrecks
Anti aircraft gun and shells lay silent before you enter the wreck. – Picture Shayne Ng

The week continued with dives on many wrecks in the area, oil tankers “Okikawa Maru”, the “Irako Maru” a refrigeration supply ship, and much more. One dive on the sea plane tender wreck “Akitsushima” now lying on her port side in 32 meters of water with the starboard side sitting in 22 meters of water. The Akitsushima was an IJN (Imperial Japanese Navy) vessel designed as a seaplane tender. The Akitsushima carried a Kawanishi H8K code name “Emily”. “Emily” was a heavily armed long-range patrol craft, and could also be used as a fighter-bomber. The Akitsushima was a very solidly built ship, having received a direct hit by a bomb in August 1942 and being hit by two bombs at Chuuk Lagoon. She received one final direct hit on one of her gas storage tanks at Coron.”. As I exited this spectacular wreck I glanced behind realising my exit point was a huge shell exit hole in the side of the ship with the hull peeled open like a can of veggie burgers, A huge reminder of the destruction that provided us with my personal favourite spectacular wreck.

Corn diving in barracuda lake
Crystal clear hot water diving at Barracuda lake

Barracuda Lake was one dive I wasn’t so keen on, after all I was there to dive the WW2 wrecks, but this proved to be an unmissable dive. You will have to climb up a few steps and get over a small hill into the lake, wetsuits are unnecessary as is Nitrox due to a 30minute dive time and the water being fed from an underground heat vent causing temperatures at depth of up to and over 40 degrees… if I remember correctly. The solid looking bottom of the lake holds a particular fun surprise for those who choose to swim fast face down into the bottom, only then finding them 1/2 meter into soft shell encrusted silt. Though tempted, I had no desire to wash silt from my dreadlocks for the next 3 months! And I never saw any barracuda!

Loose your head in barracuda lake
Head first into the muck

All in all a great trip to Palawan, I was very lucky to have personal guide Christian from Neptune Divers for the most part, and I am looking forward to returning next year.

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