By Nigel Marsh and Helen Rose
Dropping onto the stern of the American Landing Craft Utility (LCU) which was scuttled in Subic Bay after World War II, we found the craft lying at an angle in 24m. In the 12m visibility we explored the wheelhouse, engine compartment and then swam into the troop carrying area of this 29m long vessel. We did several circuits exploring hatches, vents, winches, the rudders and empty gun emplacements. The vessel is now covered in corals and home to a healthy population of reef fish, including schools of sweetlip and snapper.
Over 30 ships and plane wrecks can be found in and around Subic Bay, as the bay has been an important naval area since the Spanish established a base here in1885. After the Americans took control of the Philippines in 1898, by way of the Spanish-American War, the Americans built up Subic Bay to be their most important naval base outside of the USA.
Johan De Sadeleir (Johan’s Dive Centre) and his staff have located many of the wrecks of Subic Bay, which vary in depth from 15m-75m, and continue to find new shipwrecks. The most famous shipwreck in Subic Bay is the USS New York, a 116m long armoured cruiser, which was scuttled in 1942 to avoid the ship falling into the hands of the invading Japanese forces. Built in 1891, this ship is one of the oldest steel war ships you can dive anywhere in the
world. She sits in 28m on her port side and is a sensational dive. We were guided around the wreck by Divemaster Henry, starting at the prop, which is still in place. We then looked at the massive twin eight inch guns at the stern (there are another pair on the bow) which project from a huge gun turret. Henry then led us under the mast, around the bridge and up to the bow. Returning along the top of the wreck we could see the side gun emplacements and a twisted pile of metal where they blew a hole to sink the ship. Visibility on the USS New York is quite variable, we experienced 2-12m and is rarely over 15m (typical for many of the wrecks in the bay). One of the reasons for the poor visibility is all the ash in the bay, a legacy of the 1991 eruption of the nearby volcano Mt Pinatubo. At least the water is always warm, 26-30ÂºC.
Not far from the USS New York are two Japanese shipwrecks, the Oryoku Maru and Seian Maru, sunk by US aircraft. The remains of the former luxury liner Oryoku Maru now look more like a junk pile, as she was blown up to avoid being a shipping hazard. She was nicknamed the â€˜Hell Ship’ as when attacked the vessel was carrying 1619 allied prisoners below her decks, of which over one hundred died.
The Seian Maru was a cargo ship and there is much more to see of this vessel. She lies on her port side in 26m and divers can explore her dark holds and bridge area.
One of our favourite wrecks was the El Capitan, an American cargo ship sunk in 1942. She lies on her port side in 22m and is home to numerous fish species. While exploring this wreck we encountered anemonefish, lionfish, batfish, snapper, triggerfish, blue spotted stingrays and angelfish. With an hour bottom time we explored the holds, bridge, funnel, and mast area of this 90m long vessel.
Another wreck unique to Subic Bay is the LST, an 80m long Landing Ship Tank, which was scuttled by the Americans in 1946. She sits upright in 34m and is covered in corals and swarming with fish. Although the ship is quite flat, there are vents, winches, derricks, gun emplacements and the twisted remains of the bridge area to be seen. We dropped down to inspect the doors at the bow, which are open, though the ramp is up.
One of the most unusual dive sites in Subic Bay is The Barges, a collection of pontoons and barges sunk by the Americans after the war. These barges sit in 5-35m on a sandy bottom. The old barges are interesting to explore, but the main attraction here is all the marine life. Crabs, shrimps, nudibranchs, molluscs, stingrays, garden eels, schools of snapper, gropers, pipefish, sweetlips, parrotfish and many, many more species can be seen.
The oldest shipwreck in Subic Bay, the San Quintin, is also one of the most colourful. The San Quintin was a Spanish gunboat scuttled in 1898. She is now broken up in 16m and is covered in colourful coral and home to reef fish. Much of the wreck can still be identified, including the bow, stern and two huge boilers. The highlight of the dive here was two sea moths, that appeared to be mating as they slowly danced around each other.
Other wrecks in the area include a Japanese Patrol Boat in 25m, a Phantom jet in 44m, a submarine in 74m and several more LCUs in 38m, 40m and 42m. If you want to dive some of the most fascinating and unique shipwrecks in Asia there is no better place than Subic Bay.