Gizo Adventure

by Peter Levy

Gizo

Gizo

Gizo

Gizo

Gizo

Gizo

Gizo

Gizo

We could see the outline of the massive ship clearly from the surface. At 134 metres and 6,700 tons, and only seven metres below the surface she was hard to miss.

The Toa Maru had rested in this spot since 1943, the once proud ship now a burnt and bombed out wreck. She is, however, a great site for divers from around the world.

The 20 metre viz allowed us to gain an impression of her size as soon as we entered the water. Lying on her starboard side with a maximum depth of 37 metres in balmy 28C water, she is not a difficult dive. Having come to rest on the inside of a reef means there is very little current so she can be dived in most conditions.

The Toa Maru was built in Nagasaki in 1938 as a passenger and cargo ship. She was commandeered in 1941 to help with the Japanese war effort in the Pacific, becoming one of many vessels in the so called Tokyo Express that transported men and supplies.

As we drifted down to her there was no mistaking the large cargo frames and the deck certainly did not look like that of a battleship. The marine life, though sparse compared to the abundant fish in the coral reefs nearby, was still very interesting. Not countless numbers of small reef fish but more in the way of individual larger specimens. As we made our way to one of the open holds a huge green bump head wrasse slowly swam by, completely ignoring us.

Entering the hold, the damage of battle, fire and time was evident. Twisted metal lay everywhere. It was therefore surprising to come across delicate porcelain plates and glass ship’s lanterns lying amongst the debris.

Working our way deeper it soon became apparent this was a ship of war. An upside down two-man tank lay where it had spilled from the hold. There were also the remains of trucks and other vehicles. Close to the tank were belts of machine gun ammunition and shells. Strangely enough there were thousands of sake and beer bottles. I guess war is thirsty work.

In late January 1941 the Toa Maru left Rabaul to re-supply the Japanese base on the south-eastern side of Kolombangara Island in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands. Unluckily for her she was spotted leaving by coast watchers who informed the Americans stationed at Henderson Airfield in what is now Honiara.

She was located on the morning of 31 January by a group of Dauntless torpedo and dive bombers escorted by eight Wildcat fighters. In the engagement that followed all the bombs and torpedoes missed except for two, which probably would not have been enough to sink her. In a display of frustration the fighters broke off from the bombers (which they were meant to be escorting, not attacking the ship) and strafed the deck. This started a fire which the Japanese captain thought would cause the ship to quickly sink so the vessel was abandoned. In fact the Toa Maru remained afloat and on fire for three days before finally running aground where she lies today. The Americans lost several aircraft when they were attacked by a force of Zero’s shortly after. It didn’t help that one of the American Wildcats ran out of ammunition as the ground crew had forgotten to re-arm his plane before leaving that morning.

Continuing along the length of the ship our dive guide was amused to show us a jar full of condoms. Apparently, so the story goes, these were used by the Japanese soldiers to keep water out of their rifle barrels. We were also shown a ship’s telephone and ampoules and jars that appeared to be from the ship’s medical supplies.

Drifting deeper we came across very large bat fish which allowed us to get extremely close, I guess they were used to divers on this popular site. We also found cute families of anemone fish that had made their home amongst the super structure, as well as the usual surgeon fish and other assorted tropical varieties. Being inside a reef there were no large pelagics. But on the next dive at a nearby site we were treated to magnificent eagle rays and turtles.

The Solomon Islands is truly a divers dream, not only for the fantastic marine life but also for its history of the Second World War and its great shipwrecks.

scroll to top