Ocean Grove Voice, 13 July 2009

Set to sink

Set to sink

By Ocean Grove Voice

Monday, 13 July 2009 — The ex-HMAS Canberra warship will become a major new temperate water artificial reef and dive site within the month.

The firm charged with readying the ship for scuttling off Collendina, the Birdon Group, has recently completed work on the 30-year-old FFG-7 class frigate.

The project which has been backed by the State Government to the tune of $1.5m has the support of the Victorian Artificial Reef Society, a non-profit, dive community group made up of recreational and commercial divers.

President of VARS is John Lawler who said there is growing excitement among the dive community about the imminent scuttling.

"The ex-HMAS Canberra will be the centerpiece which will make Victoria a world class temperate water dive destination," said Mr Lawler.

"It's not a standalone site, there are a lot of other scuttled vessels in close proximity. They include 4 J-class submarines."

Mr Lawler said that careful planning had gone into scuttling the ship to prevent any harm to the environment and to maximise the potential of the wreck as a dive site.

He said for the ex HMAS Canberra Reef had to have suitable geological characteristics, be devoid of sensitive marine habitats and have minimal impact on the local coastline; does not impact on shipping lanes or navigational areas; should be of a suitable distance from required commercial infrastructure to maximise commercial operation and diver attractiveness; should be able to attract fish and increase local biodiversity; should be at an appropriate depth of water suitable for the experience level of the target market of divers; should not be dangerous for scuba diving and have good visibility; should not impact on other legitimate uses that may operate in the area; and should have suitable currents.

"It is expected that the HMAS Canberra will be scuttled on 22 August 2009, subject to weather conditions," said Mr Lawler.

"The contractor, Birdon, has done a marvelous job in preparing the vessel — better than any other that has been scuttled."

It will be a very exciting dive. Fortunately the contractors took the advice of the dive industry in preparing the ship and leaving as much as possible.

"This will be a huge bonus to the area. It is estimated that $1.5m to $3m will be poured into the region as a result of the exercise."

Mr Lawler said that on the day of the scuttle viewers will be able to watch from vantage points from Point Lonsdsale to Barwon Heads. Ocean Grove Lookout and Collendina will probably offer the best local vantage points.

Mr Lawler said the sinking will take place 4-5km from the beach and there will be no chance of any of it ever being exposed by low tide.

"The vessel is subject to stringent environmental controls that have been put in place by the Federal Government."

"They have been met. It in no way impairs the marine environment. A lot of time, money and effort have been put into this."

He said the site would be on the old sand Barwon River bed.

"It won't be on a reef. It will sink into that sand, probably 2-3 metres and that will provide stability."

"Added to that, in the hull of the vessel was 90 tonne of lead ingots. This has been removed and the equivalent amount of cement has been poured in that will add to its stability.

He said that the majority of open water divers will be able to dive to the top deck which will be in 18m of water.

Mr Lawler said he was unsure how long after the scuttling that divers will be able to take an official dive.

"When it is scuttled, the site will be looked after by Parks Victoria."

"They will be placing four moorings, two to the port side and two the starboard using 10 tonne blocks, so that the charter operators will be able to tie off."

"When diving can start will depend on how soon these moorings can be placed. There is going to be a lot of ifs and buts. It is really an unknown when diving can begin officially. Also the charges have to be cleared by the contractor responsible for scuttling her."

Mr Lawler said that although he was certain of the method that will be used in this case, previous scuttling of ships has been carried out using a system where charges simultaneously cut the hull below the water line.

He said that the method is more akin to laser cutting than explosives.

The process cuts about 17-18 holes, each about the size of shipping pallets, in the side of the hull. The sinking then takes about 4 minutes.

The ship will be pulled to the site by two tugs.

The scuttling is scheduled for August 22 although this could be affected by weather and sea conditions.

Ocean Grove Voice, Online

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