The Age, Monday, 24 August 2009

New start for HMAS Canberra as shipwreck

New start for HMAS Canberra as shipwreck

By Lorna Edwards, The Age

Plan to Scuttle Former Navy Vessel

Monday, 24 August 2009 — On September 12, explosions will rip through the navy frigate HMAS Canberra, sending her to a watery grave two nautical miles off Ocean Grove.

The scuttling of the 4100-tonne former guided-missile frigate will start its transformation into an artificial reef near 46 other wrecks in an area of the Bass Strait known as the Ships' Graveyard.

''This is like winning Tattslotto,'' said John Lawler, president of the Victorian Artificial Reef Society, a divers' group that lobbied for the ship to be sunk in Victorian waters.

''It's such a big wreck it would take 30 or 40 dives before you could say you've done the vessel top to bottom.''

But some of the HMAS Canberra's former sailors wish their ship could stay above water, perhaps as a floating museum. ''In the Navy, you spend so much time making sure the ship doesn't sink - it's a very high priority,'' said the ship's former chief petty officer Lee ''Bickies'' Webster.

The ship served the country for 24 years. It toured the Persian Gulf after the 1992 invasion of Kuwait, helped evacuate Australians from Jakarta in 1998 and was the proud escort of tall ships for the First Fleet re-enactment during the Bicentennial in 1988.

Since the Canberra was decommissioned in 2005, it has taken $10 million in Federal and state funding to prepare the ship for its new life underwater.

After being stripped of all military equipment and engines, the Canberra was towed from Rockingham in Western Australia to Geelong last year.

Since then, contractor Birdon has turned the ship into a safe divers' playground. Oil, asbestos and 25,000 kilometres of wiring were removed. More than 70 tonnes of lead were replaced with concrete as ballast.

The ship will be scuttled at 9am on September 12 if weather conditions permit. Once the wreck has settled in its new home, divers can observe the wreck's transformation 30 metres below the surface.

''Within weeks the growth starts to appear and the reef takes hold and the fish come to live and hide and it becomes an astonishing marine wonderland,'' Mr Lawler said.

The Age, Online

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