The Australian, 5 October 2009

Warrior's rusting place finally beneath the sea

Warrior's rusting place finally beneath the sea

By Andrew Trounson, The Australian

The tugs had to wrestle with her for about four hours after she lost her main anchor, but in the end HMAS Canberra yesterday went down gloriously off the Victorian coast, dignity intact despite being stripped and holed for her scuttling.

Monday, 5 October 2009 — With a muffled boom, some 16 underwater charges inside the hull of the 31-year-old frigate detonated at 2pm sending out little puffs of smoke.

Gradually her sleek bows and stern descended to the water line and then, with only the superstructure visible, she dipped her bows and was gone. It was over in less than two minutes.

The Canberra served in the Middle East after the first Iraq War of 1991 and helped to evacuate Australians from Jakarta in 1998 during the student riots that deposed the Indonesian dictator Suharto. The crowd of almost a hundred pleasure boats, including people in cruisers, tinnies and even jet skis, seemed stunned that the 4100- tonne frigate they had been watching a moment before was finally gone beneath the waves off Barwon Heads. But as the diving industry toasted the prospect of the spectacular attraction the Canberra will make as a shipwreck and artificial reef, her former crew were taking time out to remember her and the camaraderie she symbolised.

In her namesake city, a few former commanders were planning to meet for a quiet reminiscence at the memorial to her predecessor, the heavy cruiser Canberra, which sank during the Battle for the Solomon Islands in 1942 with the loss of 84 lives, including that of her captain.

In Western Australia, former chief petty officer Lee "Bickies" Webster, 50, was planning a quiet moment on the beach at Rockingham staring out to sea.

"It is very emotional for us," said Mr Webster, who was on the US-built Canberra when she was commissioned in 1981.

"Unless you have served in a ship, it's hard to understand."

While he would dearly have loved the Canberra to have become a museum, he was reconciled to her end, which is more dignified than being broken up or used for target practice. "At least we will always know where she is." Rob Morely, a local diving instructor, said the scuttling was an enormous boon for the industry as the large size of the wreck and the mystique of it being a warship would attract divers from all over the world.

Many of the ship's fittings have been left in place, including the cleaned-out engines. Even the captain's chair is there, but it has been double bolted and the screw-heads rounded off to stop souveniring.

The scuttling proved a tricky operation once the stern anchor was lost.

With only a 300m by 100m area 3km offshore in which to manoeuvre the 138m-long frigate, there was little room for error. The two tugs had already worked through the night after high winds late on Saturday forced them to take the frigate out to sea.

The Australian Online

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