The Age, 5 October 2009

Canberra sinks to new home some might call a dive

Canberra sinks to new home some might call a dive

By Lorna Edwards, The Age

Monday, 5 October 2009 — Thousands of onlookers lined the shore while hundreds of spectator boats jostled to watch the former navy frigate Canberra deliberately sunk for a new life as a diving wreck near Ocean Grove yesterday.

After weeks of postponements, the Canberra's final hour came another four hours late yesterday after bad weather hampered the scuttling operation on Saturday night and problems maneuvering the ship into position two nautical miles from Ocean Grove yesterday.

To avoid the Canberra breaking up on the sea floor, it was sunk facing into prevailing waves by 16 explosions that ripped through the ship. And then in what might have been an anti-climax for the crowd but a relief for the contractors, the frigate slipped gracefully below the water in perfect alignment.

Victoria's divers lobbied the Rudd and Howard governments for three years and managed to win the 138-metre, 4100-tonne former guided-missile frigate over other states vying to sink the ship in their waters as an international drawcard for divers.

Mornington dive instructor Rob Morley said the coup would translate into millions of dollars for Victoria's dive industry, which had difficulty competing with the warmer waters of northern states.

"We do it hard down here because we've only got four months of suitable water temperatures for most divers but this is going to be a boon," he said.

It has taken more than a year to prepare the Canberra for her final voyage. Decommissioned in 2005, the ship had to be stripped of all military equipment and engines and all environmentally hazardous materials such as lead, oil and asbestos.

About 25,000 kilometres of wiring was removed and the ship's many compartments had second exits cut into them to reduce the risk of divers becoming trapped.

Now the sailors have moved out, the fish will move in along with sea organisms that will transform the ship into an artificial reef.

After the Canberra has been declared safely settled in coming weeks, divers with a permit will be able to explore the wreck 27 metres below the surface.

The ship's final resting place is an area known as the Ships Graveyard, where 46 other discarded vessels from a century of shipping lie beneath the waves.

The Age, Online

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