Geelong Advertiser, 8 October 2009

Divers wait

Divers wait

By Alex Oates, Geelong Advertiser

Divers eager to scour the wreckage of HMAS Canberra on the sandy floor of Bass Strait need not get too excited.

Thursday, 8 October 2009 — Experts have revealed the decommissioned Australian naval warship scuttled on Sunday is likely to be out of bounds to divers for up to a month as scuttle works and inspections are completed.

"The works are so dependent on the weather, there's a fair bit of work that has to be done," Parks Victoria maritime planning and strategy team leader David Ritman said.

"As you can appreciate, a lot of water floods into the vessel and there's a lot the clearance divers have to do. They need to check that the safety measures that have been prepared are still intact, and it's a big job."

Weather permitting, Port of Melbourne Corporation divers will visit the site to capture wreck images which will be placed on navigation charts to prevent accidents with other vessels.

Navigation marks, also known as flashing beacons, will be installed while four moorings - two at the bow of the ship and two at the stern - will also be placed in the coming weeks.

Following works on the wreck, the Department of Defence will complete a certificate of completion, which requires a tick of approval from the State Government before the dive-site will open.

"Once the State Government has received that (certificate), Parks Victoria will make the call on when it's open," Mr Ritman said.

"I don't think we'll get it done within a month. Hopefully it will be quick, but my expectation is it won't happen until a month after the scuttling.

"We're working our bums off but there's a lot to do and it has to be done safely. The process has taken so long because it took time for divers down there to view the site."

Mr Ritman said experts remained unsure whether the vessel had landed in an upright position in Bass Strait, despite a successful scuttling.

"We haven't had the formal communication from the Department of Defence as to how the ship is sitting, so we can't verify its location at this stage," he said.

"From the imagery on TV, it was scuttling correctly, so it should sit in the right patch of sand."

The 4100-tonne, 138m guided missile frigate will soon become a much sought after dive site which Member for Bellarine Lisa Neville has described as a "new underwater wonderland".

Ms Neville said the wreck would boost the economy by bringing thousands of divers to the region.

Federal Member for Corangamite Darren Cheeseman said the wreck would attract divers from around the world.

"There has been huge investment in this. The Commonwealth has put in $5 million and the State has put in about $1.5 million on top of that," he said.

"This huge investment will help support tourism and add another reason for visitors from all over the world to come here."

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