ex HMAS Canberra Arrives - VARS Patron Announced

Saturday, 5 July 2008: VARS News Update

5 July 2008: VARS News Update

In Brief

Lots of news this month!

  • ex-HMAS Canberra is here in Melbourne.
  • We introduce our new patron.
  • The real work begins - planning and guiding the project towards a successful sinking sometime early in 2009.

'Canberra' Arrives!

It almost happened without anybody noticing. The Deed of Gift was finally signed in late May and the successful tenderer appointed (more on this below).

VARS was advised in the last week of May that a large seagoing tug was already on its way to Rockingham in Western Australia and would soon begin towing the 138 metre long decommissioned warship to Geelong in Victoria. At that time, it was expected that it would take two to three weeks.

In the first week of June we were advised that 'Canberra' had departed Fleet Base West under tow and was now on her way to her new home. Various ETAs through Port Phillip Heads were proposed - but of course these were all dependant on the speed of the tow vessel on route. At first we believed that it was possible she would transit the heads on the Monday of Queen's Birthday weekend. This got everybody pretty excited with the prospect of welcoming her with a large flotilla of boats. At this stage, we were coordinating on almost an hourly basis with State Government officials regarding media opportunities so that we could maximise the publicity opportunities.

As the time got closer, it became apparent that the Monday ETA was not going to happen. 'Karori' (the tug) and 'Canberra' finally arrived off Port Phillip Heads at around 2200 on the Monday, 9th June 2008. It was intended that the tow group cross the rip at 0630 on Tuesday, 10th June 2008, but problems with the tow line shortening delayed this. So all had to wait until the next tide at 1200 noon.

Two boats from the Dive Victoria Group ('Nemo' and the new 'Sea Dragon'), plus Henderson Dive's 'Jack' went out to the boarding grounds to greet Victoria's latest dive attraction. As well as this small welcoming flotilla, a handful of lucky sightseers at Point Lonsdale's Rip View lookout were treated to a fine day and a splendid view of the warship on its way to its final journey.

She entered the bay at noon on Tuesday and slowly made her way up the South Channel to lie at anchor that evening as the pilots would not attempt to berth a towed vessel after dark. TV Channels Seven and Nine News choppers covered the entrance, and Channel Seven landed to interview Dive Victoria's Jason Salter, VARS president John Lawler, and Alan Beckhurst.

The event was well reported on the Tuesday, 10th June 6 p.m. news by Channel Seven and Channel Nine. John Lawler crossed live from Dive Victoria's new dive boat 'Sea Dragon' to the Jon Faine morning show (ABC 774) and 3AW. On Wednesday John had a further 10 minute interview with Mark Bannerman on ABC Radio National at 6.30 a.m. On Thursday evening Mike Reed had a 15 minute interview on ABC Tasmania evening program.

This media coverage is aimed at a continual promotion of the ex HMAS Canberra as the centre piece to make "Victoria a world class temperate water diving destination."

VARS Announces Our Patron

We are very excited to announce that Lieutenant Commander (RAN retired) Mackenzie J. Gregory (Mac) has agreed to act as patron for VARS.

Mac joined the Royal Australian Naval College as a 13 year old Cadet Midshipman in January, 1936. His term was sent to sea in August 1939, as war was impending.

Mac, during WW2, served in our three 8inch cruisers, 'Australia', 'Canberra', and, 'Shropshire', plus in the light cruiser 'Adelaide'. He was the Officer of the Watch in 'Canberra' when the Battle of Savo Island commenced at 0143 on August 9, 1942, the night she was sunk. He was in 'Shropshire' for the Japanese surrender at Tokyo Bay on 2 September 1945.

Post war, Mac completed the first combined Torpedo Anti-Submarine Specialist Long course in UK Naval Schools. In his specialist capacity he served in the destroyers 'Warramunga' and 'Bataan', at Navy Office, and at the TAS school. From 1950 to 1953 he was appointed Aide de Camp to His Excellency the Governor General of Australia at Government House Canberra ("a quite fascinating time" according to Mac).

Finally, he was Fleet TAS Officer on the staff of the Flag Officer Commanding the Australian Fleet, in the Carrier 'Vengeance'.

Mac keeps himself busy with research and a bit of writing, finishing a trilogy about the German Armed Raiders of both World War I and World War II, and finally the Confederate Armed Raiders of the American Civil War. He recently finished a work on German Armed Merchant Ships of World War II 'Marauders of the Sea' and wants to round it off by covering their counterparts of World War I.

Mac is a fascinating character with a wealth of naval knowledge and a great store of tales to tell. His network of contacts in the naval world is second to none. His website (Ahoy - Mac's Weblog - http://ahoy.tk-jk.net/) is dedicated to all "Who went down to the sea in ships" in World War 2, in whatever capacity they may have served the cause of freedom, but especially to the Eighty Four Officers and Men who died in H.M.A.S. Canberra at the Battle of Savo Island, on the 9th of August, 1942.

We are very grateful to Mac for agreeing to act as our patron and look forward to working with him as this project progresses.

Preparation for Scuttling Begins

It was a long time coming - but things began to move a bit faster once the Deed of Gift was signed. Project responsibility for the preparation and scuttling of the ship responsibility was handed over to the Defence Material Organisation (DMO) in July 2007. DMO called for tenders to conduct this work in August 2007 with Birdon Marine announced as the successful tenderer in May 2008.

Birdon Marine is a family owned business which commenced operations in 1977. They have a diverse business which includes commercial, luxury, defence, new builds and marine construction. For more information visit their website at http://www.birdonmarine.com.au/.

Preparation of the ship will take place in Geelong. This work is expected to take around six months. During this time the ship will be stripped of all environmental and safety hazards, including 25,000 kilometres of wiring, all insulation, oil, flooring and lead ballast. Access points will be cut through the vessel so that divers won't get trapped. Salvageable equipment and materials will be removed and memorabilia will be taken out and put aside for appropriate memorials. All toxic substances will be removed; unsafe access areas welded and barred, decks and doorways opened up, with warning and diver safety notices installed.

The nature of the work means that there are significant Occupational Health and Safety hazards that must be carefully controlled. As the contractor, Birdon has all appropriate measures in place to ensure management of these OH&S issues. However, this does mean that any work performed by volunteers will be very limited.

Many volunteers have said that they want to get in and help make the ship diver safe. It is important to note that Birdon is solely in charge of the ship until the hand over to the Victorian State Government for scuttling and therefore because of Worksafe issues access is strictly limited. Additionally, the ship is alongside a Customs Security wharf and access is off limits to the public.

Birdon has appointed several expert advisors to assist in making the ship "diver safe". These experts draw on personal experience with 8 previous scuttling around Australia to ensure that the best possible job is done in compliance with relevant Government legislation.

VARS will continue to play an active role over the next six to nine months leading up to the actual scuttling. Dive site access arrangements still have to be negotiated and agreed. Engineering plans and specifications must be drawn up for reef preparation, access and site management. The final layout of the ship must be such as to maximise the attractiveness of the wreck as a dive destination. A sub-committee has been established to work with DMO and Birdon on this aspect. This sub-committee is also planning to produce a 3D computer model of the wreck that will enable the viewer to take a "virtual tour". This 3D model will be produced using the latest in high-technology visualising equipment and will be a "first" for dive wrecks within Australia.

VARS and Birdon Marine have established a very good working relationship. The VARS committee is working with the Birdon appointed project manager and expert advisors as well as with DMO and other relevant government agencies. Birdon have ensured that appropriate access to the ship has been provided to committee members to allow them to continue to provide substantial input as preparation work continues.

Sub-Committee Reports

Site Management - Convenor: Alan Beckhurst
A white paper has now been prepared outlining a possible site management plan. Input was sought from across the dive industry in preparation of this white paper. Government authorities have now appointed a consultant to further investigate and provide a report. Further consultation is now planned with the objective of finalising details and preparing a proposal to Government over the next few months.

Ship Preparation - Convenor: Jason Salter
Ship preparation is now underway! As outlined above, it is important to note that public access is not possible due to the OH&S issues and the restrictions existing on the wharf. VARS has an excellent working relationship with Birdon and has been able to gain access as we need it. Various members of the VARS committee have visited the ship and the sub-committee is now actively liaising with Birdon to ensure the best possible outcome for divers and the dive community.

Fund Raising / Membership - Convenor: Warrick McDonald
VARS is now approaching the stage when volunteers will be able to become active. Additionally, it is also the time when further funds are likely to be required as the work ramps up. We are continuing to look for members and obtain financial support to enable work to continue over the coming months to ensure that the best possible outcome is obtained for the dive community.

Persons who can offer time for the following are requested to contact Warrick who will put you on to the right person who will be looking after this event.

  1. Fund raising
  2. Membership drive
  3. T shirt printing and purchase
  4. Celebration ball to be held just after the sinking
  5. Memorial monuments. Bellarine and Mornington peninsula

Anyone interested in becoming a member or otherwise offering support should make contact via the details in the website.

Marketing / Promotion - Convenor: Bryan McGoldrick
The groundwork for a marketing plan has been put together. Activities are now underway to secure appropriate funding to put the plan into action.

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