Some twelve years ago, at an evening drinks do held by the National Park, a diving buddy of explorekohchang was asked as to what would radically improve the diving off the Koh Chang Islands. His reply and that of others asked the same question, was for the nearby waters to have a decent wreck. Not only would this make the island more attractive to the tourist diving community, it would also go some way to removing the pressure on the coral reefs at Koh Rang.
Well, as we know, the world over, bureaucrats and islands both move at a somnambulist’s pace and in November 2012, that idea finally came to fruition, as the former USS Lincoln County appeared on the horizon.
The HTMS Chang, Koh Chang Diving’s first wreck
Perhaps spurred on by the alarming bleaching of those very corals in the last couple of years, this joint project involving the Thai navy, the National Park and local government saw the requisitioning of said frigate, her renaming to the HTMS Chang and her transportation down the Thailand east coast, until she reached a little used pier here on the island.
Once docked, the ship underwent not so much a refit as an outfit, as a team of welders attacked, smashed and bored its structure, removing doors, hooks and widening holes, all to create a safe space for an underwater playground. Divers were on hand to dispense sage advise on swim-throughs and before not so very long, the wreck was ready to be floated out to sea. Amid pomp and ceremony and some flower throwing, she was promptly sent to the bottom 5 kilometres off the south west coast, where she now rests at a maximum depth of 30 metres, with the crow’s nest literally just beneath the surface.
At 100 metres long, with all its rooms and decks, the HTMS Chang is both the largest wreck in Thailand and at the same time, accessible to all level of divers. More importantly, she has proved a bubbling and gurgling success, with her iron carcass now teeming with barracuda, grouper, Swedes, Brits, French, Russians and the odd whale shark.
The second wreck, T11
In fact, so successful has the experiment proved, the authorities decided to throw out convention and with alarming speed, got their hands on another unsuspecting ship, a sort of tug, the USS PGM-71, renamed the T11, for all those pedants hiding behind the elephants in the corner of the room. Just over a week ago, she too was duly dispatched near to Hin Rap, one of the major dive sites in the area, again off the south west corner of Koh Chang.
At 30 metres, she is a smaller boat than her sister wreck, but with her maximum depth at 16 metres, she serves as an ideal foil, a great spot for the less experienced. Rumour has it that more vessels have already been earmarked to add to the underwater fleet and will be chugging their way down the east coast in the not too distant future.
So as you learn in Thailand and worth remembering the next time you shout and scream at the reception in your resort when not happy with the way things are done here, everything comes to those that wait …even if it is 12 years.
With many thanks to Wim and Mike at divingscool for the photographs