Sink, Search… Salvage!

I led a team of technical divers from Davy Jones’ Locker to dive a shipwreck 54 nautical miles north east of Koh Tao called the Pangan. We chartered a boat from another dive centre, which was a converted fishing vessel and decided to tow the DJL rib to use as a safety boat.

Travelling out over night we arrived on the mark, dropped a lazy shot and ran some 56 meter profiles on the ship. After completing a successful days diving we began our journey back. The north east trade winds were evident and we had one metre swells coming across the starboard bow. After relaxing on the top deck for three hours the ship stopped dead in the water and the captain appeared a little flustered. He started pointing to the engine room so I went to investigate only to find the room full of water. At this point we got all our bilges together in an effort to pump the water out. The water level was still rising. One of the bilges was an independent engine; this started to flutter then conked out after trying to restart the Honda engine for several minutes.

I made the decision to abandon ship as the water was coming in too quickly then pulled the rib along side and started to get her ready. I shouted to Gary to strip the twin sets, regs and wings and grab the extra gas we had taken along for our compressor. With the help of the team we tied the compressor and the twin sets down to the chartered boat. The captain dropped the anchor in an effort to stop the windward drift. I finally took the bags, the 4 tech divers and the thai crew away on the DJL rib. As the fishing boat left the surface we took one last look as she took her last breath, screaming with air intake. The GPS showed us to be 28 nautical miles from Koh Tao with an overloaded rib that was taking on water half an hour before sunset; we were not having a good day! We were unable to contact anyone on our VHF. After 2 hours of bailing water we crept into Hin Wong Bay, secured the rib and headed for the bar!

With a compressor and 5 twin sets on the sunken vessel I started thinking about salvaging it. We had a mark for the ship but they rarely sink in a straight line so we had to pick a good weather window as I expected the search to take some time. After 3 weeks we got our break and with a team of eight (four bottom and four support divers) we set off, this time using our big boat and rib. Again travelling overnight to the mark, we arrived on station at 06:00 and started to search using the rib. After around 20 minutes I picked up a return and after running over the anomaly a few times found that it was a bigger return than the expected target. This was around 70 meters long with a 5-metre beam rising from the bottom. As this wasn’t our target I continued to sweep, searching with the trusty trade winds. Four hours passed and I decided to return to the first finding. I dropped a shot on the mark and our first team entered the water for a look. An hour later they surfaced and reported a large sand mound with holes dropping through 3-4 metres, indicating an old sub bottom shipwreck. Excited by our find we continued to search for the compressor and after another 4 hours we located her just less than 1 nautical mile away from our original mark.

We got straight to work and I descended the shot line carrying another line to secure the compressor. This would allow us to relocate the compressor if the lift failed. I tied the shot to the bow and noticed a large hole, evidence of a collision. Luckily she was sitting upright so I quickly located the compressor at 62m and secured the second line. As I returned to the shot I came across the twin sets, cutting the rope that was tying them down we lifted them across the bottom of the shot. Whilst tying them off I clipped a bag on the line and started my ascent. After running the decompression I got onto the boat and briefed the team on the upcoming lift and carried out a dry run. We prepared the bags and lines on the boat then Gary entered the water. After 10 minutes the bags were on the surface. We lifted the compressor onto the boat, followed by the twin sets. The team then completed a second dive to free up the shot and on the way recovering the boats compass to return to the ships owner.

By Tim Lawrence, Davy Jones’ Locker

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