Former Australian Navy ship HMAS Tobruk has been scuttled off the Queensland coast, where it will become a dive site and tourist attraction.
The sinking had been rescheduled twice due to unfavourable weather conditions, but the 127-metre-long amphibious heavy-lift ship – the jewel in the Royal Australian Navy’s crown when it was purpose-built in the late 1970s – was finally sent to the bottom at the end of June, halfway between Bundaberg and Hervey Bay, and about 15 nautical miles off the coast.
Queensland Minister for the Environment and Great Barrier Reef Leeanne Enoch used a flare to signal for the scuttling to begin, before the valves were opened and the ship was flooded and sunk within 30 minutes. Hundreds of spectators had sailed out to see the vessel go down. It came to rest in 28m on its starboard side.
It was the culmination of a five-year local campaign to use a military vessel to create an artificial reef in the area. Project manager Steve Hoseck said it had taken months of work to reach this point, but the ship would be a unique drawcard for divers from across the world.
“It’s a very proud moment, but bittersweet too,” he said. “This dive is going to be like no other wreck in Australia. It is a massive void inside there, there’s huge areas for people to swim around in. There are lots of nooks and crannies for divers to explore, and the contractors have left behind as many historic items as possible to make this an authentic dive experience. You’ll be able to swim 110 metres in one direction inside the ship, and the wildlife that’s going to habitat this artificial reef is just going to be outstanding.”
Ex-HMAS Tobruk was decommissioned in 2015 after 35 years of service, mainly as an Atmy transport vessel.
Hervey Bay fisherman Nick Schulz came up with the idea for the wreck, and said it was needed to boost fishing and tourism. He said: “It’ll keep improving our fish stocks for the next 50 to 100 years, just that alone is worthwhile doing, let along all the tourism.”
Federal Member for Hinkler Keith Pitt, who lobbied for ex-HMAS Tobruk to be sunk in his electorate, said it was a fitting way for the former Navy vessel to continue its service. He commented: “For our service personnel, our sailors, for them it was home… it’s a very, very big deal. We said from the outset that we would treat the ship with the dignity that it deserves and I think we’ve done that. It’s been great that we’ve had the opportunity for so many people to reboard her and give one last visit, but it does have a new role to play for the Australian people, and that will be as a tourism facility for diving.”
It is hoped that divers will be able to dive the site as early as August.
Photo credit: Queensland Government and Subsea Works