PHANTOMS OF THE PAST
It is estimated there are more than two hundred shipwrecks around the Island of Sri Lanka. A fraction of those have been explored and documented. Most of the wrecks near Trincomalee are victims of World War II, but two of the ships, the SS Worcestershire and SS
Perseus, are found near Colombo and hold a significant place in World War I history.
During WWI, the SMS Wolf was singlehandedly responsible for destroying 37 vessels. Two of these were warships and the others were trading vessels. The SMS Wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing by disguising her guns behind false sides, and concealing a singleengine biplane which was used to spot potential victims. In February 1917, she laid a minefield near Colombo harbour. Two ships fell victim to the mines, the Bibby liner, SS Worcestershire, and the SS Perseus, a 6,700-ton steamer. Both were merchant vessels serving Great Britain, and both sustained loss of life.
Now, 100 years later, the SS Perseus rests 35–40 metres beneath the surface. It is a hauntingly beautiful wreck. Nearly torn in three, the hull is twisted and contorted, giving the impression that it suffered a brutal death.
But in death the ship is given a new life as it has become a lush artificial reef. The wreck is located 15 kilometres off shore, beyond the reaches of a recreational day boat. For this reason it has been dived by very few people.
But now the new Sri Lanka Aggressor makes it possible for divers to visit regularly.
Along with historical sites, there are many interesting wrecks that lie within recreational dive limits. One of the most popular is the Pecheur Breton, commonly known as the Colombo Cargo Wreck. This ship is a magnificent artificial reef that lies on its port side, 18–32 metres beneath the surface. Lost to the sea in 1991 just six kilometres west of Colombo, it is one of the best wreck dives in Sri Lanka, and
I am eager to explore it.
Each wreck we dive is exhilarating in its own way. We explore the Nilgiri Tug, an upside down tug boat characterised by two propellers and large lionfish, who are the caretakers of the grave. The Wallet wreck is a strange symmetrical vessel lacking any sign of a propeller or rudder, making it hard to discern the stern from the bow. The MV Chief Dragon is a huge vehicle carrier covered with the remains of badly deteriorated vehicles.
The MV Thermopylae Sierra, which rests near Colombo and is only partially submerged, stands out like a beacon above and below the waterline, and the Medhufaru, on whose deck rests a fully intact backhoe, beckons divers to discover her mysteries.
In addition to these relics of the past, there is a great deal of marine life in the waters of
Sri Lanka. There are 11 species of whales and 15 species of dolphins residing in the surrounding waters. Large rays, giant trevally and surgeonfish are common, as are pufferfish, moray eels, schooling batfish, and lionfish. Baitballs form around the wrecks pulsating in a synchronised rhythm of colour. It is clear that this ocean graveyard is resplendent with life.
Deck and railings on the
A diver swims through the upside down bridge of the