It was a great day of diving on one of Pattaya’s well known but rarely dived wrecks the Bremen when the idea of preserving the Suddhadib was born. Until recently the Suddhadib was known as the Hardeep. The name Hardeep is believed to have originated from the mispronunciation of her name by the foreign divers that dove on her during the Vietnam conflict. There are several stories concerning the World War II sinking of the Suddhadib that range from the French dropping bombs on it, to the Thai resistance fighters blowing it up.
It wasn’t until recently that Peter Walker uncovered the true history of this once proud local steamer and made it known to those of us that have a passion for diving on this wreck. The Suddhadib was built in 1918 and was named after the favourite and most beautiful daughter of King Rama the fifth in 1919. She was used to carry cargo and passengers around Thailand and Southeast Asia until she was appropriated by the Thai government in 1940 to support the war effort. On June 1, 1945, B24 bombers belonging to the RAF 159th bomber group based in India attacked Sattahip Harbour in a daylight multi-level bombing raid that sank several ships, one of which was the Suddhadib. The bombing records Peter uncovered show that she was sunk at approximately 12:55pm.
To get to the Suddhadib you leave from the quiet fishing port of Samaesan that is located in the gulf of Thailand, southeast of Sattahip, the boat ride takes about 30-minutes to get to the dive site. The Suddhadib currently lies in approximately 26m (85ft) of water on its starboard side with the port side at an approximate depth of 16m (52ft). Once you have fought the notorious currents to get to the Suddhadib you will find it well worth the effort while you view the abundant marine life and living coral that this magnificent wreck supports. For those of us that are qualified wreck divers, the large openings of the cargo hold and the engine room provides multiple entry points and make it possible to swim from one end to the other without leaving the interior of the ship.
Like all tourist attractions, the influx of divers is having an effect on the hull of this great diving location. Until a few years ago the only way the Suddhadib was found and dived on was to drop the boat anchor and snag it. Once you had it located and the anchor was secure, you used your anchor line as a shot line for your decent and ascent. When the dive was completed you pulled up your anchor, sometimes bringing up pieces of the ship with it. Needless to say, this has taken its toll on the hull of what remains of the Suddhadib. Nobody is really sure who installed the first mooring lines with buoys to the deck of the Suddhadib. Whoever it was started a process that has seen just about every dive operator, past and present, in Pattaya contribute to over the years. While the secured lines stopped boats from dropping their anchor in an attempt to snag the hull and made getting to and from the wreck easier for the divers, the lines brought about a different type of problem and damage to the wreck. Boats now tied up to these lines and the constant pulling on the lines when the dive boats were attached to them pulled sections of the hull apart. Fishing boats dragging nets now snagged the lines, which in turn pulled sections from the hull.
It was after seeing the damage that the Breman had sustained by anchors and fishing nets that the topic of saving the Suddhadib was discussed. Wayne Sutcliffe an instructor with the Mermaid’s Dive Center and I discussed the problem during the one-hour return boat ride to the Sattahip pier. The discussion revolved around the cheapest, simplest and easiest way to put in a mooring line that the boats could tie on to and be used as a shot line by the divers to gain access to the wreck. We also came to the conclusion two mooring locations were needed at one point would be insufficient due to the number of dive boats visiting on a daily basis. The anchor weights would be placed close enough to the wreck so that divers could see the shot lines when the current was incoming during their multi-level dive that would end at the top of the wreck, yet far enough away so the line would not contact the wreck when the current was outgoing. The problem was moving the amount of weight we thought we needed in a form we could manhandle both on Mermaid’s boat and underwater once it was dropped over the side. It was determined that the easiest and simplest way to move the amount of weight that was needed to the Mermaid’s Dive shop in Pattaya then to the dive site and next to the wreck, was to use 20-litre paint buckets filled with cement.
With the help of the Royal Thai Police Aviation Department, thirty empty paint buckets were purchased and filled with cement. Once filled, each bucket weighing 47 to 50 kg (104 to 110 lb), was then transported from Bangkok to the Mermaid’s Dive Center in Pattaya. To secure them together once dropped beside the Suddhadib, Wayne found a scrap dealer at the Samaesan port were he purchased approximately 50m (164ft) of 2.54cm (one-inch) steel cable and several used buoys that had been used by the local fishermen on their nets. The Royal Thai Navy supplied 30m (98ft) of 2.54cm (one-inch) nylon rope. Alex Beuchel supplied two plastic 23 litre (five-gallon) containers that would be used as the surface floats. The remaining clamps, chain and small items were purchased at a hardware shop in the village next to the pier. Everything was ready for the first real attempt to install a permanent shot line and mooring line on the Suddhadib.
Over the next several weekends the cement weights were transported to the Suddhadib on Mermaid’s Samaesan boat and dumped overboard, fifteen at the forward cargo hold area and fifteen at the stern. To take advantage of the opportunity Wayne used the weights as the object of a search and recovery exercise. Finding the weights and moving them to the desired location using lifting bags would put into practice the skills we needed to complete our search and recovery course. While this sounds like an easy task it was the first time several of us had worked underwater at any depth and the first time some had ever experienced nitrogen narcosis. During one search for the weights in bad visibility and a very strong current, we hooked our reel line to the location we wanted to return to with the weights. The dive plan was to search in an arc with divers on our search line placed at a distance where we could just see the last diver. The first diver was placed so he could just see the wreck, the second so he could just see the first diver and so on down the line. Whoever found the weights during our search would pull on the line and we would all meet at that location. Everything was working well and the weights were found at a depth of 31m (102ft) approximately 25m (82ft) from the wreck. We all showed up at the weights as planned, however, the first diver also brought the end of the line that was supposed to guide us back to the wreck and the location where the weights were to be placed. Now you have six divers, five lifting bags with 50kg (110lb) weights dangling below them, nonexistent visibility, a strong current and no line to follow back to the wreck. The realisation that we had no line to follow and might be lost dawned on five of us at the same time, as a group we first looked at each other then turned to Wayne. Wayne who, if it is possible to smile with a regulator in your mouth was grinning from ear to ear, had been watching over us like a mother hen with chicks, gathered us up and led us to the Suddhadib. Later back at the surface we asked the first diver why he disconnected our line. I don’t think I need to tell you what comments followed his reply of “it seemed like the thing to do at the time”. Several lessons were driven home in that thirty-minute dive. First, nitrogen narcosis is real and affects people differently, second always take a compass reading when you start so you know how to get back and last but not least leave the end of your reel connected!
We now had fifteen weights totaling 750kg (1,654lb) located at each end of the wreck. We decided the weights located next to the forward cargo hold would be where we would place the first shot line. The 26m (85ft)-line had floats secured at 2m (6½ft) intervals to help prevent it from getting tangled up in the wreck during slack current and low tide. The floats would also keep the line from dropping to the seabed if the main buoys disappeared. A length of chain 5m (16ft)-long was attached to the top of the rope, which was then attached to the plastic containers, once attached this completed step one of a two-part operation to save the Suddhadib.
The forward mooring line was working as planned, until one day it was reported to have “moved”. We found the weights had been dragged about 10m (33ft) away from the wreck, how they got there is anybody’s guess. Not being really sure how the weights were moved we realised we had to bury the weights in the sand to prevent them from being moved again in the future. Mermaid’s Diver Center volunteered to do what was necessary to get the mooring back into position and to bury the weights. When the team of divers arrived at the Suddhadib to start work, the weights, that weighed approximately 750kg (1,654lb), had disappeared. No one really knows what happened to the weights, whether the fishermen took them or they were dragged farther away by fishing nets is anyone’s guess. Wherever they went they were gone and it made us realise that we needed more weight.
The Royal Thai Police and Royal Thai Navy were again asked for help, this time for fifty weights, two buoys, and more rope. The new weights, when combined with the weight that was already at the stern of the wreck would give us approximately 3,000kg (6,614lb) and hopefully ensure that the mooring points did not get dragged off again. Our second attempt was going to be a larger, more organised operation, which would require all fifty weights and divers to be on one boat. The plan this time was to dump all the weights at one time, then divers would recover and secure the weights in position in one day. With eight divers, one photographer and all of the fifty weights on one large boat we departed for the Suddhadib and a hard day’s work of putting the weights in place.Once we arrived at the Hardeep two divers entered the water and placed marker-buoys at our drop point for the weights. We wanted this drop point to be as close to the final resting place for the weights as possible but yet far enough from the wreck so that we wouldn’t drop weights on to the wreck. Once the weights were dropped all divers using EANX 36 entered the water to locate, place and secure the weights. We found the weights scattered approximately 10m (33ft) in all directions from the dropping point and started to work. While three divers moved weights one diver placed them into position and threaded the cable through the centre. The work progressed smoothly with the forward mooring being completed in approximately in 45-minutes. The crews on the aft mooring area were on single tanks and were unable to complete the placing and securing process in a single dive. Due to delays encountered earlier in the morning, we were running out of daylight and would have to return the following day to complete the work. After two days of work, placing the weights in position was all that could accomplish as the strong currents the Suddhadib is noted for started to run. Several weeks passed before we were able to return and install the mooring lines and buoys and to remove the hand-lines that were attached to the Suddhadib.
Today there are two mooring points for the dive boats and two lines that divers can use to get to the Suddhadib. While diving on a wreck always has some element of risk these two lines will make the diving on the Suddhadib safer and will help preserve one of Thailand’s better diving locations for future divers. All of this work would not have been possible without the help and support we received from the Mermaids Dive Center in Pattaya Thailand and the divers that volunteered their time and effort. The divers involved in this project were: Tip (our photographer), Jeremiah Shultz (Baby), David Hildreth (Spudman), Peter Scott (PJ), John Williams, David Anderson (HMS), Phillip Tye, Alex Beuchel, Andy Llewellyn, Wayne Sutcliffe.
Raiders of the Lost Ark
There’s nothing quite like it. Ask anyone. First, in the shadows at the very edge of visibility, you notice an unnaturally straight line or geometrically regular shape not common to nature. Just moments later you come close enough to see the wreck you’re looking for materialising in front of you. For divers who have done their homework and researched the wreck, there is the additional awe of being in the immediate, physical presence of history.
For others – the fascination of the mysteries – What happened? Why did it sink? Who were the people sailing her, and what happened to them?
Yet others are attracted to wrecks by the abundant marine life that flourishes on these artificial reefs, the amazing photo, and video opportunities, while some are fascinated by wreck diving skills and techniques.
Regardless of the reasons, divers have always congregated in and around wrecks. You only need to look at the number of dive travel packages including wreck diving to see how popular it is.
Sure, traveling around the world wreck diving is great for those with the time and the means, but what about the rest of us? Well, one of the great things about wreck diving is that you don’t necessarily have to travel any farther than your local lake, river or nearby coastline to find some really interesting wrecks. A wreck worthy of a dive doesn’t have to be a battleship, freighter or even a boat because you can have exciting dives on “wrecks” such as sunken railway carriages, airplanes or automobiles.
Experienced wreck divers, however, will be the first to tell you that you need formal training to truly enjoy wreck diving because safe wreck diving requires some unique procedures, techniques and specialised equipment.
Wreck Diver Specialty
The Wreck Diver Specialty course helps you to get the most out of wreck diving and enables you to:
- demonstrate practical wreck diving knowledge, including recognising and avoiding potential hazards and planning procedures that make wreck diving fun.
- be aware of the wreck’s historical value and appreciate its cultural and maritime heritage, social and legal issues surrounding that value
- plan and organise dives to safely explore wrecks found within conditions as good as or better than those in which you have been trained; in comparable or shallower depths
- identify the hazards of wreck penetration diving and demonstrate techniques and procedures required to minimise potential hazards
The course uses a flexible approach to let instructors cover both the academic and practical information in a variety of ways. Instructors can present academic information prior to each dive or, if scheduling dictates, present all the material prior to the dives, only reminding divers of the key points before they enter the water.
Divers are privileged to have access to underwater sites that are part of our cultural heritage or maritime history. To preserve the sites for future generations, it is important to be informed, dive responsibly and treat shipwrecks with honour and respect. As a diver we should be responsible when exploring these submerged sites, looking after ourselves, the environment and the cultural heritage.