Two days later with enthusiasm, Nitrox tanks and a team of six divers, we headed 2 hours north along the coast from Kota Kinabalu to Usukan Bay. We had done our homework and found that these Japanese cruisers wrecks were sunk in 1944 by two American submarines, the USS Darter and the USS Dace. Given the size of these war-relics, ranging from 15 m to 250m in length, plus the fact that they had been underwater now for over 45 years, we knew the dives were going to be spectacular.
As we reached the site, our curiosity peaked. There were local fishing boats around the site, as the wrecks are natural aggregates for fish life. Locating the wrecks requires great skill and the use of a GPS receiver and sonar equipment, as there are no buoy markers. Our first wreck was the “Upside Down Wreck”. After a descent shotline was in place, we eagerly grabbed our cameras and descended back into history.
We were lucky that Mother Nature had granted us excellent visibility, and the wreck seemed to go on forever. We just couldn’t believe the sheer size of it! The cruiser was barely visible behind schooling bigeye jacks and rainbow runners. The shallowest part of the wreck was at 25m and the deepest sat in the sand at approximately 42m. As we explored it we came across bullets strewn along the lower deck. Then a huge surprise – the biggest grouper that any of us had ever seen swam lazily by, opening its mouth grumpily once or twice as if to warn us of its presence.
Pumping with adrenaline after this sudden encounter, we swam with lionfish as schools of glassfish darted among the many yellow coral bushes. The wreck was adorned with sponges, daisy coral, whip coral and soft coral which made the dive a kaleidoscope of colour. Banded coral shrimps were seen in the ship’s funnel, while near the sandy bottom, a whitetip reef shark swam by. Cobias darted frantically around the wreck looking for easy meals. As we came up from the dive we had only one complaint: not enough bottom time! It was one of the best wreck-dives, as conditions were near perfect and the marine life was abundant. It would take many dives to explore the whole wreck; something we definitely want to do in the future.
After patiently waiting the required 90-minutes surface interval, we eagerly descended to “The Rice Bowl”, located very close to the previous wreck. Here a school of batfish greeted us, followed by a shoal of barracuda. On closer inspection of the wreck, scorpionfish were seen camouflaged among the encrusting growth. Once again, the fish life was incredible. Looking into the portholes, you can make out the broken rice bowls, from which this wreck obtained its name.
The wrecks will provide you with a unique and memorable dive experience. However it is recommended that you choose experienced dive operators and have, at least, an advanced dive certification (Nitrox certification is encouraged).