THE skeletal frame of a sunken ship holds great appeal for "hard-core" wreck divers, veteran Tasmanian diver John Silberberg says.
Artificial reef wrecks formed by retired Australian navy ships have become major attractions in diving metropolitans across Australia, earning millions for the adjoining coastal economies.
It is hoped a plan to obtain the HMAS Tobruk and scuttle it at Skeleton Bay, on the East Coast, will bring diving tourists to the island state, revive tourism in a regional area, and make it the temperate diving capital of Australia.
Proponents, including the St Helens Chamber of Commerce and Tourism and the Skeleton Bay Artificial Reef group, are sourcing $60,000 for a detailed feasibility study.
Mr Silberberg, a diving photographer, has dived ship wrecks, including the Troy D artificial reef, near Maria Island.
"One of the things about diving an artificial wreck (as opposed to a wild wreck) is that it is made a lot safer, with easy access into all the spaces," Mr Silberberg said.
"Some like cave diving, some people live for the coral reefs, and some like diving wrecks, and for those people, if it hasn't got rust on it, they don't want to know about it."
Mr Silberberg said the colder waters of Tasmania offered some of the best dive experiences.
"We don't have any of the coral reefs but our diving can be more colourful, and that surprises most people," Mr Silberberg said.
"It is not so much the fish, but everything that grows on our reefs that is more brightly coloured, and we have an incredible range of invertebrate life."
Mr Silberberg said the bigger attraction for former navy vessel wrecks was the history attached to the ships.
"The HMAS Tobruk is a big landing craft, it is a war ship and obviously has got guns poking out, is one of the longest serving ships in the history of the Australian Navy and from an aficionado's point of view, is very interesting," he said.
"The Tobruk ticks the boxes ... but I'm not sure how it would go (in Tasmania). If it is successful it will be very successful, but it is going to require a lot of marketing."
Skeleton Bay Artificial Reef proponent Peter Paulsen, who also owns the Bay of Fires Dive at St Helens, said the chosen site "in the jaws of Skeleton Bay" is ideal.
"It is close to existing infrastructure, the depth of the water is perfect, it will not displace any other life on the bottom, and is protected from tidal flush and other weather influences, making it accessible for diving for many days of the year," Mr Paulsen said.
"People will be wanting to dive at this site soon after it hits the bottom."
Mr Paulsen said divers would photograph it soon after its sinking, and then come back 12 months later, to photograph the changes that take place in that time.
He said sea life begins to grow and flourish within the first three to five days of the scuttling.
"It will grow a peach fuzz all over the boat, and from then on, it will be a magnet for sea life, becoming an organic basis for everything else to grow in," he said.
"Whatever lives within that general area will want to go live on this vessel."
But costings for such a project are not minimal, with estimates of previous Australian navy vessel scuttling costing up to $10 million.
Mr Paulsen said the clean up process, to ensure the vessel meets environmental standards, was a big job.
"The cleaning of the vessel is imperative and it is a meticulous clean up. All contaminants are removed, from the wiring and batteries, to oils and grease."
But enthusiasm for the project is not shared by everyone.
Former professional diver Rob McIntyre, of St Helens, said he is concerned about the impact a sunken vessel would have on the environment, and did not see any value in ship wrecks. Mr McIntyre said the East Coast already had great natural diving assets.
"It is another way of getting rid of our old junk and I'm quite sure that the metal in that ship could be used in a better way," Mr McIntyre said.
"We don't know enough about what happens when this metal breaks down in the water, and what it does to the ecology.
"There are some iconic beaches in that area and it would be a travesty if those beaches were covered in bits of broken boat, and bits of metal that rolled about in a storm."
Fellow diver Mr Silberberg said he had no environmental qualms with artificial reefs because he knew the clean-up requirements were strict.
"Artificial reefs attract a great variety of marine life to an area, and can actually improve the environmental conditions for small fish to breed and live in protection," he said.