Long road ahead for scuttling of East Coast dive wreck

Following years of campaigning, Tasmania has been offered a decommissioned Royal Australian Navy vessel to be turned into a dive wreck.

However, there’s still a long road ahead before diving enthusiasts will be able to experience the HMAS Darwin scuttle for themselves.

HMAS Tobruk

In 2016, Tasmania missed out on securing former Navy vessel the HMAS Tobruk as a dive wreck for the East Coast.

The HMAS Tobruk was decommissioned in July 2015.

During its 34-year operation, the ship sailed more than 940,000 nautical miles and was deployed on more than 26 major operations.

Tobruk 4 Tassie project manager, now St Helens Chamber of Commerce president, Peter Paulsen had been rallying for a dive wreck on the East Coast since 2013, and was “absolutely gutted” at the news that Queensland was instead selected by the federal government as the Tobruk’s new location.

The ship was scuttled off Queensland’s Fraser Coast on June 29, 2018 after nine months of planning.

HMAS Darwin

After losing the HMAS Tobruk, Mr Paulsen’s campaign turned to securing the HMAS Darwin as a dive wreck for Skeleton Bay.

HMAS Darwin was deployed to the Middle East region seven times, and was also deployed to East Timor in 1999 and the Solomon Islands in 2001.

In 1990, it was the first Australian ship to be deployed to the Persian Gulf.

HMAS Darwin was the fourth of six Adelaide-class guided missile frigates, and was commissioned in July 1984.

After more than 33 years of service and one million nautical miles sailed, the HMAS Darwin was decommissioned on December 9, 2017.

Vessel Offered

It was announced that Tasmania had been offered the ex-navy vessel on August 9.

Defence Minister Marise Payne said the wreck would bring significant economic and tourism benefits to the region.

Break O’Day mayor Mick Tucker said the scuttling of the ship would help make St Helens the action capital of Tasmania.

“We were heavily involved in the push to secure the ex-HMAS Tobruk as a dive wreck for Tasmania so we understand the benefits an artificial dive wreck can have, not just in terms of the financial but also in terms of the environment,” he said.

“We look forward to seeing the state government’s proposal for the ex-HMAS Darwin dive wreck and working with them to deliver positive outcomes for our community, region, and state.”

Next steps

State Growth Minister Peter Gutwein said the state government welcomed the federal government’s offer of the HMAS Darwin as a potential dive wreck.

“Now that access to the ship has been confirmed, the [state government] will undertake the necessary due diligence to assess the total cost to the state associated with the vessel’s scuttling, prior to making a final decision whether to proceed or not,” he said.

“The [state government] will continue to work with the Commonwealth on funding arrangements for the vessel’s scuttling and any potential dive site.”

Prior to the scuttling of the HMAS Tobruk, preparations were undertaken to ensure any materials harmful to the environment were removed, and that the site would be safe for divers. 

This included the removal of fuels, oils, greases, hazardous materials, and items that could break loose during the scuttling process.

However, the potential scuttling of the HMAS Darwin was not welcomed by all in the East Coast community due to concerns about the environment and costs involved. 

North East Bioregional Network president Todd Dudley said the area already had a large number of tourists, and it was not acceptable to use the ocean as a dumping ground for “redundant navy ships or other waste”.

He said the battle to stop the scuttling of the ship "was not over”.