The Gulf of Thailand's 'Hidden' Wrecks
When it comes to wreck diving in the Gulf of Thailand, two ships usually come to mind: the HTMS Khram, off Koh Phai, and the Hardeep, off Samae San. What most divers don’t realize, however, is that the Gulf of Thailand has a number of other wrecks waiting to be explored.
The most famous of these “hidden” wrecks is the Pak 1 or Koho Maru No. 5. Most divers, however, knew it simply as “the vertical wreck.” Now lying in 42 meters of water, this Japanese-built LPG tanker once literally stood on its propeller straight up and down 50 km southwest of Koh Chang, similar to the closing scene in the movie “Titanic.” It was an incredible experience for divers and the extraordinary visibility and abundance of marine life made it famous among divers worldwide.
The Pak 1 sank in late 1995 or early 1996 after running aground and being rammed by another vessel. Rather than break up, the ship simply sank engines first and the LNG in the front tanks propped up the ship on its stern. The result was a truly unique dive site, with visibility of up to 40 m and schools of barracuda and batfish. The bow of the ship was only 5 m down with the wheelhouse at 52 m.
But a ship in such a bizarre position doesn’t stay that way for long and in February 2001 the LPG started to leak out. Then the 60-meter vessel actually refloated with its bow 6 meters of above the waterline and began drifting toward Cambodia.
Quickly deemed a navigation hazard, the Thai Navy towed the Pak 1 back toward Thailand, removed the fuel tanks and sank it again . . . horizontally. The wreck new lies a few hours sailing south from Mae Phim Beach in Rayong Province in 42 meters with the top of at 25 meters. That puts it basically out of reach for recreational divers.
Not for technical divers, however. Despite its horizontal position, the ship remains an interesting dive; albeit one with many hazards. The wreck was not totally stripped of wires, hoses and such. Passageways are quite narrow and the silt conditions can change in a blink of an eye. Visibility runs 1-15m. Most divers choose a nitrox mix of 28% to dive with.
Unlike diving near Pattaya, the Pak 1 site has a very obvious termocline at about 25-35 meters. Visibility is very good above it, running up to 30 meters, but below silt storms and water conditions can bring visibility down to near zero. Like most thermoclines, conditions vary in depth and severity. It might not be there when you dive it or its effects might be much worse. Take torches and note the main mooring line is connected to the bow. There’s nothing to look at there, so head for the crew quarters on descent.
The tip of the aft radar mast is sometimes visible at about 25 meters. Veer off to it before hitting the deck. The aft crew area is painted white and the stern of the ship has good penetration possibilities, although you’ll have to go gear off get to the good areas. A twin set plus deco should see the average techie inside for 45 mins plus. Just beware for silt.
On the other side of the Gulf is the lesser known, but very interesting “pottery wreck.” Very little of the wooden structure is actually left. However, scattered across the bottom of the ocean are thousands of pieces of pottery.
On one recent dive, the visibility was unbelievable. The closer we got to the bottom all we could see is pottery strewn everywhere. Dives used a 25% helium / 20 % oxygen mixture to give us a 40 meter END. Bottom time was 30 minutes and the entire half hour was spent scouring the bottom. Of all the Gulf’s wrecks, this was the most outstanding dive of them all.
The pottery found was 400 years old and of Thai origin. This information was given to us by a museum that specializes in artifacts from the sea.
That same evening, we moved boat to the next dive site. Tanks were filled, gear prepared and dinner served. Then, as the sky darkened, the fishing poles came out. We woke up the next morning to baskets full of grouper. The sun was up and the smell of bacon and eggs filled the air. Everyone ate breakfast quickly, anticipating their first dive to this site.
We dove in teams of two, one team going east, the other west. We tied off on the descent line and reeled out. The wreck was lying on its port side, a position it seemed to have been in for many years. The ship was made of steal and was quite large. As expected in Thailand, there were quite a few fishing nets draped over the vessel, so any penetration would be to a minimum on this dive.
Once back on board had our post-dive meeting. The first team said they found numerous large bombs near the wreck. After further discussion we concluded the wreck likely dates from World War II. Later we were contacted by the U.S. Navy which wanted us to show us the wreck.