Diving at Sangat Island

This article was written to complement a collection of photographs taken by Roger Day, which can be viewed by clicking here 

In August 2007, Peter Webb, James Cobbett and myself (Roger Day) organised a dive trip to Sangat Island in the Philippines. We were accompanied by Steve McCarthy, one of RA’s mates from Perth W.A., and my mate Bob Pybus who had flown in from Malaysia. RA and Steve arrived from Perth, while James had flown in from Panama.  We were all here to dive the WW2 wrecks in Coron Bay in the Calamian Islands in central Philippines. I was based in Manila at the time and this is where the team assembled on 2nd August. The following day we flew out of Manila down to Busuanga Island, on board a small twin turbo Russian bush plane (Let 410) which carried about 12 passengers. At Busuanga airport we loaded our kit into a Jeepney and drove for an hour or so to Coron town where we boarded a Bangka (local outrigger boat), for the final leg to Sangat Island. Sangat Island is a small rocky island in Coron Bay on which Brit Andy Pownal owns and runs a dive resort which was to be our base for the next few days, and is only a very short boat ride from most of the wrecks.

Map of Coron Bay with main wrecks illustrated

The wrecks are all WW2 Japanese ship, mostly military cargo vessels, but including a tanker and refrigerated provisions ship. Only one of the ships was a naval ship, IJNS Akitsushima, and this is perhaps the most interesting of these wrecks. Akitsushima is a flying boat tender capable of hoisting on board the huge 4 engined Emily class flying boats used for very long range maritime reconnaissance across the vast tracts of the Pacific Ocean. Japan was the only combatant nation to use this kind of mobile base for supporting flying boat operations, and ordered three of these ships. However Akitsushima was the only one to be completed, commissioned and to become operational before the war ended.  She is thus quite unique.

Artists impression of IJNS Akisushima

Over the next few days we dived on most of the wrecks, including Akitsushima, which lies on her port side and allows some superb penetration dives through the full length of the wreck at about 20m. The tanker Taiei Maru is also an interesting dive at about the same depth and the usual route is to enter the wreck though the prop shaft tunnel from the stern below the rudder and swim the length of the stern tube into the engine room. From there it is possible to continue forward through the cavernous oil tanks to emerge on deck by the midships accommodation. Then it is back into the cargo tanks and forward emerging where the bow of the wreck is broken and thus ascend the shotline on the bow.

Triple gun mount at the base of the crane on Akitsushima

A gauge panel in  the  engine  room of Akitsushima

The most challenging dive is the Japanese Army refrigerated provisions ship Irako. This is the deepest wreck, with the bow at about 50m.  It sits upright and has been little salvaged. The engine room at 45m is still full of machinery and catwalks and a workshop on the port side has a lathe and other machine tools still intact. But no hint of sunlight penetrates this part of the wreck, which is slightly worrying, and it is with some relief that swimming through a narrow doorway finally reveals the glow of daylight above. But soon it was time to leave, and settling our respective bar bills at the resort came as a bit of a shock.

In the engine room of Irako

In the engine room of Irako

Roger Day   Cambridge, 2021

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