Keen divers, regardless of their experience or skill, know that many of the richest coral reefs around the world have grown around shipwrecks. The coastline around Sri Lanka, especially areas closeto past and present harbours, hides hundreds of shipwrecks, dating back even to the days of sailing ships and steamships!
For divers, whether experienced or beginners with a keen interest in trying it out, one of the things to do in Hikkaduwa is to visit one or more of these easily accessible dive sites. Down South, the best time to do some diving is between November and May. It’s also best that you undertake these dives under the guidance of a licensed dive Master. Below are some of the most popular and interesting dive sites!
The SS Conch
The best known and easiest wreck to get to, it takes a boat trip of about 45 minutes to reach this site. The wreck lies at a maximum depth of 20m. The story behind the eventual sinking of this ship is that, on 3 June 1903, while en-route to Madras (Chennai) from Novorossisk, a port in the Black Sea, Southern Russia, the ship hit the Akurala rock off the coast of Hikkaduwa. Bleeding her cargo of several thousand tons of bulk oil (which may well have been an environmental disaster interestingly enough) the ship sank quite fast, after almost breaking in two. To date, there are encrusted bits of iron, part of the superstructure, still littered about on the seabed. Divers report that the steam engine block, boilers, propellers, and propeller shafts can still be identified. Marine life which has been spotted include snappers, angelfish, porcupinefish, triggerfish, moray eels, and groupers, all of which would be exciting to spot.
The Earl of Shaftesbury
This four-mast, timber sailing ship, is one of the oldest ship wrecks off the coast of Sri Lanka. It sank in May 1893, in close proximity to the wreckage of the SS Conch. It seems that the Akurala area has proved to be quite hazardous for ships who came in close to the coast, possibly to avoid bad weather. The Earl of Shaftesbury was carrying cargo from Bombay (Mumbai) to Diamond Island (Cambodia or Myanmar). The wreckage lies at a depth of around 12-14m., with smaller pieces scattered around on what is a largely flat and sandy seabed. The hull of the ship along with some of the masts, and parts of the cabin can be identified. On a sunny day, when the light penetrates down into the water, this can prove to be a very scenic, almost surreal dive. Marine life around the coral growths include stingray, grouper, small schools of snapper, lionfish and porcupinefish. Divers have even reported that if you are brave enough to peek into the portholes, you will see silver batfish and barracuda zigzagging inside the structure.
This is the third well known wreck diving site off Hikkaduwa. The SS Norsa is a steam ship that sank in 1889. It lies at a depth of 15m, on a rocky part of the seabed, known as Passi Gala. Lying as it does close to the other two wrecks mentioned above, the marine life is much the same, while the coral formations have their own unique beauty. The boat trip can take 35 minutes.
The Ralagala Wreck
More adventurous divers can head down to the Galle harbour area where well known wrecks such as the SS Rangoon and the SS Orestes lie. Here is also a wreck often referred to as the “no-name” wreck. It is named after the rocks found where the waves break. The undersea rock formations also host corals and marine life. The detritus from the wreck such as oil barrels, parts of the power drive, and fairly intact parts of the hull. You can spend many hours to study this great conch, enjoying the tragic beauty that permeates it.
This wreck lies at Dodanduwa, which is a 15 minute trip further down the coast road. The SS Aenos, as its name suggests, has been identified as a freighter of Greek origin. It is also suggested that it was a Liberian cargo steamer which ran aground and was wrecked when about 3 nautical miles off the coast of Galle. She was carrying a cargo of 6000 tons of Manganese, and was also a victim of the rock called “Rala Gala.” She sank on 4th March 1956, making it a fairly recent wreck.