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February 4th 2014

03 Feb 2014 ="post-tag" > Written by  ="post-tag" >

Local wrecks for technical divers
unicorn-wreckThe last few blog posts have all been about the wrecks that lie in and around the waters of Koh Tao. They all have one thing in common- they are all accessible to recreational divers. By that I mean that the wrecks are shallow enough for recreational divers to visit, and swim around the outside only- wreck speciality courses offered by PADI and SSI do not adequately prepare divers for entering inside a wreck.
There are loads of other wrecks in the Gulf of Thailand, but they are all strictly off limits to recreational divers, mainly due to their increased depth; if you want to explore them, you'll need to be a technical diver, conversant with decompression procedures. Here's a brief overview of two of the most popular wrecks frequented by tech divers near Koh Tao.
The unicorn, also known as the dog food wreck, lies at a depth of 50 metres, one mile to the North of Mango bay (the northernmost point of Koh Tao). It's a steel-hulled freighter that was skuttled in 1989 in order for the owners to claim on the insurance. However, shortly after sinking, the insurance company smelled a rat and had some tech divers go and investigate. Contrary to popular belief, it was not carrying tins of cheap dog food instead of the expensive tuna claimed by the owners on the insurance form. It was indeed carrying tuna, but only for pets to consume, rather than humans. Bad luck skuttlers!
The wreck is 60 metres long, and leans 60 degrees to port. It used to be covered in fishing nets, but these have since been removed. The wreck has always been a challenge to penetrate due to the tightness of the entry points, but today it is pretty much impossible, as the wreck has degraded structurally and is thick with visibility-reducing silt inside.
This challenging dive serves as a stark reminder that it is off limits to recreational divers, as there have been a number of instances of inadequately trained succumbing to serious diving related injuries whilst attempting to dive it, with one person unfortunately getting lost in the engine room and dying in 1996. The Thai Navy had to recover his body. Your No Decompression Limit (NDL) at 50 metres on a single tank is 1 minute, whilst breathing 6 times the amount of gas per breathe compared with at the surface.. definitely not a good idea on a single tank.
But with correct training, it's an amazing experience to dive the Unicorn, with huge shoals of red snapper and barracuda circling around you as you complete your decompression obligation.
Another amazing wreck is the Torpedo. It's a 60 metre Japanese cargo vessel that sank in the mid-seventies, and lies two hours North of Koh Tao. It sits upright at 55 metres and has two large cargo holds on the main deck. A collapsed crane can be seen on the main deck, and the whole thing is covered in fishing nets encrusted with coral. I dived it last May and there was a huge school of barracuda circling around us on the main deck. The reason it was nicknamed the torpedo is that it was carrying a cargo of teak logs.
Now this is just scratching the surface of the wrecks available to technical divers in the Gulf of Thailand. Others include the HTMS Pangan, Hishidaiya Maru, C47 Aircraft Wreck, Davy Jones, Akita Maru, Big Boy maru, Tottori Maru, Inverted wreck, Brick Maru, Bitumen Wreck, Wankey Tankey, and the Dumb Dumb Maru. All of them challenging dives, and none of them have been dived for a long time. They are just waiting to be explored again, and it would be fascinating to see what condition they are in. The best news is that the person who has all the gps co-ordinates for these wrecks is one of our very own boat captains!
If you would like to explore these wrecks, you'll need to become a fully qualified tech diver, with an advanced wreck certification. Big Blue Tech can teach you all the courses you will need to be able to dive these wrecks. If you'd like more information on the TDI courses that we offer, contact James at Big Blue Tech here. It starts with Intro to tech. You need to have logged 25 dives and be an advanced open water diver. Each course progresses on from the next, until you are a fully qualified extended range or trimix diver. Then you can go off and see some of these bad boys for yourself!

Unleaded dive sites?
On the theme of wrecks, the marine branch of the local environmental organisation Save Koh Tao, has recently concluded that not enough marine life has grown on the HTMS Sattakut in the almost three years since it was sunk as an artificial reef. So volunteers have begun scraping off the paint in an attempt to coax coral into attaching itself to the hull. I've heard a number of people say that this is about as environmentally friendly as allowing Joseph Fritzl to present an episode of crimewatch. The reason? Lead paint. Having taken a cursory glance, it seems that lead is still very much an additive in paint manufactured in Thailand, despite international efforts to remove it. Research published late in 2013 by the Ecology Alert and Recovery Thailand Foundation (Earth), concluded that levels of lead in paint manufactured in Thailand exceeded Thai Industrial Standards Institute (Tisi) limits by a huge margin. 40% of all samples taken were over 100 times greater than the maximum allowed levels. only 15 out of 42 paint manufacturers adhered to Tisi standards. It doesn't exactly help that the Tisi operates on a system of voluntary compliance.
However, I am unsure as to whether the Thai Navy uses Thai manufactured paint to protect it's fleet of ships from the elements, that may or may not contain lead. IF it does, then it doesn't matter how carefully Save Koh Tao volunteers attempt to dispose of the paint that flakes off from the Sattakut, lead will enter the local eco-system.
However, when you think about it, it really doesn't matter whether it's scraped off. If there is lead in the paint, leaving it on the Sattakut won't prevent it from entering the local eco system as the wreck is slowly consumed by the ocean. So actually scraping the paint off and taking it in bags back to the surface will actually minimise lead leaching into the ocean.
We have a certain Thomas Midgely to thank for lead being added to paint. He was a one-man walking environmental disaster, first to utilise CFCs for use in refrigeration, adding lead to petrol, and paint. If any one person has caused more damage to the environment, it's him. 

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