The Sanko Maru… The wreck of this armed WWII Japanese freighter lays in shallow water off the fringing reef on the southern side of Tunnung Island. Sank by Allied B-25 Mitchell bombers in 1944, the wreck has become a testament to the rich waters of the Bismarck Sea and Pacific Ocean that sweep the north-west coast of New Hanover.
The Sanko Maru Wreck – The Sinking…
When Japan invaded Papua New Guinea in January 1941, they landed first at Kavieng in New Ireland. And soon after at Rabaul, in nearby New Britain. A relatively small, but very strategic, military base was established by the Japanese in Kavieng. Enabling them to guard what was effectively the back-door of the overall invasion.
So when the tide of war in the Pacific changed at the end of 1943, Kavieng became a key target as the allied forces counter-attacked. Major air raids were carried out on Kavieng by squadrons of B-25 Mitchell bombers on the 11th February, 1944. And over the next few days the base, together with its fleet of sea-planes, was destroyed.
Those air raids were followed up on the 16th February. When six squadrons of bombers went in search of a 14-ship Japanese convoy heading for the area. The Sanko Maru was one of three vessels from that convoy that were found in Three Island Harbour, on the north-western tip of New Hanover.
The Sanko Maru was the first to be attacked by the B25’s with their 500lb bombs and was quickly sunk. The image above shows the ship engulfed in flames. While, to the right, is the unidentified submarine that was reported by the air crews. We now know that it was a Type C midget submarine, which was eventually found in 1987.
The Sanko Maru was apparently one of the Japanese “Hell Ships”. Requisitioned merchant ships used to transport prisoners of war under absolutely appalling conditions!
The Sanko Maru Wreck – Diving It…
The wreck of 400 feet long, 5461 ton, freighter lays on its starboard side in 22m of water and is literally covered in rich soft corals and gorgonian sea fans.
The sheer density of the marine growth on the wreck is stunning! It rates very high on my personal “wreck scale” and the only negative is the visibility – which rarely exceeds 10 to 15m. Probably because of the run-off from the nearby islands.
Damage from those 500lb bombs is clearly evident throughout the wreck. Plus the Sanko Maru was stripped of its propellers and boilers by salvage divers many years ago.
The wreck is easy to dive and the upward facing side of the ship is in just 6m of water. So safety stops are very easy.
The Sanko Maru really does warrant a lot of exploration…
But often does not get the attention it deserves because the star of the show is the nearby Type C midget submarine.
The wreck is dived by Lissenung Island Resort as part of their special New Hanover “specials” – where they visit the best sites in the area and explore for new ones.
Alternatively the MV Febrina liveaboard dives both New Ireland and New Hanover on a regular basis and the wrecks are included in those itineraries.
Altogether, with the nearby midget submarine, the Sanko Maru is an incredible dive!
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