Wreck Discovery in the Gulf of Thailand
There was little to forewarn the fate that would strike the lone cargo ship on the pre-dawn morning on 12 June 1942, as it sailed at a leisurely 9 knots in the Gulf of Thailand. Most of the crew had retired to their quarters, and the night appeared to hold promise of being yet an uneventful one for the Burma Maru. Only, it was not meant to be.
The USS Swordfish, a US Navy submarine, had the Burma Maru in its sights. On board, Lietuanent Commander Chester Carl Smith eyed it on the console, awaiting the perfect moment to make his move. The first two torpedos had missed the vessel, which appeared not to even have noticed them.
At 4.34am, once the commander saw an opportunity, he immediately gave the order to strike.
In the explosions and chaos that resulted, the 117m Burma Maru and its entire crew perished, swallowed by the angry waves of the ocean. The seas had claimed yet another victim.
Fast forward to the year 2017...
In February, a team of divers and videographers made their way to their dive boat, equipment in tow. They were from diverse backgrounds, but were united in a singular quest – to locate the wreck of the Burma Maru and tell its story to the world.
Led by Dennis Funke from The Dive Shop Cambodia, the team comprised Tim Lawrence and Leon Webber from Davy Jones Tech, and Oliver Zaiser, Mikko Paasi and Ivan Karadzic from Koh Tao Tech Divers.
Funke had done extensive research on the backgrounds of US Navy ships in the World War Two era and made inquiries with the local fishermen to find out where their nets had hit snags underwater. His investigations led him to the USS Swordfish and subsequently the Burma Maru.
“Basically, in the war reports, there’s only one very interesting shipwreck and that’s the one we found,” he said.
That evening, they set off on their mission, heading southwest. Forty-eight hours into the trip, they reached their destination. Since the boat was not equipped with a sounder, the team improvised by putting the transducer on a metal stick and securing it to the side. Within 15 minutes, a large return on the device told everyone that they had hit pay dirt. It was time to start diving!
Beneath the waves, the conditions were not as calm as they were at the surface. Two by two, the divers descended and got their first look at the wreck, which lay at 60 metres' depth. On the dives on the first day, the team came across an old porthole, a telegraph, an eight-metre brass propeller.
Hopes ran high that this wreck was indeed the Burma Maru, and this proved to be the general consensus after the team viewed the video footage taken by Paasi. Not too bad for a day's worth of diving.
The following day, they anchored 200 metres off the wreck's leeward side. The forecast was positive and the morning broke in a gentle swell.
The current racing as the teams entered the water. At the bottom, visibility fell to 10 metres. The divers discovered that the bridge had collapsed in on itself and nature was steadily overrunning the ship. Towards the bow, there was damage on the port side, as the twisted metal vanished and blended into the distant sediment. Due to the limited time, the divers could not investigate farther. Well, at least not on this particular expedition.
Needless to say, the team is already planning their next expedition to the wreck.
A very special thank you goes to Dive Shop Cambodia which provided the team with all gases for the "Burma Maru" Expedition!