Destroyer wreck-dive restrictions lifted

Diving on ex-HMAS Hobart wreck (Government of South Australia)
Diving on ex-HMAS Hobart wreck (Government of South Australia)

Yesterday brought news of discoveries on South Australia’s oldest-known shipwreck, sunk in 1837 and with diving restricted to archaeologists – but now the state government has announced that it is ditching restrictions on those sports divers hoping to explore one of its more recent wrecks.

Also read: The joys of wreck-diving

For more than 20 years, Department for Environment & Water (DEW) permits have been required to dive within 550m of HMAS Hobart, but this protected zone has now been removed. The 133m-long destroyer wreck is located in the Rapid Head Sanctuary Zone of Encounter Marine Park on Fleurieu Peninsula, an hour’s drive from Adelaide.

“The HMAS Hobart is regarded as one of South Australia’s – if not Australia’s – premier dive-sites, so the decision to remove the protected zone is a huge win for the local area,” said senior maritime heritage officer Mark Polzer. “This decision is expected to attract the diving community in droves, benefitting the heritage tourism economy of the region.”

HMAS Hobart
HMAS Hobart in San Diego in 1992.

The Charles F Adams-class guided-missile destroyer was built in Michigan, USA and launched in 1964. Purchased by the Royal Australian Navy for US $45 million and commissioned in Boston the following year, HMAS Hobart (D 39) completed three tours of duty off Vietnam in 1967, 1968 and 1970, earning the nickname the Green Ghost. 

During the middle tour, two sailors lost their lives and seven others were injured when the destroyer was hit by friendly fire.

Gifted to South Australia

In June 2000 the decommissioned Hobart was gifted to South Australia by the Federal Department of Defence, to be prepared and scuttled as a “world-class” artificial reef for scuba divers. 

She was towed from Port Adelaide to Yankalilla Bay and sank upright in fewer than three minutes through controlled flooding, on 5 November, 2002. Sitting at a depth of 30m, the wreck reaches to within 8m of the surface.

Last moments at the surface of ex-HMAS Hobart destroyer, now a popular wreck (Government of South Australia)
Last moments at the surface of ex-HMAS Hobart (Government of South Australia)

The following month Hobart was declared a historic shipwreck and the protected zone was set up, although a 12-month diving permit was not regarded as difficult for wreck-divers to obtain.

Although scuba diving no longer requires permission, other prohibitions such as fishing are maintained within Encounter Marine Park. “This is to ensure continued protection of the marine life that calls the shipwreck home,” said DEW marine parks regional co-ordinator Jon Emmett of the well-populated attraction. 

“Marine-park rangers from the National Parks & Wildlife Service regularly patrol the HMAS Hobart to ensure fishing restrictions are adhered to, and the wreck and marine life is conserved for everyone’s enjoyment,” he said. “For a safe and enjoyable experience, rangers recommend that divers use the services of an experienced, accredited dive-tour operator to visit the site.”

“Twenty years of preservation means life on this wreck is like nowhere else, and why it’s one of my favourite wrecks to dive,” wrote Chelsea Haebich earlier this year in a feature-length guide to diving HMAS Hobart posted by Scuba Diver magazine.

“It’s impossible to cover the whole wreck in one dive in a way that does it justice – I recommend getting out on a double dive if the conditions allow it.” 

Also on Divernet: Australia’s most tragic shipwreck site locatedWartime mystery solved: Wollongbar II found in Tasman SeaSole survivor shipwrecked for 3 days didn’t tell familyWreck illuminates 1840s shipbuildingWhere did Blythe Star go? 50-year mystery solved


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