The Pacific Gas wreck in Port Moresby is one of the area’s most popular sites. The useful life of the Pacific Gas, transporting liquefied gas north from Australia, ended ignominiously in 1980 when the tanker failed its annual survey. Government officials refused it a permit to operate in Papua New Guinea.
Sensing a bargain, a group of local businessmen snapped up the ship. Their off-the-wall plan involved running it aground at Ela Beach in downtown Port Moresby and converting it into a seafood restaurant and nightclub.
The city’s head of town planning agreed that this was a terrible idea and did not grant permission for the grounding. So, for the next six years, the Pacific Gas sat moored in the harbor, quietly rusting away in the hot PNG sun.
As the ship steadily deteriorated, the Harbor Board became increasingly concerned that it would sink. The board issued a series of deadlines to the owners to remove the ship, all of which passed with no response.
In 1986 a group of local divers, led by PNG diving legend Bob Halstead, persuaded the businessmen to let the Pacific Gas morph into a proper wreck out on the sunken barrier reef that protects Port Moresby, rather than waiting for the inevitable sinking at harbor.
This is how Halstead described the sinking of the Pacific Gas in June of that year:
“Pacific Salvage cleaned up the vessel and towed it out to a spot I had marked in the shelter of Horseshoe Reef with the stern in 130 feet (40 m) of water. We moored the ship and Ian Short, a local commercial diver and explosives expert, planted the explosive charges which worked perfectly and sank the Pacific Gas in just 12 minutes.
The bow hit the bottom first giving it a ding. The rest of the vessel sank perfectly upright with the stern in 141 feet (43 m) of water.”
Diving the Pacific Gas
The wreck lies on a slope, with the stern in deep water. Dive the wreck by descending the mooring line that’s secured to the bow in 59 feet (18 m). There’s a lot to see around the bow, but save this for the end of the dive and head deeper first.
What will you see?
Most of the action takes place in the bridge area, wheelhouse and stern. All the glass in the wheelhouse was removed before sinking, so the resident population of snapper, sweetlips, puffer and angelfish roam about at will. It’s easy to squeeze in through the open doorways and enter the wheelhouse itself, and since there are no doors, you needn’t worry about them closing once you’re inside.
To the rear of the wheelhouse are derricks and handrails, rich in soft corals and Tubastrea hard coral. By now you are in around 98 feet (30 m) of water. You’ll need to watch your bottom time and air supply carefully, as the best is yet to come. Descending further toward the stern presents a superb view back up the whole length of the ship. Swim past the stern in open water to about 130 feet (40 m) and take in the tremendous vista.
The wreck’s angle makes the ascent easy. Simply head back up to the wheelhouse and then to the bow. If you have enough bottom time and air left, explore the coral-encrusted winch and hatches at the bow. Here you’ll find a variety of critters, such as ghost pipefish and leaf scorpionfish.
Once you’re back at the mooring line for your 15-foot (5 m) safety stop, look back down on the wreck. Watch the schooling jacks, snapper and sweetlips reclaim it again after the temporary visitors have departed.
By guest author Don Silcock
Don Silcock is an Australian based in Bali. He has dived many of the Indo-Pacific’s best locations. Learn more on his website.