Merimbula, New South Wales
Type of dive: Wreck
Access: Boat only (20 minutes)
Minimum qualification: Open Water
Depth: 6-9 metres (20-30’)
Visibility: 5-15 metres (15-50’)
Water temperature: 14°C (58°F) – 20°C (69°F)
Best time to visit: June – October
Snorkelling: Yes, great fish life!
|Type: Steel freighter|
|Launched: Belfast, 1944||Sunk: 1950 (ran aground)|
|Length: 61.8 metres (430’)||Beam: 51.21 metres (56’)|
|Displacement: 7090 tons||Speed: 10.5 knots|
|Crew: 44, some sources say 45||Passengers: Nil|
The SS Empire Gladstone was just one of around 12,000 Empire ships utilised by the British Ministry of War Transport during the Second World War. The fleet was the largest in the world and included freighters, tankers and aircraft carriers.
Over 4,000 Empire ships were lost during the Second World War but the Empire Gladstone, a steel freighter, survived the war and took up service in Australia.
On 5 December, 1950 she was on a voyage from Wyalla in South Australia to Newcastle, north of Sydney. She carried a cargo of iron ore and Chevrolet, Vanguard, Holden and Dodge car bodies.
As night fell she was ordered close to shore to avoid a current and ran aground on Haystack Rock, off Haycock Point near Merimbula, after the crew mistook the lights of Merimbula Wharf for a lighthouse.
No crew were injured and because she was expected to split into two, the Empire Gladstone was declared unsalvagable, however, some locals bought the salvage rights and saved 150 car bodies.
Dispite its exposed location, the wreck has survived well and sits upright in 10 metres (33’) of water and is great to explore.
Whilst the bow and the stern have deteriorated, they are still quite recognisable and although the stateroom and cabin areas have collapsed, there is still plenty to see.
The remains of the three large boilers and the main engine with its exposed con rods are obvious, and the propeller shaft housings can be readily identified. The propellers are quite hard to find as they are located away from the main wreckage amongst the rocks.
The wreck provides many safe swim-throughs teeming with large schools of fish including yellow-tail scad, salmon and kingfish. Other fish species include blue groper, banded morwong, as well as many species of leatherjacket and wrasse.
Of course, like most wrecks, the Empire Gladstone supports a prolific array of other marine life.
Due to the prevailing summer winds it is difficult to guarantee a dive on the Gladstone but over the settled winter months it’s game on!
This region, known as the Sapphire Coast, is also visited by dolphins, seals, sunfish, turtles and migrating humpback whales, as well as many species of sea bird.
Copyright C 2015 Steve Sinclair
Other great dive sites to visit while you are there:
Merimbula Wharf, Tasman Hauler (tug boat), Henry Bolte (tug boat), Tathra Wharf and Kianinny Bay.