During the early years, Labuan experienced battles between the Allied and the Japanese Force, resulting in several war wrecks. Two of the World War II wrecks here are the American Wreck and the Australian Wreck. Other wrecks include Cement Wreck and Blue Water Wreck, both from 1980s.
Labuan Island is located 115km south of Kota Kinabalu and 8km off the mainland of Sabah at the northern mouth of Brunei. This tropical duty-free island with an area of 92 sq. km has beautiful sandy beaches with international class Hotels and a golf course. The numerous activities available on the island will keep the divers occupied after their dives. Although three islands, Pulau Kumaran, Pulau Rusukan Kecil and Pulau Rusukan Besar are designated as Marine Parks, the special underwater attractions of Labuan are its ship wrecks. Four well researched and regularly dived wrecks to the southwest make this area ‘the wreck diving centre’ of Malaysia.
Two of the wrecks are from World War II, the US Navy mine-hunter, USS Salute known as the “American Wreck” and the Dutch vessel SS De Klerk know as the “Australian Wreck”, which was thought to have sunk by the Royal Australian Air Force. The other two wrecks were sunk in 1980’s, the Philippine stern trawler MV Mabini Padre, locally called the “Blue Water Wreck” and the Tung Hwang, a Japanese freighter locally known as the “Cement Wreck”. All four ships lie in 30-35m of water, with the top portions between 8 – 12m. The water visibility varies greatly season to season from 6 – 20m. The types of diving skill required on these wrecks are rated from novice to experience wreck diving, with penetration into the hulls. Professional dive operators cater for daily dive trips, as well as from Openwater to Wreck Diving Specialty courses.
Visitors may also take advantage of duty-free purchases for dive equipment from the dive centres in Labuan. The Cement Wreck can be dived by novices but the Blue Water Wreck requires Advance Divers or with logged experience. To penetrate into the two mentioned wrecks or to dive the American or Australian Wreck, you must be certified in wreck diving or have previously logged experience in wreck diving.
Best Time To Dive
Best month for diving is between the month of March to October. Visibility fluctuates with tidal changes (up to 25m in best season, 7 to 10m otherwise) but adds to the drama of wreck diving. Little or no current are experienced at the wreck proper but could be stronger outside the parameter of the wreck. All dives are via anchor line with spare tanks provided at decompression stops. As wreck diving can be dangerous, always inquire about safety equipment provided by the operators, especially for decompression stops.
Situated about 21km from Labuan, east of Kuraman Island, is a 105m modern style freighter. It is said that the freighter MV Tung Hwa was ferrying a load of cement for the Brunei Sultanate but enroute, she struck Samarany Bank and Sank Behind Kuraman Island. The ship sits perfectly upright the bottom at about 30m. Her masts stand at 8m, the roof of the wheelhouse at 14m and the main deck at 19m. The position of the wreck makes it ideal for novice divers and wreck diving training. Experienced divemasters would either descend to tie a line or would drop a rope weighed with molded lead as opposed to an anchor to prevent damage to corals and the wreck. Schools of baitfish congregating in huge groups greet divers as these descend the masts of the ship. As your eyes adjust to the low light, the wreck reveals a profusion of coral and marine life. Soft corals in all shapes and colours lance with the currents. Small marine animals observed around the wreck include hawk fish, pipe fish, damsel fish, gobies, cardinal fish; the list is endless. The rich diversity of coral life also attracts bigger animals either to feed or to took for a cleaning station. The outer parameter of the wreck is patrolled by schools of fusiliers, batfish, barracudas and rainbow runners. This wreck offers the avid diver the most photogenic opportunity of all the wrecks.
Blue Water Wreck
It is another two decade-old Philippine trawler. The corals here are somewhat sparse but a rich number of residents more than make up for this. You will find plenty of cardinal fish, sweet lips, lion fish, and even bat fish. Within the hull itself, you will encounter large snappers and groupers.
Australian Wreck (SS DE KLERK)
This is not an Australian ship, but was nicknamed so by the locals from the fact that was sunk by Australian aircraft during World War II. Located about 1.5km from the American Wreck, this ship is actually a Dutch merchant ship captured by the Japanese then fitted with weapons and utilised as cargo vessel, but spotted and sank by Australian aircraft in 1945. A maker’s plate identified the freighter as built in Rotterdam in 1900. Lying on her portside, the wreck is about 23km from Labuan, southeast of the small islands of Rusukan Besar on the Barat Banks. This vessel is a riveted hull freighter with a wooden deck that has already deteriorated. She is approximately 100m long and lies at 33m on the sandy bottom, with the shallowest depth at 21m. Nature has transformed what was once a lifeless wreck to rich coral growth with an abundance of marine life. The superstructure is covered with black coral tress, sea whips and stinging hydroids. A particular feature of the wreck is the presence of resident palm-sized frogfish or angle fish. Large gropers can be seen swimming about looking for an easy feed among the profusion of marine life. Divers are forewarned where to place their hands as many stone fish and lion fish lie camouflaged around the wreck.
The American Wreck, identified as the USS Solute (a minesweeper), lies some 24km from Labuan, southwest of the small island of Rusukan Besar on the Barat Banks. During the Allied pre-inventions of the Brunei Bay, while carrying out a routine mine sweep, the minesweeper struck a mine midship. She buckled when she sank, with the bow portion folding back over on top of the stern section. The wreck lies at 33m on the sandy bottom with tangled masses of metal and cable. Diving this wreck requires an experienced diver or a wreck diver to carefully explore the tangled mass. A feature of wreck is the many fish-cleaning stations, crustaceans and echinoderms. The presence of spiny black urchins requires caution on the buoyancy of the diver when venturing close to the wreck. Depth chargers, ammunition shells, shoes culinary and wire bottle can be still found scattered around the wreckage, amidst mangled metal and cables. A resident school of spotted sweet lips lie as silent sentinels of the wreck.
Malaysian Airlines (MAS) and Air Asia offer daily flights from Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu and Kuching. Kota Kinabalu also serves as an international gateway for Labuan with its daily flights.
Air-conditioned ferries ply daily from Kota Kinabalu, Sarawak and Brunei. Travelling time from Kota Kinabalu is about three hours, and about one hour from Brunei.