Text and photos Dharshana Jayawardena

With the discovery of a World War I shipwreck over 100 years old, wreck diving becomes even more exciting in the island of Sri Lanka.

AMONG THE COUNTLESS blessings that Sri Lanka has, one of the best-kept secrets is hidden under the ripples of a beautiful blue ocean surrounding the island and waiting to be explored by scuba divers from all over the world.

With more than a thousand years of maritime trade and commerce from the days of the Portuguese, Dutch and the British, the island’s coastal waters have been subjected to heavy maritime traffic. Bad weather and the war inflicted a heavy toll on many of these ships, some of which sank beneath the waves, forever burying legend-worthy stories and hiding invaluable historical treasures. These are the more than 200 ships that have sunk around the coasts of Sri Lanka.

The bow of the SS Worestershire

Among the many ships that rest below the waters, one of the newest discoveries is the SS Worcestershire (SSW), a steam passenger cargo ship that operated under the British Merchant Navy during World War 1, which was sunk 15 kilometres southwest of Colombo by sea mines laid by German mine-layer SMS Wolf in February 1917.

Weighing over 7,000 tonnes, the SSW was en route from Rangoon (Yangon) to London when it met its untimely demise. Owned by Bibby Line, still one of the largest shipping groups in the UK, the SSW was built by Harland & Wolf Ltd, Belfast & Glasgow, the same people who built the RMS Titanic, which sank seven years earlier.

The identity of the wreck was discovered by Dharshana Jayawardena, the founder and editor of www.DiveSriLanka.com, the only comprehensive online portal for diving in Sri Lanka.

Antheas fish around the stern of the ship

“It was a huge area to explore,” Dharshana recalled. “The ship was quite large at 132 metres long.” One key breakthrough came when he measured the beam (or width) of the ship. It turned out that the difference between his measurement and that recorded in the original archives was only about 30 centimetres. “The proximity of the last known location and the measurements of the beam of the ship was strong circumstantial evidence that this could be the SS Worcestershire.”

The site also turned out to be home to a lush paradise of marine life. A massive shoal of big eye trevally (Caranx sexfasciatus) usually surrounds the ship, forming a huge bait ball, while fully-grown giant trevally (Caranx ignobilis) patrol the outer area, making dizzying high-speed lunges at all sorts of fish. Colourful soft corals have grown on the hull of the ship, covered by thousands of bright orange Anthias fish.

Something about shipwrecks: Fish are magically drawn to structure, taking advantage of niches within

For the rest of this article (Asian Diver 2014 Issue 4 No 134) and other stories, check out our past issues here or download a digital copy here.

The 25th anniversary of the largest and longest running dive show, Asia Dive Expo (ADEX) is set to occur on the 11-14th April 2019. Centred on the theme – Plastic free Future, ADEX is more than just a dive show with its commitment to the environment. Among an exciting lineup of programs, attendees can look forward to a Future Forward Series of Panel Discussion on the Single-Use Plastic Conundrum in Asia, on 13th April.

So join us at the event, get inspired and for all you know, you might just liberate the inner diver in you! More details of the event here.

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