Thailand – Australia – United Kingdom

From warship to scuba wreckage: HMAS Tobruk

MARK Salter’s plan for an artificial reef for scuba divers on the Gold Coast has received a welcome boost after Defence Minister Joel Fitz-gibbon indicated a warship suitable for the job could be decommissioned from the Royal Australian Navy by 2012.

Mr Salter, aka ‘Sharky’, has been campaigning for years for an artificial reef as a tourist attraction. An email from Mr Fitzgibbon says under the Defence Capability Plan 2006-2016, the heavy landing ship HMAS Tobruk might be replaced by 2012. Mr Salter is now planning a campaign to snare the 126m vessel. “It’s a start,” said the owner of the Gold Coast-based Queensland Scuba Diving Company. “I’m getting T-shirts printed, sending letters and starting to get the word out. “Premier Anna Bligh and Mayor Ron Clarke have to get behind it.

“We have three years to get it and we need to start now. This is a boat the Gold Coast should want. We need to put our hand up now.” HMAS Tobruk, which entered service in 1981, weighs more than 5000 tonnes and was the navy’s first purpose-built amphibious vessel.

As reported in The Gold Coast Bulletin last year, Mr Salter has offered $500,000 out of his one-year-old son Harrison’s trust fund to get the project moving. “I’ll still put it up but conditions would apply,” he said. Mr Salter said the wreck would attract so many divers he would recoup the money quickly. Wreck diving on artificial reefs is a growing industry with the United States, Canada and Thailand all quick to seize the growing tourist dive dollar.

More than 300 reefs have been created in the US alone and Canada has sunk six ships and a Boeing 737 around British Columbia in recent years. The world’s largest artificial reef, created from the former USS Oriskany just off the Florida coast, is estimated to bring in $200,000 a month to the local economy while British Columbia recoups about $15 million a year in its dive-related businesses.

Thailand is preparing to sink a number of decommissioned military planes off Phuket to create the country’s largest artificial reef and Mr Salter believes the Gold Coast should explore the option.”We shouldn’t just stop at a ship,” he said. “We could put transporter planes and other things down there. Surfers Paradise has the best beaches but we don’t have a dive site.”

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