PALAU, TRUK, BIKINI ATOLL & YAP

BIKINI ATOLL, THE MARSHALL ISLANDS

The remote wrecks of the Pacific

Season: Year round diving

Visibility: 10-40m/35-130ft

Water Temperature: 28-30°C/82-86°F


The remarkable, intact wrecks of Bikini Atoll represent some of the best wreck diving in the world (Image by Truk Master)

Bikini Atoll, just about as isolated a place as it is possible to be, is one of 29 atolls and five islands that comprise the Marshall Islands, which are scattered over 357,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean, north of the equator.

Seriously remote, and with some seriously incredible wrecks, this holy grail for wreck divers is well worth the effort. There is simply nothing to match it, anywhere in the world.

By 1946 the Americans had amassed an incredible assortment of vessels in Bikini Atoll: submarines, landing craft, a WWI Dreadnought Battleship, a German battle-cruiser, the battleship Nagato (Japanese Admiral Yamamoto’s flagship) and the immense USS Saratoga (an aircraft carrier with the capacity to carry 90 aircraft). Eighty four vessels were gathered to form this impressive but doomed fleet.

The 167 Bikini Island residents had been moved out by March 1945 in preparation for Operation Crossroads (they are yet to move back) and between 1946 and 1958 America’s army and navy tested atomic and hydrogen bombs following a directive from President Harry S. Truman indicating that it was necessary “to determine the effect of atomic bombs on American warships”.

The first bomb missed the target ship by half a mile and sank only vessels within a hundred metres. The second bomb exploded 25 metres below the surface and was far more destructive, sending two million tons of water over a mile high. Many more vessels sank. Others were scuttled in deep water, and the biggest ghost fleet in the world was formed. More than half the world’s supply of motion picture film was used to record the two bombs, Able and Baker, and the exile of the Bikini people. More was to come.

In 1954 the biggest nuclear device ever exploded in the atmosphere was detonated and a fireball of intense heat measuring millions of degrees shot into the sky at over 300 miles per hour. Millions of tons of coral, sand, sea-life and sea water from the lagoon were sent high into the air.

Today the Bikinians still wait to return to their island home, but the soil remains full of toxins and it is still not possible for them to eat the coconuts and coconut crabs that used to feature in their diet.

For the wreck diver, the devastating Able and Baker bombs achieved something positive. Bikini is simply the finest and best – the ultimate in wreck diving. Unlike Truk, this is a fleet of fighting vessels, not freighters. These boats were armed and ready for action at the instant of the sea’s final embrace. Fifty years after the first bomb Bikini was declared safe for visitors and May 1996 saw the first divers visiting the island.

The diving is deep, some of the wrecks are below the recognized recreational limits, and stage decompression can be expected, but only air is used to dive and Nitrox is used for decompression purposes. The sea bed within the lagoon is at 56 metres and dives in the morning are usually to depths of between 30 and 40 metres, but increase throughout the week so that it should be possible to descend to 52 metres for a full dive on the stern of USS Saratoga (subject to local conditions). Subject to divers’ profiles, shallower afternoon dives may be available. None of the wrecks have been salvaged. They lie as they sank, complete with all that floated through the sea with them on their last journey, creating the world’s most amazing wreck diving.

USS Saratoga, launched in 1925 was, at the time of her sinking, one of the world’s biggest aircraft carriers, longer than the Titanic. She had been hit by five kamikaze attacks and had seen action in WWII throughout the Pacific. As the world’s only diveable aircraft carrier, she holds the limelight as the star of Bikini. With over 1000 watertight compartments and in spite of being moored a mere 300 metres from the Baker blast, it took over 8 hours for her to sink. She now sits upright on the seabed at 40 metres. Saratoga is enormous and divers will normally carry out their first, check-out dive to inspect the flight deck and bridge, 25 metres above the sea bed. Throughout the week divers will gradually explore deeper levels including the aircraft hanger deck (where you can explore three ‘Helldiver’ single-engine dive bombers and an ‘Avenger’ torpedo bomber), the torpedo room (with rows of 500 pound bombs), the bow and storage quarters and eventually, the stern on the sea bed at 52 metres.

USS Lamson, a 341-foot destroyer, was capable of 36.5 knots and was armed with five 5-inch guns, three 21-inch torpedo tubes and four 50-calibre machine guns. She now sits upright on the seabed at around 50 metres, having been sunk on to her side by Able, and turned upright by the Baker blast. During her active life, USS Lamson spent a month searching for Amelia Earhart after she vanished on her trans-Pacific flight and saw active service at the battle of Guadalcanal. With her impressive array of guns and torpedoes, this is a very photogenic wreck and a great favourite with underwater photographers. Though her superstructure is badly damaged, the lines of the destroyer are still plain to see. The ghostly outline appears to be steaming along the sea bed, guns ready for action.

USS Apogon is a 311-foot Balao class submarine, which carried a crew of 6 officers and 60 enlisted men. In active service Apogon sank two Japanese vessels, three were unconfirmed ‘sinkings’ and she caused damage to two others. At one stage she was on sentry duty outside Truk Lagoon. She was armed with ten 21-inch torpedo tubes, one 5-inch deck gun and anti-aircraft guns. Unaffected by Able, Baker succeeded in sinking her, and she now rests upright on the seabed in 54 metres, looking for all the world as if she is ready to lift off and continue her journey once again. Her hatches are closed. The aft torpedoes are loaded and primed ready for use. It is possible to enter the hull. As one of the deeper dives, Apogon is usually dived towards the end of the week.

HIJMS Nagato, a Japanese battleship, was once the pride of the Japanese Fleet and Admiral Yamamoto’s flagship and played her part in the attack on Pearl Harbour. On her bridge the plans for the attack were developed by Admiral Yamamoto. From here the orders were sent forward for the attack that caught Pearl Harbour unawares. Nagato was armed with eight 45-calibre guns, twenty 50-calibre guns, three machine guns, eight torpedo tubes and four anti-aircraft guns. She was launched in 1919 and rebuilt around 1935. She saw active service at the Battle of Midway and Leyte Gulf. She now lies upside down with the infamous bridge on the seabed by the side of the main superstructure. She lies in 51 metres of water, having been sent to the bottom by Baker. It took four days for her to sink. USS Anderson is a 349-foot destroyer which now lies on her side in 50 metres of water. She saw active service in the Pacific, having acted as a screen for battleships at the Battle of the Coral Sea and at Midway. She was damaged by grounding on a coral reef and was sent to Pearl Harbour for repair, but ended her days as one of the few ships sunk by Able. On the last day there will be a trip to Bikini’s Shark Pass where a remarkable population of sharks, including Grey Reef and Silvertip, can be found where the lagoon opens into the Pacific. The sharks are protected from the ravages of shark-finning fleets as the boats ceased coming to this area after the crew of one boat was killed by the nuclear fallout in 1954.

DIVING NOTES

Diving on the Bikini wrecks is respectfully recommended for technical divers only with a minimum of PADI Tec 50 level or equivalent, with wreck experience, as the average depth of the wrecks is around 50 meters (150 ft).

To get the most out of your dives in Bikini Atoll, highly recommended are:

  • TDI – Advanced Nitrox & Deco Procedures
  • IANTD – Tech Nitrox
  • NAUI – Tech Nitrox & Deco Techniques
  • ANDI – Technical Nitrox

To dive in Bikini Atoll, you will need the following items:

  • Two methods of buoyancy. This can be achieved by using a wing with a redundant bladder, drysuit or lift bag with a minimum of 20kg/45lb of positive lift.
  • Dive Computer – Multi-gas dive computer capable of switching between a minimum of 2 gasses ideally more.
  • Backup Computer or depth/bottom timer.
  • 2 Surface Marker Buoys (SMB) – One red or orange SMB and one yellow SMB with a slate or wet notes attached for emergency use.
  • 2 Reels or spools – One with a minimum 15m of line and one with a minimum of 60m of line.
  • Dive Slate or Wet Notes – Additional dive slate in addition to the slate used with the emergency surface marker buoy or a set of wet notes.
  • Minimum of two dive torches (primary and back-up) for guests planning on doing any wreck penetration. 

For planning purposes, please send us your gas and equipment as early as possible, preferably upon booking.


Recommended Equipment

  • Backplate, harness and wing – A backplate, harness and wing capable of carrying manifolded twin aluminum 80cuft cylinders and one or two 40/80cuft aluminum stage cylinders. The wing should have a minimum of 20kg/45lb of positive lift.
  • Two DIN regulator sets one with long hose configured for twin cylinder operation.
  • One or two DIN stage regulators for use with up to 95% oxygen.
  • Protection – 3 or 5mm full length wet suit. Some divers also like to use a hood or helmet and gloves. Water temperature is between 27 – 29 degrees all year round with no thermoclines.
  • Spare Mask – Spare mask should be carried on all dives.

Please inspect and test all your dive equipment before coming to Bikini. If you have just had your equipment serviced we still recommend you test it thoroughly before coming to Bikini. There are no dive centers or facilities for repairing equipment in Kwajalein or Bikini.

LOCATION NOTES

Climate and weather… The climate of the Marshall Islands is a tropical climate, with temperatures averaging between 27 and 29C (80-84F) all year round, with some trade winds and a light cooling down in the evening. Generally, the northern islands tend not to receive as much rainfall as the southern islands. 

Time zone… The local time in the Marshall Islands is 12 hours ahead of UTC (GMT).

Health… In the Marshall Islands, medical care is very basic with the ‘best’ medical facility in Majuro. Any form of treatment other than basic requires evacuation. Normal precautions should be taken with food and it is advisable to drink bottled water only. No vaccinations are required before entering the Marshall Islands, however; we recommend consulting your doctor for updated information well before departure.
Radioactive radiation to which divers are exposed from the shipwrecks is negligible, since water acts as an excellent insulator. Divers are safe, as long as they do not try to grab souvenirs from the wrecks. Pilfering is forbidden and hazardous.

Travel Advisories… We recommend that you book your international flight to and from Kwajalein Airport, which is served by United Airlines 3 times per week from Hawaii and takes around 7 hours. (The HNL – MAJ – KWA flight leaves on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, so generally you will have to leave the day before that (Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday) from Los Angeles (LAX) or San Francisco (SFO) to make the connection.) Ideally, you arrive in Honolulu one day in advance of your flight to Kwajalein as this flight departs early in the morning. Keep in mind you will be crossing the date line traveling to Kwajalein Atoll. There is also a flight from Guam arriving at Kwajalein, however; we have scheduled our itinerary around the Honolulu flight.

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