On a good day, and in the right conditions, the MV Pacific Gas is without doubt one of the best wreck dives in Papua New Guinea.
However its location on Horeshoe Reef, on the Sunken Barrier Reef that protects Bootless Bay and Port Moresby, means that it is exposed to the elements – so you really do need those good conditions to see it at its best…
My first dive on the Pacific Gas was back in 2002, and it remains as one of the most outstanding wreck experiences I have personally had.
I was diving with Loloata Resort and prior to entering the water we were given a thorough briefing on the wreck and the general conditions, as it is quite a deep dive with the stern at about 43m, plus the general area is swept by strong currents and the visibility can be limited at times.
We were advised to descend by the mooring line, secured to the bow in about 18m, as a free descent would probably mean getting caught in the current and being swept completely past the wreck.
But as I began my descent my first though was that this must be one of those “you should have been here last week” kind of a dive as the visibility was less than 2m…
Then at about 10m the visibility suddenly cleared and beyond was the incredible sight of the 65m long Pacific Gas wreck – all of it!
The complete wreck could be seen from our vantage point just above the bow and circling the wreck were large shoals of schooling jacks, snapper & sweetlips.
It was a truly amazing sight and whilst there are other wrecks that have more intense fish life, better soft corals or more critters, but I have yet to dive one that is still so intact & clearly recognizable as a ship, has such a great diversity of marine life and is so photogenic!
The History of the MV Pacific Gas
The Pacific Gas started its life in Hiroshima, Japan in 1967 as the MS Nanayo Maru – built by the Kanawa Dock Company as a liquefied gas carrier for its owners Okuda Gyogyo KK and went into service as a Japanese merchant ship transporting gas cargos between Japan, Taiwan & Singapore under charter to Esso.
The liquefied gas was stored in two large cylindrical, refrigerated vessels located in the middle section of the ship.
In 1972 the Nanayo Maru was sold to the Australian company Liquefied Gas Carriers & renamed the MV Pacific Gas
The ship was then put into service transporting gas cargoes between Australia and PNG for Boral Gas.
In 1980 it was assessed as being at the end of its effective operating life and as part of it’s de-commissioning the gas storage vessels were removed and installed on dry land at the Boral Gas facilities in Port Moresby & Lae.
The hull of the ship was then sold to a group of enterprising Port Moresby businessmen, led by the prominent politician Sir Hugo Berghauser.
Sir Hugo planned to run it aground on Ela Beach and convert it into a seafood restaurant & nightclub…
However permission to ground the Pacific Gas was refused by Port Moresby’s Town Planner.
So the Pacific Gas ended up moored in the harbor until June 1986 when, after several missed deadlines to remove the vessel because of its poor condition, the Harbors Board issued a final ultimatum to remove the ship within 14 days.
Bob Halstead and the MV Pacific Gas
Bob Halstead is probably best known for his role in pioneering the liveaboard dive industry in Milne Bay with his boat the Telita.
But he actually started his diving business in Port Moresby back in 1976 with his wife Dinah, and they both played a major role in the final resting place of the Pacific Gas.
Their original diving venture was called Oceanic Enterprises, but changed to Tropical Diving Adventures late the following year when Bob & Dinah bought out their business partner Len Capon.
Tropical Diving Adventures catered for both local & tourist divers & concentrated on the reefs of Bootless Bay for their open water dives and then in 1978 Bob enlisted the help of the Port Moresby Sub-Aqua Club to create the first wreck dives in the area.
Two condemned ex-government vessels, the MV Parama and the MV Jade, were to be towed out to sea and scuttled but instead the Halsteads and the Sub-Aqua Club were able to get them sunk near Horseshoe Reef, south of Bootless Bay.
I contacted Bob Halstead when I was researching the history of the Pacific Gas and he told me an interesting story about how he had tried to get Horseshoe Reef declared as the first marine park in PNG.
In doing so he received strong support from the PNG government, all the way up to cabinet level in fact, but a lack of funding eventually derailed the idea. So in true Halstead fashion, Bob made a “Unilateral Declaration of Marine Park” by just telling everybody it was a marine park, which apparently worked just as well as a formal declaration…
Then in 1986, when Bob heard about the final ultimatum from the Harbors Board, he approached Sir Hugo and ultimately was able to convince him that the best solution to the problem was for the Pacific Gas to join the growing list of wrecks near Horseshoe Reef.
The Sinking of the MV Pacific Gas
This is how Bob Halstead described the actual sinking of the Pacific Gas – “Pacific Salvage cleaned up the vessel and towed it out to a spot I had marked in the shelter of Horseshoe Reef with the stern in 40m of water. We moored the ship and Ian Short, a local commercial diver & explosives expert, planted the explosive charges which worked perfectly and sank the Pacific Gas in just 12 minutes.
The bow hit the bottom first giving it a ding, and then the rest of the vessel sank perfectly upright with the stern in 43 m of water. There are photos of the vessel sinking which I will get for you.
At the same time we started operating Telita in Milne Bay and moved our operation from Bootless so we actually missed out on many of the benefits of the sinking, but it is a wonderful dive and I am proud of it.”
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