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ON THE GAS AT LOLOATA

by Nigel Marsh and Helen Rose

 

There are many wonderful wrecks off Port Moresby, most of which were scuttled for divers to enjoy. All these artificial reefs are covered in coral and marine life, but one stands out as a clear favourite among divers as it is not just the best wreck dive off the capital, but one of the best wreck dives in Papua New Guinea – the amazing Pacific Gas.

 

We first dived the Pacific Gas three years ago when staying at Loloata Island Resort. This wonderful resort is located in Bootless Bay and has a well-equipped and well-staffed dive centre that takes divers to the best dive sites off Port Moresby. During our week we dived beautiful reefs, a fascinating muck site and most of the wrecks in the area, but by far the most impressive wreck we dived was the Pacific Gas. We recently returned to Loloata Island Resort for another week of brilliant diving and one of the sites we were dying to revisit was naturally the Pacific Gas.

 

The Pacific Gas was once a liquefied gas carrier and was originally called the MS Nanayo Maru when built in Japan in 1967. The 65m long ship was sold to an Australian company in 1972 and had its name changed, but only had a short working life, retiring in 1980. After sitting derelict for several years the ship was scuttled at Horseshoe Reef in 1986, where it today rests on a sandy slope in depths of 20 to 45m. Although it is quite a compact wreck it takes several dives to full appreciate this wonderful artificial reef.

 

Descending the mooring line on our most recent visit we knew we were going to have a good dive as the visibility was 20m and we were being escorted to the bow of the ship by a school of batfish and several giant trevally. These fish drifted off with the mild current once we alighted on the bow, possibly to greet the next group of divers entering the water, but we didn’t mind as there was plenty to see on the ship.

 

You could spend your entire dive just exploring the bow of the Pacific Gas, as there is just so much to see. On the deck is a large winch and other machinery, while below this are several cabins full of pipes, valves and other equipment. It is too much of a squeeze to enter these rooms, plus there is so much more to be seen outside. While the ship and its fittings are fun to explore, the highlight is really the coral and marine life, with the ship covered in beautiful corals and home to a great range of fish and invertebrates. Angelfish, rock corals, coral cods, butterflyfish, rabbitfish, surgeonfish and many other reef fish were milling around us, but we spent most of the time photographing the winch as it was engulfed by a school of cardinalfish.

 

After spending several minutes on the bow we dropped into the holds, where the gas tanks once sat. This large area is now full of silt and junk that has fallen off other parts of the ship. We didn’t spend too much time here, as we were now in 35m of water, but did see a large groper and several lionfish and pipefish. Rising out of the far end of the hold we headed to the stern and bridge area, our favourite part of the Pacific Gas.

 

With the stern deck in 36m our bottom time was limited, just enough time to do a quick circuit and look into several rooms. We ducked under ladders, peer into vents and then onto the wheelhouse, where snapper, cardinalfish and squirrelfish reside. As you explore this wonderful wreck it feels like a proper shipwreck, as very few of its fittings were removed prior to it being scuttled.

 

With our bottom time quickly slipping away we returned for a last look at the bow before ascending the mooring line, where the batfish were waiting for us.

 

As wonderful as the Pacific Gas is during the day, it comes into a class all of its own at night. Descending down the mooring line in darkness is an eerie experience for the first time and it gets even creepier when the dive guides ask you to turn off your torch. You would expect to find yourself in complete darkness on the bow of a shipwreck at 20m, but instead there is an unearthly glow radiating out of a bow hatch. Moving closer, the source of the glowing light becomes apparent, thousands of flickering green lights – flashlight fish!

 

These incredible fish have a luminous organ under each eye that they use to attract prey. They are also surprisingly small, and near impossible to photograph. As we watched the fish emerged from the hatch in a dance of flickering lights and then swarmed around the gathered divers before spreading across the ship, making it look like it has been illuminated by fairy lights. Of course there are other nocturnal creatures to be seen, like basket stars, crabs and shrimps, but these pale after watching the performance of the stunning flashlight fish.

 

We love diving the Pacific Gas and will look forward to diving this wonderful wreck again on our next visit to Loloata Island Resort. One final thing, special thanks to Bob Halstead, the man that scuttled this incredible wreck. Thanks Bob!

 

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