'Blame it on physics': Govt delves into Tobruk's future
"LET'S face it, it was a successful scuttling. We saw a ship get scuttled."
Those were the words of Minister for Environment and the Great Barrier Reef Leeanne Enoch, who visited the Bundaberg Port Marina on Saturday morning to share the State Government's plan for the ex-HMAS Tobruk.
The press conference followed the NewsMail's exclusive Saturday story which revealed the department would not attempt to right the Tobruk after a scuttling-gone-wrong led to the ship landing on her starboard side on June 29.
Ms Enoch said she didn't want to play the blame game when it came to who or what was responsible for the failed scuttling, and instead said she wanted to look forward.
"Who are any of us to control the laws of physics. These things happen," she told media.
When asked how the scuttling company Birdon had been chosen and whether they were fully qualified to carry out such a task, Ms Enoch said the company had been fantastic in working with the department and stakeholders to get to the point where she could guarantee that the region would have a world-class dive site.
"Birdon was selected as a result of that full and proper (tender) process. There is not any major damage to the vessel whatsoever ... And my understanding from the reports is that there will be more opportunities for beginner divers, more opportunities to be able to access the vessel in its current orientation than what it would have been if it was upright," Ms Enoch said.
The decision to keep ex-HMAS Tobruk on its side rather than attempt to flip it onto its keel like it was intended to sit is primarily due to the risk associated with changing its orientation.
"It will remain in its current orientation based on expert knowledge and advice to the department. Any attempts to change its current orientation could result in damage to the actual vessel," Ms Enoch said.
"We committed to a world-class dive site, all the expert advice says that is what we have currently. It's current orientation does not diminish in any way that commitment to it being a world class dive site."
When asked why it took five months to reach this decision, the minister pointed to the reliance on international expertise and advice.
She said the department needed all the information to make an informed decision, which is why the process was drawn out.
"We've also been able to get some expert advice from an independent expert in wreck dives who's been able to give us some advice about how the current orientation sits with regard to what you see across the world for wreck dives and it is absolutely resounding in terms of the expert advice that this is a world-class dive site and we want to promote that," Ms Enoch said.
According to the department, changing the vessel's orientation could cost between $6 million and $20 million.
"The cost of righting the ship is actually secondary to the risk that the experts have said righting the ship would pose. And even with those quotes, there was no guarantee being able to be provided to us that there wouldn't be damage to the vessel," Ms Enoch said.
Because of the large number of unknowns, the minister said the decision not to rotate the Tobruk was "very easy".
"I am not going to risk this absolutely world-class dive site," Ms Enoch said.
Instead, the State Government committed $1 million to a tourism package as part of a campaign to promote the region.
Hervey Bay Dive operator Ed Gibson said he had no concerns the ship landed on its side and believed the public would be supportive of his businesses.
"It didn't really worry me because we've been diving on wrecks for years and most of the wrecks you dive are either upside down or on their side, so from a pure diver's point of view it's going to be a fantastic wreck," he said.
He pointed out that while every business had a different business model, in the end every diver, whether experienced or not, would have to undergo scuba training before diving the Tobruk, or any other wreck.
"Every single diver ... they'll be managed by the operators into the level of diving they'll have on the ship," Mr Gibson said.
The State Government confirmed divers could potentially gain access to the dive site from this summer onward.