The ex-HMAS Tobruk arrives in the Port of Bundaberg as thousands of people lined the river to welcome the navy ship.
The ex-HMAS Tobruk arrives in the Port of Bundaberg as thousands of people lined the river to welcome the navy ship. Craig Warhurst

Push for access to Tobruk prior to sinking

THE Regional Dive Wreck Advisory Group is leading the push for the community to be able to tour of ex-HMAS Tobruk prior to her being declared a construction zone as she is prepared to serve the remainder of her life as an artificial dive wreck.

Thousands turned out for the heavy landing ship's arrival at the Port of Bundaberg last month and the lobbying group has been inundated with former navy and army service people and locals wanting to tour the ship.

Advisory Group spokesperson Ed Gibson said the ship was now under the ownership and control of the state government which would spend the next two years ensuring it was safe and all hazardous materials removed from the Navy workhorse prior to it being sunk as a new tourist attraction.

"As with other retired warships now serving as dive wrecks, the Federal Government gifts the assets to the state or territory government which then resumes legal responsibility for the ongoing maintenance of the dive wreck and its business operations,” Mr Gibson said.

"We are fortunate that the state government has appointed some very experienced people to look after this process and they are dedicated to ensuring the community is taken along the journey as the Tobruk is prepared to be sunk as a dive wreck. However, safety is everybody's top priority and currently the vessel is not safe to be toured or opened for public access.

"I can assure the people of Wide Bay we are working hard to arrange an open day where we can get people aboard or even host a black-tie dinner event on the helicopter landing deck as an opportunity to reunite former service people and locals.

"The final decision will be made by the state government and contractors employed to prepare the vessel.”

The ex-HMAS Tobruk arrived in Bundaberg late last year.
The ex-HMAS Tobruk arrived in Bundaberg late last year. Craig Warhurst

Mr Gibson said it could be two years before the ex-HMAS Tobruk was fully prepared, sunk and opened as a dive site in waters between Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. 

"Strict permit conditions regulate the preparation of the Ex-HMAS Tobruk. It is a time-consuming process and include:

  • Removing all fuels, oils and greases
  • Identifying and removing all hazardous materials, including Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), asbestos, heavy metals, batteries, chemicals, plastics etc.
  • Removing items that could break loose during the scuttling process or be a diver hazard
  • Preparing a safe and interesting dive site to suit different levels of expertise, including cutting diver access holes, removing items that could be a safety hazard (including cabling, non-structural partitions, hatches/doors) and sealing some areas to prevent access for safety reasons
  • Designing the scuttling process to ensure the vessel would settle to the seabed with its structural integrity maintained, in an upright position in the correct location, depth and orientation
  • Towing to the scuttling site, undertaking final on-site preparations, and scuttling the ship
  • Post-scuttling activities, including retrieving debris, clearance dive, and repairing any damage from the scuttling process.

The Wide Bay Regional Drive Wreck Advisory Group estimates the cost to prepare ex-HMAS Tobruk for scuttling is $7 million, with Fraser Coast Regional Council and Bundaberg Regional Council each committing $1 million towards the project. The State Government will cover the remainder of the costs.

"A Tobruk dive site has the potential to contribute between $1 million and $4 million each year to the local economy for up to 50 years. This will be a great rate of return for a one-off estimated investment of approximately $6-7 million.”

People came from far and wide to welcome the ship to Bundaberg.
People came from far and wide to welcome the ship to Bundaberg. Craig Warhurst

Why ex-HMAS Tobruk?

While the Tobruk is comparable in length to many destroyers, it is almost twice the width and given the roll in roll off nature of the vessel it lends itself to the most ideal dive opportunity by providing a giant cavernous interior.

Ex-naval vessels are quickly inhabited by diverse marine life, offer exhilarating diving experiences, and are popular among the diving fraternity.

The HMAS Tobruk has had a very distinguished career and it is only fitting she be given a further opportunity to continue to serve the community as a world class dive site for decades to come.

Capable of carrying 3 helicopters, 18 leopard tanks, 40 armoured personnel carriers, up to 520 soldiers and 130 crew, HMAS Tobruk has run emergency errands around the Pacific arena.

The HMAS Tobruk L50 amphibious heavy lift ship saw 34 years of service from 1980 to 2015 and was deployed on 26 major operations including the Middle East, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Bougainville, East Timor and the Philippines. The ships namesake comes from the Siege of Tobruk during the Second World War, when German and Italian forces laid siege to the north African port for 241 days.

Living up to her motto of "Faithful and Strong”, HMAS Tobruk retired with about two million kilomatres travelled (equivalent to 40 trips around the world) and countless lives helped.

Ex-HMAS Tobruk

  • Length: 127 metres
  • Draft: 4.9 metres
  • Beam: 18.3 metres
  • Tonnage: 3353 tonnes
  • Launched: 1980

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