Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - MV Coral Queen
The town of Madang is often called the "prettiest town" in the whole Pacific. I must say that I agree with this description as it is very beautiful and ideally located on the shores of Madang Harbour, a harbour that comes close to Sydney Harbour in terms of size, protection and beauty. Numerous parks, lagoons and creeks are found in and around the town and there are plenty of trees that add to its appeal. To the north there are three other harbours, Nagada, Mililat and Sek Harbours. In reality, these are really just parts of the one, huge harbour protected from the open ocean (not that there is any real big seas) by a barrier reef and a number of small islands. The vast majority of the diving here is carried out in and around these harbours.
On my 1996 dive trip to Madang in Papua New Guinea, I was able to dive four wrecks, ranging from recently scuttled vessels to one over 50 years old.
In November 1958 the MV Coral Queen was built by the Pacific Islands Ship Building Company Limited in Hong Kong as a ferry and general cargo vessel for the High Commissioner for the British Solomon Islands Protectorate in Honiara, Solomon Islands. It was used for trading in New Guinea, Solomon Islands, New Hebrides (Vanuatu), Gilbert and Ellice (Ellis?) Islands. The new vessel was 31.7 metres long and 7.37 metres wide and was powered by two eight cylinder 212kw Gardner diesel engines through twin props. In the early 1960s ownership was transferred to the Western Pacific High Commision, also of Honiora. Presumably this was the same organisation with a new name.
From 1966 to 1971 the Coral Queen was unregistered and in the latter year was registered as being owned by Seaworm Pty Ltd of the United Kingdom. Around this time it appears that the Coral Queen had sunk at Buka in Bouganville, PNG.I assume that it sunk about 1966 or 1967. It appears that it was used at this time on the Rabaul to Buka run.
In the late 1960s or 1970, the Coral Queen was salvaged by John Lindsay. The ship had been abandoned by its owners after it sank. However, John had neglected to obtain the salvage rights to the wreck and when the owners discovered that he had raised it, they reclaimed ownership. John only received a small salvage fee.
As mentioned, in 1971 the ship was again registered. I presume that it was still used in the Pacific, but its exact whereabouts is not yet known to me. For the next 22 years the vessel remained in the same ownership but after 1993-94 she was no longer registered.
As mentioned, the MV Coral Queen was an island freighter with two large holds. The maximum depth is 32 metres on the sand, with the deck being 28 metres, 30 metres in the holds and engine room and 23 metres on top of the bridge. The dive boat moors to the forward mast and you descend right onto the bow. The forecastle has two entrances, with quite a few cabins. You can also go through the starboard doorway and drop down into the forward hold. From here you can swim through the two holds and into the engine room. There are one or two exits to the upper deck from here and a maze of corridors and cabins. Despite this, there is no real risk in exploring the stern section. You can exit back onto the deck or right out through the stern.
From the stern, you can drop over the edge and see the twin props, port rudder (no starboard one). There are some beautiful soft corals here and along the side. There is also quite good fishlife on the wreck.
This wreck is also well known for another thing, in fact it is more often dived not because it is a wreck, but because it has flashlight fish. I have dived this wreck three times now, twice at night. The idea of doing a 30 metres plus dive at night, without the use of a torch, and seeing hundreds (and thousands) of flashlight fish Anomalops kataoprton is exciting. These fish are about 100 mm long and below the eye there is a "luminous organ". In fact, the organ is composed of millions of tiny bacteria that produce the light that flashes on and off as the fish swims around.
The first time I dived the wreck the cabins were literally alive with fish, creating a glow that emitted out through the doors and portholes. The second dive was during the day and the third time there were not as many fish, but they put on a spectacular show by streaming out of the funnel area and "balling" together off the wreck. An amazing sight!
A dive to remember, especially at night.
References:Record of American Bureau of Shipping
Lloyds Register 1959-60, 1966-7, 1970-1, 1972-3, 1992-3 and 1993-4
The Dive Sites of Papua New Guinea by Bob Halstead - page 105
The Last New Guinea Salvage Pirate by Fritz Herscheid - page 25 and 101