The adventures to be experienced and the underwater exploration of the mysterious Ghost Fleet of Truk Lagoon remain unparalleled. The wrecks in this most famous of lagoons represent some of the most well preserved shipwrecks in our oceans. Truk Lagoon still remains one of the great undersea wonders of the world. The moment a visiting diver breaks the surface of the beautifully clear blue Pacific water and descends to one of the seventy plus wrecks that litter the seabed, they are captured by this underwater museum that can only be described as a wreck diver’s paradise.

I had come to Truk Lagoon specifically to take advantage of rebreather technology and explore many of the less dived (if dived at all) wrecks in the deeper waters of the Lagoon. One of these wrecks inparticular was that of the Japanese Kamikaze Class Destroyer Oite located on the very northern pass of the Lagoon. Reports from previous deep wreck divers suggested that this site was one of the best wreck dives in Truk! Even if it was located in Shark infested waters.

Every wreck in Truk Lagoon has its own unique character and it’s difficult to pick one that stands out over another. The Oite stands out as one of a few warship class ships lost in the Lagoon where the majority are that of the Japanese imperial merchant fleet.

Most of the wrecks in the Lagoon have cargos, which consist of tons of munitions, for almost 25 years no one could touch the Lagoon owing to the risk of setting off any of these thousands of unexploded bombs. Today, after some lengthy reclamation work the shallow waters allow recreational divers to see no fewer than forty ships, as well as, various sunken aircraft. Its impossible to explore them all but any divers visiting Truk armed with a rebreather can certainly have some in water time, to say the least.

The Japanese destroyer Oite is certainly one wreck that is often missed by visiting divers if only due to its location and depth which in around 210-220ft of water is much deeper than the majority of the other wrecks and some considerable distance away for the bulk concentration of tourist wrecks.

The group of international divers I had travelled to Truk Lagoon with had all arrived armed with Inspiration and Evolution rebreathers. The rebreathers would allow us to extend our bottom times even on the shallower wreck sites. By optimizing the gas we breathed, with our closed circuit rebreathers, we were able to spend the equivalent time underwater in one week as an open circuit diver would in five weeks. We could spend two to three hours exploring one of Truk’s shallow wrecks with little, if any, decompression! Having a closed circuit rebreather to explore a wreck such as that of the Oite was indeed a serious advantage and the units allowed us to claim bottom times of over an hour!

Shark Infested Waters

The wreck of the Oite destroyer was discovered on March 1st 1986 by Blue Lagoon dive operator Gradvin Aisek and researcher Tomoyuki Yoshimura after five days of searching. On that day and on that very first dive the divers encountered nearly fifty sharks near the surface as they entered the water. Their numbers tapered off as the divers descended toward the wreck below! Today nothing has changed and as our team entered the water a group of white tips and reef sharks circled us as we descended the line.

Back then the divers discovered their anchor had snagged the bow structure near the bottom at a depth of 210ft but their conventional open circuit equipment meant that little time was on their side to explore the wreck in detail. Today the guys very rarely venture out to the wreck mainly due to the depth and the advanced diving skills required by visitors to dive the site. When they do make the journey it’s amazing how they actually find the wreck! With no visible transits to be seen and no modern technology aboard the small boats the Trukese guides have a somewhat complicated discussion for a few minutes before they then amazingly, somehow, hook into the wreck.

A long bottom time means a long decompression and being circled by sharks is no fun at the best of times, even more said when you have an hour and a half of decompression left and you have to stay in the water! To take my mind off the situation I could at least reflect on the dive I had just made, which, perhaps was one of the most interesting and above all ‘haunting dives’, I had ever made. Many of the CCR divers that I travelled to Truk with agreed that this was one of their most memorable dives in the Lagoon.

For the last twenty years I had dreamt of diving this most legendary of wreck diving locations, now I was here, it was all I had expected it to be and more! Perhaps the sharks that now circled us were inquisitive that these particular ‘scuba divers’ trespassing in their territory, were a little quieter than the normal visitors with this new technology introduced to their waters.

The location of the destroyer Oite, way out on the north of the Lagoon provides the visiting diver with awesome visibility. With no major islands close by to produce rainwater run off, little if any sediment has built up on the wreck giving a visiting underwater photographer, such as myself, an excellent photographic opportunity. The wreck lies in two main pieces with the stern section completely upright on a seabed of around 220ft while the bow section at the same depth lies to the port side, a distance away, facing the opposite direction and completely inverted.

Despite half of the wreckage being upside down this really was a fabulous dive made so more perhaps by the awesome visibility and intense marine life including lots of resident oceanic white tip sharks, even on the wreck!

The stern and aft ship rests with a 10-15 degree tilt to starboard, here a rectangular shaped depth charge loading stand can be clearly be seen, as well as two pairs of rails, which extend to the stern where depth charges were dropped overboard. A rack of depth charges can be seen here which is fully loaded! Then immediately forward of here is a pair of coral covered depth charge throwers. Forward of the quarterdeck is a large deckhouse island supporting two AA anti aircraft guns and a main battery gun, mounted forward. The barrels on the AA guns both point to port, possibly indicative of their use just prior to the ships sinking. The main battery gun is a 4.7inch /50 cal dual-purpose artillery piece and remains mounted in the ‘x’ position.

Gratings and pipes associated with the engine and boiler room lie in the midst of the debris field forward of the existing stern upright section, an area of the vessel that was hit severely during the attacks on her. Divers had previously reported seeing numerous human remains inside the wreck from peering through small openings. Being unlikely that a diver is able to penetrate the interior of the wreck due to access this would explain why these remains were left after a Japanese team removed reachable remains a number of years ago.
As stated, the Oite is broken in half amidships with no sign of the bridge, which was blown, to smithereens when the torpedo attacks struck. Just looking at the shear devastation here one cant but help think that the vessel had no chance against a well-coordinated, strafing aerial torpedo attack which led to her swift destruction! From here as the diver looks across the port side seabed they can just make out the bow section in the distance.

On reaching the bow the open break allows a diver to venture within and examine the interesting upturned interior of the hull with much working mechanisms and machinery to be seen. It is inside this section of the wreck that more human remains can be seen, as well as, personal artifacts and broken fans that would have kept the tightly packed rooms of sailors cool in the Pacific heat, in addition to, broken china tea cups, plates and saucers. A second torpedo may have struck the bow section, as there is a large hole on the starboard side and an even bigger exit-type hole on the opposite side!

Operation Hailstone

Truk Lagoon known, as Chuuk is in the Federal States of Micronesia, which the collective name is given for, the various island groups in the central Pacific. The Islands lie east of the international data line and half way between the tropic of cancer and the equator. With an area of 825sq miles, Truk is one of the largest lagoons in the world and was an important strategic command post for the Japanese during WW2. In Feb 1944 the allies launched as massive air attack on Truk named ‘Operation Hailstone’ from no less than nine aircraft carriers that surrounded the Lagoon. Unaware the Japanese were caught out by the attack, which became known as the ‘Japanese Pearl Harbour’. What was left from the attack now poses as one of the great undersea wonders of the world.

The Oite, just one of those seventy plus wrecks in the lagoon, is a 1523 ton 327 feet long vessel and an older half sister to the ‘Fumizuk’, another vessel also sunk in the Lagoon which shallow water divers would be familiar with. Both destroyers are deceptively similar, but Oite originates from a slightly older series.

The Oite had left Truk Lagoon on the 16th Feb 1944, escorting the light cruiser Agano back to Japan. Both ships were scheduled for a refit and as a result had much of their warheads removed, another vessel subchaser 28 also joined them. The convoy was approx 360km northeast of Truk when the US submarine Skate attacked firing a spread of torpedo’s into the Agano. As the ship began to list all of her crew were taken off and most of the cruisers crew of 450 men were taken on board the Oite. When the Agano finally sank both vessels were ordered back to Truk Lagoon.

As Truk was now well under attack, Oite being deceivably faster reached Truk well before the sub chaser and entered the lagoon before new orders were directed from Island command. Despite now receiving orders to head back for Saipan the Captain of the Oite had already taken his vessel through the North Pass of Truk Lagoon where Operation Hailstone was now well advanced. Soon after an exchange of information, and possibly due to it, the Oite came under heavy fire from US fighters. The first wave of attacks took out the command post, the commander himself and the entire bridge. The second attack wave of five avenger planes struck the Oite with a torpedo, which blew her in two sinking her immediately. Of the 589 men on board only 20 survived.

Prize artefact discovered

The Oite is a poignant reminder of just what happened at Truk Lagoon and human remains can clearly be seen around the wreck. The extended stern deckhouse, which separates two guns, the AA & the battery gun, has doors either side where the diver can peer within to see the accommodation area. Close to here my diving partner Gabrielle Paparo from Italy discovered and pointed out to me the location of the ships bell stowed within a storeroom. This bell was previously discovered by divers in 1998. As this feature is written it is still unclear if this bell belongs to the Oite herself or that of the cruiser Agano that may have been removed before the vessel finally sank. The bell is encrusted into 65 years of marine growth and her name is not visible. Of course Truk being an underwater museum, not to mention a grave for hundreds of Japanese sailors nothing is touched and artifacts like ships bells are left in place. In other locations around the world and on vessels that do not fall under a grave status a ship bell such as that discovered on the Oite would of course be a major trophy for any wreck diver.

As previously stated our expedition of over twenty divers used Inspiration and Evolution rebreathers and was land based at the Blue Lagoon resort and dive shop. The guys at the Blue Lagoon had set up a dedicated area for us to prepare and maintain our rebreathers.

Each day six divers per boat took a maximum of approx 15-20 minutes to reach one of the furthest dive sites and if a live-aboard boat had moored up on a site for the day we just darted off to another site to avoid too many divers on any one wreck. Over the course of our stay we dived the Oite and other deep wrecks several times as well as examining the interiors of many of the shallow wrecks. The Blue Lagoon was geared up to supply divers with oxygen and diluents for the rebreathers and their vast experience and knowledge of the wreck sites, many of which they had discovered over the years, meant that any wreck we wished to dive was on the cards! Including deep and less often dive sites! The other advantage of being land based meant that when we were not diving our guides could use the little boats to take us to the different islands and literally into the jungle to explore Japanese buildings and mountain gun stations that have stood still in time since Operation Hailstone back in Feb 1944.

The Oite is an amazing dive and a classic Japanese Kamikaze destroyer and good advice to anyone wishing to explore the wreck would be to read a detailed guide of the wrecks layout before they make the drop. Dan Baileys World War II wrecks of Truk Lagoon is a must!

More information about diving in Truk Lagoon can be found on the Blue Lagoons website

as well as the author’s website