Dive the SS Athelstane (www.DiveSriLanka.com)
From the throes of war to an splendid artificial reef

By Dharshana Jayawardena.

Depth: 42 Meters

RFS Athelstane
The magnificent bow of the ship
SS Athelstane
SS Athelstane (courtesy of Jonathan Wickett http://www.hmshollyhock.co.uk/)

20/09/2013: This is our second day in Kalmunai and our last dive of the expedition. Yesterday we had dived a ship we believed to be the HMS Hollyhock

Today the fishermen who who are our guides will drop us off at the "large ship". This is believed to be the Merchant Fleet Auxiliary SS Athelstane.

Before the dive we had studied the pictures of the SS Athelstane and also read the account of the Master of the SS Athelstane Captain Moore's electrifying account of the attack and the sinking documented by Jonathan Wicketts in his web site for the HMS Hollyhock http://www.hmshollyhock.co.uk/ .

Today too is a splendid day as yesterday. The sky is blue and the sun is bright in the sky showering us with a glad warmth as we embarked on another long journey from shore to the dive site. The swells are larger than yesterday and the wind seems stronger. But soon we are at the dive site and plunge beneath into an unknown world.

Even before we descended on the ship one feature stood out from the stern side like a sore thumb. It was a huge stern mounted gun! This had to be the 4" inch stern mounted gun.

Then we swim towards the bow and cross over to the midsection of the ship. Here it appears to be a large oil tank collapsed on itself. Perhaps this is tank number three described in Captain Moore's account. The third bomb dropped by the Japanese VAL dive bombers landed right inside the tank into the oil. The compression effect of the bomb exploding in the oil may very well have caused the catastrophic destruction that now lie before us in a vast pile of debris. On the port side of this general mess we observe what appears to be a large hatch into a hold.

We swim over the tank towards the bow. Suddenly a large circular shape becomes visible. It is one of the boilers!

For a moment we pause to break our concentration from the ship and observe the prolific marine life around the ship. We are lucky, for just at that moment a massive dog tooth Tuna swims by! In the distant we see a shoal of fish descend on the bow. Like the Hollyhock (?) of yesterday's dive this ship is too a haven for marine life.

Equipped only with two tanks, side mount, we are ill prepared to stay longer at this depth in this preliminary survey dive. We head back to the anchor line and meticulously photograph the ship wreck on the journey back. At the poop deck we see the rudder and the propeller of the ship. It is clearly a single screw vessel. So was the SS Athelstane.

As usual we yearn for more time. But the gift of eternal depth are for the fish only.

So one day we have to return again, for much remains to be explored in this fabulous ship.

5/30/14-5/31/14 - Excellent visibility, ripping currents and cruising Eagle rays greet us as we explore amidships and the bow area of the ship.

6/27/14-6/28/14- Good visibility and low current compared to the last expedition enables us to explore the ship in great detail

Kalmunai RFA SS Athelstane diver near the gun
6/27/14 - Diver near the stern mounted gun
RFA SS Athelstane diver
6/27/14 - Diver explores amidships
RFA SS Athelstane diver
6/27/2014 - Diver explores inside the ship
SS Athelstane gun
The stern mounted 4" gun of the SS Athelstane (?)
RFS Athelstane Stern
The gun from afar
Steam Engine Athelstane
The expansion steam engine
Amidships Athelstane
The ship from above.

SS Athelstane
Remains of what is probably the tank 3
SS Athelstane stern
The stern side is almost completely separated
SS Athelstane rudder and propellar
The sunken propeller and rudder
SS Athelstane
Starboard side - sand at the bottom

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