Dive the MV Astoria

Welcome to Colombo's underwater world! Explore the cargo holds of freighters still intact, take in the beauty and fish life on barges covered in coral, or learn about the history of wrecks. Colombo provides top-notch wreck diving immediately off the city and near the international airport. Around the Colombo port, there are undoubtedly aspiring wrecks awaiting to be noticed by humankind, and MV Astoria was one of them among the recently identified.  

Winter averages are 22°C/72°F, and summer averages are 33°C/93°F. The optimum months for diving on the west and east coasts are around October to April and May to October. And if you visit MV Astoria, you can take in the ship's bow, the still-intact cargo hold, and the colossal wreck this ship made while sinking to the bottom by breaking into two.

In 2014, Mr. Dharshana Jayawardena and his team were granted special permission to dive near the Colombo Harbour Breakwater, a restricted area to the general public. They were on a special expedition to find a ship beneath these calm waters.

With a sonar scanner in hand, the team was able to locate a colossal subterranean object below them, confirming that they would be busy for a few hours capturing the true beauty of a vessel that had been untouched for some decades. So the team jumped to action after gearing up for the mission.

First, they were almost diving blindly without being able to source the natural light of the sun into the murky waters. It is natural and expected given that the Galle Face Green and the Colombo port are just 3km away from the pinpoint.

However, they were delighted to see a ship's distinct outline! It has good visibility, given the proximity to the shore. Although this is only a couple of kilometers away from the beach, the Galle Face Green, the visibility is a little higher around the boat, even though you can't expect it to be crystal-like.

Seeing the general jumble of ship wreckage, they identified that the ship had been split into two major pieces with its cargo still in the hold. It was the team's biggest suspicion that this was the MV Astoria which was last seen somewhere around this particular area before she was brutally pulled into these brine waters.

MV Astoria was put to rest by a storm at a depth of 25m when the storm flooded her cargo hold in 1997. The ship and its cargo of cement and rice were lost forever, but all of her crew were saved. The boat time to get here is 45 minutes. It is a place that has higher historical values in terms of shipwrecks.

As expected, the cargo was still packed with hundreds of thousands of hardened cement packages. And that was the most significant evidence that proved what the team found was indeed MV Astoria.

The macro life around this long-lost cargo ship is flourishing with hundreds of thousands of Trevally, sometimes Giant ones at that, and plenty of giant Moray Eels. And the wrecked ship is still displaying her single propeller, hawsehole, anchor, and bow in excellent condition.

This ship is still a fantastic dive for shipwreck enthusiasts despite having slightly less visibility than the other wrecks in Colombo. The area is still off-limits to the public, and there is a danger that the new building of Port City will eventually bury her beauty under the artificial landfills.

But as genuine wreck diving enthusiasts, we hope that it will not be how the story of MV Astoria comes to an end. There are around 100 dive sites in Sri Lankan waters associated with historic shipwrecks. They are dispersed around the nation, and there may be a significant number of undiscovered historical shipwrecks. If wrecks like Astoria were to be open to the public, they would also become a huge income source for the country as well.

Most of the historic shipwrecks located date from the colonial era, and the 2000-year-old Godawaya Shipwreck Site is the oldest in the Asia-Pacific region. Most of the locations where shipwrecks have been found were in use between 1850 and 1950.

The Sri Lanka National Shipwreck Database offers historical, legal, and biodiversity details on places where ships and airplanes have been found to have crashed. Before diving, divers can use this resource to learn more about shipwrecks and shipwreck areas. When you dive, you can look for the unique specifics of the wreck site using the knowledge you gain from this site as a background.

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