Dive the SS Worcestershire

Amidst the hunters and the hunted of the deep...

The team commandeered by Mr. Dharshana Jayawardena had been looking for a ship sunk by the German Raider SMS Wolf known to the world as the SS Worcestershire for over two years. And once it was found, the team looked for clues and evidence pointing straight to confirm that this ship was indeed the one they were looking for.

And in the end, on 11/03/2014, Mr. Dharshana Jayawardena retrieved the bell of the ship with its name engraved on the surface, confirming that the ship's identity and concluding four years of work started in 2010. By this time, the team had made 22 technical dives, including 15 of which were done solo by the leader, all looking for evidence and capturing significant features of the ship.

And following is the story of the SS Worcestershire, a British transport vessel transporting passengers and cargo that sunk into the great unknown near Colombo on February 17, 1917, during World War One.

The ship was massive, and you can understand the need for a few dozen dives to explore the ship fully, discovering new wreck sites created by its debris when the ship sank. SS Worcestershire was undoubtedly a massive vessel with measurements of a whopping 137.9m in length, 16.6 m in width, and 6.7 m in height.

SS Worcestershire was on the route to London after departing from Rangoon. It was laid to rest in the depths of great blue a few kilometers west of Mount Lavinia by the German armed merchant raider SMS Wolf using sea explosives and mines. She was hunting for British ships in the oceans during world war I, and SS Worcestershire was another victim. The Wolf by Richard Guilliat & Peter Hohnen is a fantastic work of non-fiction that beautifully captures the famous journey of the SMS Wolf.

This area off Colombo on Sri Lanka's southwest coast rewards adventurous divers with more than 15 known wrecks and can have warm, crystal-clear water if dived in the right season, which is November through May. But this site is frequently overlooked in favor of the more colorful reefs, clearer waters, and prolific marine life of more popular Indian Ocean destinations such as Indonesia or the Maldives. But you must know that the SSW wreck site is highly underrated, and the beauty of the site is unparallel to many others. The giant ship, which has been resting underwater 15 km west of Mount Lavinia for a little over a century, is now a paradise of marine life.

At 57 meters below the surface, the ship provides an excellent location to watch aquatic life. Groupers, Pickhandle Barracuda, Shoal of Trevally, Longfin Bannerfish, and many more are often spotted around the ship in huge shoals. They have happily welcomed the big giant into the depths of the ocean at 57 M below the surface and made it their home with no hassle. After all, the ship may be artificial, but the debris created by the wreck has given them so many spots to hide themselves from predators. 

You will notice giant honeycomb moray eels peering out from their caves and casting wary glances your way while lobsters dance in and out of the man-made reef. All of the wrecks in this area are a magnet for marine life due to the sandy nature of the majority of the seafloor, which results in brilliant, colorful environments.

The initial view is limited to a massive ball of fish on the sand-covered ocean floor. The schools of yellow-lined snappers, bannerfish, and angelfish entirely engulf it. You can quickly inspect the bow, stern, prop, and what's left of the ship's construction because it lies straight on the bottom.

The ship, from afar, looks well and undisturbed. But as you get closer, you will notice that the hull of the ship is entirely intact contrary to the insides of it. The interior is greatly damaged, and this could have been resulted from mines blowing it apart and sinking it to the bottom with its massive mass.

Now that you know what to expect on your dive to the SS Worcestershire, let's consider the details leading up to finding the wreck and identifying it with evidence.


Exp 1 – Exp 3 (Expeditions One To Three) – 2011

After two years of stressful and relentless searching, our Dive Sri Lanka team could finally pinpoint a wrecked ship at the bottom of the ocean where the SS Worcestershire was known to have seen last. The team announced their finding on 03/04/11. This day marks the first dive our team took to Worcestershire, and as unpredictable as it is, they were intrigued by the strange, deep, lush paradise seen by few.

As usual, the wreck shown on the admiralty maps was well off. But two years later, persistence and a fish detector had finally unearthed the enigmatic ship B2633's subterranean grave. A term indicating its depth in the local tongue.

And as they descended to the maximum depth of the ship's grave, which was 57 M, they were enveloped and covered by thousands of fish, including Gray Snappers, Yellow Fin Trevally, Giant Trevally, and Groupers. And that is when they finally understood that the area is truly a paradise in the underwater world almost never disturbed by humans other than aquarium fish catchers who have dived around the area almost 1.5 decades ago.

And we, the Dive Sri Lanka team, are proud to announce that we were the first to photograph this beauty in all its colors in known history.

As we swim toward the stern of the ship, we notice that the ship's interior is largely disrupted, but the exterior is well intact considering the amount of time it has been underwater. Inside the wrecked ship, a large shoal of yellow travelly was trying to escape the hunting attempts of a Giant Travelly. Around this area, the large growth of soft coral is abundant and looks healthy.

And our team will never forget how a large group school of Pick Handle Baraccuda surrounded them when they ascended the anchor.

EXP 4 (Expedition 4) – 2012

On 02/03/2012, the team rolled back into the warm waters 10 miles southwest of Mount Lavinia, Colombo, to photograph the huge ship in its glory. These photographs will let our divers compare the ship to those of real pictures of SS Worcestershire and pick out any similarities between the two.

Our experts noticed that the size of the wrecked ship is almost similar to the SSW but capturing the key features that would help us prove the point was difficult because the ship had been underwater for almost 95 years by now. They said goodbye once again to the wreck, hoping to return to it as soon as possible to measure the size of this massive giant.

EXP 5 (Expedition 5) – 2012

On the date of 13/03/2012, the team once again descended the depth of 57 M – a tech dive – with one ambition in mind. That was to take the measurements of the ship to compare with the actual size of the Worcestershire. The team was almost distracted by the dances of thousands of fish in the area, especially the giant travelly and big eye travelly that watched them with curious eyes.

Because the ship greatly deteriorated in the last century, the team took two measurements from two angles to avoid any mistakes. And later, the team figured out that the beam at amidships gave an average measurement of 56 M, which was slightly different from the actual SSW measurements by 1.1 Feet.

After considering all the factors including this measurement, closeness to the last known location of SSW, size of the wrecked ship, deterioration, and so many more similarities, the team concluded that they finally found the lost merchant ship, the SS Worcestershire.

EXP 6 – Exp 21 (Expeditions 6 To 21) – 2013 – 2014

  • In EXP 6 – 7, carried out on 05/01/13 and 13/01/2013, the team discovered a new debris field by two more tech dives to the bottom of the wreck. 
  • During EXP 16 and 17, done on the days of 03/11/2013 to 08/11/2013, the team captured pictures of the ship's stern side.
  • The team explored the power plant and a twin screw propeller engine on their 21st expedition down to the SS Worcestershire on 15/02/2014.

EXP 22 – Where It All Fell Into Place

On 15/02/2014, Mr. Dharshana Jayawardena was on a solo technical dive, which lasted well over 100 minutes, when he was able to find and retrieve the bell of the ship with its name engraved on the surface. The bell was then sent to the Sri Lanka Maritime Archeological Unit (MAU), which is situated in Galle Fort and is financed by the Central Cultural Fund for safekeeping and will most likely be displayed in a museum after the restoration procedure is completed.

This concluded the 4 year long expedition of our team to find the SS Worcestershire; two years of looking for the wreck and another two years of exploring the site for evidence. And we were finally able to prove that this wreck was of the SS Worcestershire, a British armed-merchant vessel sent below to its grave by the SMS Wolf, a German Raider, during world war I, on February 17, 1917.

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