Justin and the deep blue

JUSTIN McCarthy’s love of scuba diving began about 10 years ago, stemming from a strong interest in World War II shipwrecks and travelling.
“I went to learn to dive because I wanted to dive the SS President Coolidge, which was a ship nearly as big as the Titanic that sank in Vanuatu,” Justin said.
“The captain wouldn’t wait for the escorts and he just barged his way into the harbour and hit two floating mines.
“They had 5000 American troops on board and the captain rammed the ship up onto the shore so all of the troops got off bar two – one was killed in the initial explosion and the captain died when the ship sank.
“That ship is the most accessible ocean liner that you can dive in the world and it was loaded with war supplies – jeeps, tanks, trucks and things like that.
“That’s where the journey started.”
The Cranbourne man has since dived about 60 shipwrecks around the world and is still counting.
Justin is the licensee of the International Association of Nitrox and Technical Divers, a training facility, which gives him the opportunity to travel overseas to places like the United States, Papua New Guinea and right around the pacific.
“Occasionally, I’m asked to go overseas to check out new locations, such as Sri Lanka, where HMS Hermes, an aircraft carrier, sank in 1942,” he said.
“An Australian ship, the HMAS Vampire, an escort destroyer, was sunk one mile from the Hermes but it has never been found and when we were there I was quite interested to see whether we could find the Vampire, but no such luck.”
Justin goes searching for shipwrecks with the Southern Ocean Explorers (SOE) and his World War II boat ‘Action’ is their main search vehicle.
The group recently returned after finding a shipwreck that had been lost for more than 70 years – the TSS Coramba.
“We were lucky when we found the Coramba because we were actually looking for a wreck called the Kermandie, which was a small wooden schooner that was carrying granite from Phillip Island when they were building the colony in the 1960s,” he said.
When divers reached the wreck, which was in 63 metres of water, they realised it wasn’t the Kermandie because the wreck was actually a twin propeller steamer.
The team were elated to discover the only twin propeller steamer on their records was the TSS Coramba.
“That was quite an exciting find,” Justin said.
SOE founding member Mark Ryan wanted to dive the wreck but unfortunately, due to the extreme weather conditions, the team turned around and went back.
“We agreed that we would go back the next week when the conditions were fine,” Justin said.
“We also invited Des Williams, the author of ‘The Ship that the Sea Swallowed’, which was a book about the Coramba he wrote about 25 years ago.
“He’d been looking for this wreck for 25 years and he came out with us.”
Justin says one of the best places to scuba dive is in Truk Lagoon in Micronesia, which is home to 50 shipwrecks.
“It was the American payback for Pearl Harbour – Truk Lagoon was a similar naval depot for the Japanese and the Americans went in with a carrier force and over three days they sank every ship in the lagoon,” Justin explained.
“It’s very interesting – you can dive submarines, destroyers, cargo ships, you name it, it’s there.”
One of the wrecks in Truk Lagoon is a small ship about 55 metres underwater, called the Shotan Maru, which Justin said was one of his favourites.
“The reason I like it is because it sank in a hollow so imagine a ship that’s been put into a crevasse in the bottom of the ocean and the decks are level with the sand,” he said.
“When you swim along, you see the deck of the ship because the rest of it is in the hollow in the sand.
“I like it because you can swim the whole ship – with bigger ships you can’t see it all in one dive.”
With all shipwrecks, there is a huge focus on preserving the site, and as such, scuba divers are forbidden from removing any items. “It’s a bit like being in a museum, an underwater museum and it’s very sobering when you dive through the shipwrecks,” Justin said.
“When you swim through, occasionally you can find cups and saucers at the table and you realise someone sat at that table years ago.
“I’m a firm believer that you leave these things as you find them because if everybody starts taking one little piece, all you’ll be left with is just an empty hull.”
Justin is looking forward to exploring more parts of the ocean and finding as many shipwrecks as possible in the following years.
His next adventure will be a trip with SOE to Lakes Entrance to find the SS Federal and a trip to Cape Schank in search of the PS Reliance.
He will then head to Sydney for a few days before going to Truk Lagoon to do some scuba diving training.
“It’s a good mix of business and leisure,” he said.

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