Dolphins help celebrate Tobruk's sinking 

A pod of playful dolphins helped mark the sinking of Tobruk this morning. 

The curious critters swan alongside the boat carrying the environment minister. 

OPINION -  Seanna Cronin

No need to man the panic stations.

While some divers are concerned that ex-HMAS Tobruk will end up resting on her starboard side, the 127-metre-long former Landing Ship Heavy will still make an excellent artificial reef for marine life to call home and divers to enjoy.

Dolphins play around Tobruk: A pod of playful dolphins celebrates the sinking of Ex-HMAS Tobruk.

As thousands of Facebook followers watched the scuttling livestream on Ex-HMAS Tobruk: From Wreck to Reef page, a hundreds of others watched on from boats in Hervey Bay, the ex-navy ship could be seen clearly listing to her starboard side.

In comparison to ex-HMAS Brisbane's textbook scuttling in 2005 off Mooloolaba, it appears almost certain the Tobruk has come to a rest on the seafloor on her side.

SINKING FEELING: Ex-HMAS Tobruk makes its way to the bottom of the ocean.
SINKING FEELING: Ex-HMAS Tobruk makes its way to the bottom of the ocean.

While it's not ideal, there are plenty of other examples around the world of scuttling going awry.

During and after my undergraduate studies at the University of Miami in Florida I was a regular diver and dive guide on the USS Spiegel Grove, which sensationally sank prematurely and ended up upside down before giant lift bags (at an addition cost of $250,000USD at the time) were used to get her on her starboard side.

She sat like that for three years until the force of the storm surge from Hurricane Dennis pushed the wreck nearly perfectly upright.

As part of the support crew for a team of NOAA scientists, I was one of the first to dive the Spiegel Grove upright after the storm and it was surreal experience.

We became accustomed to everything inside the ship being 'sideways' and a swim down to the stern was always a highlight for the chance to see the large propellers.

But the Spiegel Grove was just as great of a dive in her upright position as new features were exposed.

Closer to home, the scuttling of ex-HMAS Adelaide off Terrigal also had its issues with the wreck subsiding to rest deeper than expected ¬- limiting it to advanced scuba divers.

A wreck dive is so much more than the size and orientation of the ship itself. What makes a wreck dive exciting and ever-changing is the marine life the structure attracts and the Tobruk will do that no matter how she lies.

UPDATE 1PM: Ex-HMAS Tobruk has now joined Queensland's list of artificial reefs, becoming a premier dive site in the waters off Bundaberg and Hervey Bay today.

The ex-navy ship has been flooded with water via pneumatic valves and will sit on the ocean floor in the Great Sandy Marine Park.

Minister for the Environment Leeanne Enoch said the ex-navy ship had undergone extensive preparations to become a world-class dive site for the past eight months in the Port of Bundaberg, as part of a joint project between the Palaszczuk Government and the Bundaberg and Fraser Coast Regional Councils.

Tobruk sinking : Spectators and boats gather at sea as the Tobruk makes her way down to the bottom of the ocean.

"This is an exciting achievement for our government and will add such a prestigious asset to our portfolio of tourist attractions," Ms Enoch said.

"This unique dive site will appeal to divers of all levels and ability. Diver access holes have been cut around the ship to provide access and lighting into the depths of the historic ex-navy ship.

"The upper rear decks of the ship are anticipated to be in water shallower than 18m, appealing to open water divers and snorkelers.

"The internal tank deck is anticipated to be at a depth of 25m, appealing to advanced and technical divers."

Ms Enoch said the ship provided service throughout the last 34 years and would continue to serve as a unique tourist attraction from deep beneath our warm Queensland waters.

"It is expected that divers will be able to dive the site within approximately one month, depending on safety inspections and mooring installations."

Tourism Industry Development Minister Kate Jones said Queensland will be the envy of the diving community with a world-class dive site that will drive an influx of domestic and international visitors to the region.

"The scuttling of Ex-HMAS Tobruk will create a significant tourist attraction, boosting the local economy by up to $5 million per year and creating jobs across the Wide Bay region," Ms Jones said.

"It's great to see that the history of the ship has been captured through interactive displays to give visitors the opportunity to interact with the Tobruk.

"The Palaszczuk Government worked in partnership with the Bundaberg and Fraser Coast Regional Councils to deliver this project for the community and local tourism operators."

The ex-HMAS Tobruk project has generated approximately 20 temporary full-time jobs for locals throughout the production, towing and scuttling operations, and will continue to have flow on economic benefits to major hubs such as Bundaberg and Hervey Bay.

Minister for Transport and Main Roads Mark Bailey said Maritime Safety Queensland played a critical role in ensuring the safety of the project.

"Maritime Safety Queensland provided specialist advice throughout the process as the Tobruk was prepared for scuttling," he said.

"They also assisted in ensuring the Tobruk's final resting place was outside major shipping routes and posed no risk to vessels operating in the area."

Martin Simons General Manager of the Fraser Coast Regional Tourism & Events said the region has been waiting with anticipation for the scuttling of Ex-HMAS Tobruk.

"This new dive site is a big win for local tourism and will put the Fraser Coast-Bundaberg region on the map as an international-class dive location," Ms Simons said.

"Queensland's vibrant marine life from corals to turtles and the clear waters of Hervey Bay will make the wreck a magnet for divers from around the world."

Maritime and disposals specialists Birdon Pty Ltd employed local contractors to prepare and scuttle the ship, removing over 400 tonnes of material, contaminates and waste from the ship.

Birdon Disposals Manager Trent Raines, said he was honoured to be part of a project that struck cords with many ex-service personnel.

"Four of the local staff we employed to help dismantle the ship had actually served on ex-HMAS Tobruk while she was in action," Mr Raines said.

"For them, having the opportunity to prepare the ship for her final purpose meant a lot, and they were able to say goodbye to a ship that they spent so much time on during their service."

"We tried to keep as many historic items on the ship as possible to make this an authentic dive, and we were able to recycle the majority of materials removed from the ship," Mr Raines said.

 

UPDATE 12.30PM: The Tobruk has sunk.

Steve Hoseck, project manager for Ex-Hmas Tobruk, explained the process.

"We just opened the valves to scuttle the ship," he said.

"They were open neumatically so the tug on the side has got wires and air hoses hooked up to open those valves and it slowly flooded the ship and it got to a point where it flooded itself.

"If you see on the ship the lowest areas that have been cut out, they started filling by themselves approximately half an hour (after starting the sinking process)."

It only took about three minutes for the entire ship to reach the bottom of the ocean.

The tug boats stayed connected to the Tobruk throughout the whole process, in order to hold it in position and guide it all the way to the bottom.

"They just eased up as the ship went down," Mr Hoseck said.

 

SUNK: Ex-HMAS Tobruk has gone down.
SUNK: Ex-HMAS Tobruk has gone down. Craig Warhurst

As someone who oversaw the whole process, Mr Hoseck described it as a "fantastic" day as he choked back tears.

It was the biggest project he had worked on so far.

But it won't be long before Mr Hoseck and the Tobruk are reunited.

"I'm hoping to dive it on Sunday to do some of the inspection dives," he said.

"We've got to inspect it to make sure that it is safe for diving.

 

SUNK: Ex-HMAS Tobruk has gone down.
SUNK: Ex-HMAS Tobruk has gone down. Craig Warhurst

"Some things can come loose when it goes down... we want to make sure it's absolutely safe for the public."

Mr Hoseck described the process of bringing the Tobruk down to sea as the highlight of his career.

EARLIER: Ex-HMAS Tobruk is slowly sinking.

The NewsMail is out at sea, observing the historic moment, to bring rolling updates to our readers.

Two tug boats will guide the vessel to the bottom.

 

TOBRUK: Photos from out at sea.
TOBRUK: Photos from out at sea. Craig Warhurst

Environment minister Leanne Enoch lit a flare to signal the descent to the bottom.

More than 100 boats surround the Tobruk, with choppers overhead.

 

The ex-HMAS Tobruk is ready to be scuttled.
The ex-HMAS Tobruk is ready to be scuttled. Alistair Brightman