Tobruk scuttling 'failure' sparks war of words
A DIVE operator has shut down claims made by Burnett MP Stephen Bennett who said the scuttling of ex-HMAS Tobruk was a "devastating failure".
A political war of words has erupted over the ex-Navy vessel landing on its starboard side after it was scuttled in waters 25 nautical miles off Hervey Bay's coastline on June 29.
The final resting position prompted fears that the wreck's potential tourism to the area would be impacted due to a large percentage of targeted tourists not experienced enough to dive on the Tobruk.
Hervey Bay Dive Centre owner Ed Gibson, who experienced the dive first-hand on Saturday, declared Mr Bennett's comments as a "political game".
Mr Gibson was one of a select few tourism operators to secure a contract to dive on the wreck.
"He's just a politician who has taken the opportunity to bash the opposition," Mr Gibson said.
"The wreck is fantastic and it will be great for tourism."
Mr Gibson as well as representatives from Hervey Bay Dive Centre, Dive Hervey Bay, Lady Musgrave Experience and Bundaberg Aqua Scuba, were given exclusive dive access by Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service on Saturday.
In December 2016, Bundaberg and the Fraser Coast claimed victory over other regions including north Tasmania in the race to have Tobruk sunk as a dive wreck.
"When everyone came back to the surface, they all had smiles on their faces," Mr Gibson said.
"It's exactly how we anticipated it but now it's on its side.
"There would have been positives and negatives if she was sitting upright but because she's on her side, there's just a new set of positives and negatives."
A Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service spokeswoman said the dive allowed operators to scope experience opportunities.
"Advice from dive operators indicates that the wreck, in its current position, will cater to all levels of diving, with the port side currently sitting in approximately 12m of water, allowing access to many identifiable features without entering the wreck," they said.
"Some of these features, including the troops mess on deck 3, would not have been accessible to less-experienced divers if the ship was upright."
But the positives weren't enough for Mr Bennett who said he was saddened considering it was "a culmination of a five-year campaign".
"Our community was promised a global phenomenon to bring in much-needed national and international tourism opportunities, yet all we have now is an ex-navy ship rotting away at the bottom of the ocean that can only be accessed by very few extremely experienced divers," he said.
"I'm told that even the more advanced divers will have trouble diving this site as it is.
"It's an absolute catastrophe for our community, and an insult to those who served on this beautiful ship."
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Backlash came from the other side of politics when Labor's Minister for Environment Leeanne Enoch hit back at Mr Bennett stating it was "disappointing" the LNP talked down the "important tourism opportunity" for the Fraser Coast.
"Advice from dive operators indicates that in its current position, the wreck will cater to all levels of diving," she said.
Mr Bennett questioned whether the Government pressured the contractor to go ahead with scuttling despite being rescheduled twice.
It's a claim Ms Enoch knocked back by stating the government did not interfere with the scuttling process and any suggestion otherwise was "completely false".
More than 80 vessels carrying hundreds of people witnessed the scuttling of the ex-HMAS Tobruk from outside a 500m exclusion zone.
It was a celebration which marked the end of four years of tireless work, campaigning and fundraising from hundreds of individuals.
After being postponed on a number of occasions, there was relief when sinking finally began at 11.20am. It took about 40 minutes for the ship to completely disappear under the surface.
Dive Hervey Bay owner Glenn Bowman, who also ventured into the depths of the ocean to experience the dive site on the weekend, maintained his concerns tourism would be affected.
However, he did not believe the result was a "devastating failure" but rather a "regretful" outcome.
"We'd all like to see it upright but we have to work with what we've got," he said.
"It's still going to be a major attraction but we'll just have to re-emphasise the safety aspect and be more vigilant with who we allow in.
"It will still be one of the biggest dive attractions in Australia but I'm not so sure about the world."
Both Fraser Coast and Bundaberg Regional Councils invested $1 million each into the campaign to sink the Tobruk in local waters.
Fraser Coast mayor George Seymour said the money was not considered a waste.
"I'm an optimist in these types of situations and the way I see it is that it's still a diveable site," he said.
"It might even be more interesting for the pro divers because the propellers will now be exposed.
"It will still be a highly sought after dive site across the world."
The wreck is expected to bring a surge of tourists to the region and boost the local economy by up to $5million per year.