Diving in the South China Sea – a Metal Head’s Dream come true
Created: 25 Apr 2017
Courtesy of Tourism Malaysia I was extremely lucky to be invited on a familiarisation trip to dive from Labuan Island in the South China sea, at the end of my recent course in Malaysia. I learnt that Malaysia is split in two – the bit we all know on the Kuala Lumpur side, and another blob further East, on the west coast of the Island of Borneo, surround the Kingdom of Brunei.
At 5am, after some pretty hefty celebrations the night before, we dragged ourselves out of bed and boarded the coach to Kota Kinabalu airport. One of our party didn’t make it through security, having smuggled himself into Malaysia for the course, he didn’t get a stamp in his passport, so they wouldn’t let him through the airport! After that mini-drama, and feeling more awake after a couple of coffees, we boarded the small propeller plane to Labuan, and pretty much as soon as we took off we began our descent!
Labuan Island from the air
Labuan Island itself was bigger than I expected, and we were whisked straight to the jay-tea (turned out Jenny our lovely guide had an issue with the pronounciation of jetty, which was hilaious on day one but rather grating by day four!). We were loaded onto two small fishing boats for a very bumpy and very wet ride across to the paradise island where the dive shacks of CoCo Dive were located. They were the only buildings on a totally unspoilt island.
The warmth and welcome we received from the crew of CoCo dive was unequalled. They were a truly lovely and knowledgeable bunch totally alive with the passion for diving and the incredible wrecks and reefs their waters had to offer – and super keen to share it all with us.
First stop was the Cement wreck. She sits upright at 30m and is a quite spectacular sight to behold – with her ghostly fishing nets wafting around in the current. The viz wasn’t as spectacular as it would have been in the best season (Apr – Oct) but sadly as PADI had moved the dates of the CDTC to significantly earlier this year, we had to “put up with” the conditions. Those of us from the UK were in our element, with some areas a good 8m viz, we frankly couldn’t believe our luck.
That afternoon we dived a pretty reef before returning to the hotel for a 20-minute turn around (this was not a relaxing break!) before being picked up and whisked off to a promotional diner hosted by Tourism Malaysia to listen to some presentations on what amazing things they could offer our future customers and students. The food was incredible, again, but the beverages were a challenge. There was no alcohol other than in our hotel bar, and trying to get a glass of water was a feat of resilience. The favoured offering was some sickly-sweet syrupy rose water than tasted like perfume, but we put a brave face on and consoled ourselves with thoughts of the amazing dives yet to come!
Next morning, we were picked up bright and breezy by the coach, taken to the jay-tea (see!) and transported across to the island. The team were embarrassed by the poor viz of yesterday (8m, poor?!), so they decided to take us to a dead cert – the Blue Water wreck, and oh my goodness did it deliver! Sitting in 35m, she is a fishing trawler that caught fire and sank in 1981 and is utterly stunning, with an absolute abundance of tropical fish life and some interesting and challenging swim throughs and penetration options – she was a total delight to dive. She lies neatly on her side, making navigation fairly straightforward, and the clarity of the water in the channel she rests in is unrivalled.
More treats lay in store in the form of the Australian wreck (actually a Dutch vessel), who hit a mine and sank in 1944. Some 339 passengers lost their lives, predominantly prisoners of war. Her exposed metal structure is a massive attraction for marine life, and she sits in 35m. She was a steam ship and has some easy penetration routes for some cracking exploration.
That evening brought a gala dinner, this time hosted by the President of the Labuan Corporation, and attended by the Labuan paparazzi – we were snapped, interviewed and even filmed for local TV – and the next day facebook was flooded by friends of some of the group from Malaysia, China and Japan, all sharing images of press articles featuring us and our exploits!
The final day of diving brought another trip to the iconic Blue Water wreck before returning to the paradise island for a beach BBQ. Whilst our hosts prepared it, we decided we would do something in return and a large group of us trekked off along the white sandy beaches collecting some of the plastic bottles and other rubbish that sadly wash up daily from the main island. It was sobering to see just how much had accumulated since their last beach clean-up three days earlier.
We waved our hosts a fond farewell after yet another stunning local reef dive, and a tremendous beach BBQ complete with karaoke! The professionalism of the Coco Dive team was exceptional, they were a truly great bunch of people, and the diving in the area utterly blew me away. There are many more great wrecks to explore in the area – and it would be paradise for any wreck diver. Perhaps the most exciting thing is the recent discovery of some world war two plane wrecks in the area – watch out Truk Lagoon -this place takes half the time to reach and costs around half the amount….. serious competition in my opinion.