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Diving the HMS Hermes with Tech Asia

HMS Hermes trips, like so many other things this year, are on hold until more travel friendly times return. They've been regular events for us though, and this is what you can expect once we all get going again...

The Ships Background

The first HMS Hermes is a fascinating and historic WWII shipwreck located off of Sri Lanka’s East Coast. She was the first purpose built aircraft carrier the world had seen, laid down in 1918 and commissioned in 1923. She had a distinguished career in the Far East which eventually ended in April 1942 when she was caught by aircraft from the Japanese Carrier Fleet comprising Soryu, Hiryu and Akagi, the ships which had attacked Pearl Harbour, and were to meet their own violent ending at the Battle of Midway just two months later.

She was sunk along with HMAS Vampire, HMS Hollyhock and the RFA Athelstane. The attack went down in history as one of the most accurate bombings of a ship ever seen as she was caught without fighter escort by some eighty Japanese aircraft, the majority of which scored hits on the ship. She now lies port side down in 53m of water off shore from Batticoloa. As such, she is genuinely one of a kind, so few aircraft carriers have ever sunk in such shallow water that this fact alone makes her an incredibly unusual wreck. Add to this that of those carriers that are accessible ( Saratoga, Oriskany, Graf Zeppelin…) none of them were actually sunk in combat situations. Few opportunities as unique and intriguing as the HMS Hermes exist anywhere in the world of technical diving.

Schedules and Diving Requirements

Trips are typically run with six days diving from Sunday to Friday, allowing the weekends for travel. Being land based rather than liveaboard, extensions to this on an individual basis are quite possible. A certification such as TDI Trimix or IANTD Normoxic Trimix would be ideal, and a wreck penentration certification a very useful extra. A maximum of eight divers plus one or two Tech Asia staff members (with extensive experience running trips on the Hermes since 2010), will be present on the trip to either guide or advise as required, and ensure smooth logistics and filling.

Logistics and arrangements

The access point for the wreck is the eastern Sri Lankan town of Batticoloa. This is six to seven hours drive across the country from the International arrival point in Colombo, and would be made as a group by small a/c coach. Accommodation in Batticoloa is at the Deep Sea Resort,. On arrival and departure, accommodation if you need it, is best arranged in Negombo, close to the airport. Please note that the Batticoloa resorts are basic, simple lodging houses, not International class hotels. Expect the best food to be local style cuisine, again simple and inexpensive.

Typical Costs and Inclusions

The trip cost in future would be in the range of US$2,500.00, which would include :

  • Six diving days, with boats, tanks, and all oxygen requirements for deco and back gas being included.
  • Transfers by road as a group from Colombo to Batticoloa and return.
  • Seven nights accommodation twin share, including breakfast, in Batticoloa.

Not included are flights, accommodation in Negombo and Helium. Divers also require full personal equipment for technical diving.

Diving and the Wreck today

Since the time of her sinking the Hermes has been infrequently dived. For years, being in an area of civil war, she was inaccessible, visited only by a handful of local divers. We made an independent effort to locate her and dived there ourselves in 2004 with a view to trips at that time, but ceasefires in the area broke down and it took until 2009 for stability to return to the East Coast. From April of 2010 to July 2016 we ran eight very successful trips to the Hermes, discovering for ourselves a vast and untouched piece of history waiting to be explored. In 2018 renewed civil unrest caused us to postpone and until now of course we are unable to get back.

The Hermes lies partially overturned to port and is reached at a depth of 44m (145ft) with a seabed some ten meters deeper (175-180ft). She is 181m (600ft) long and displaced 11,000 tonnes. Bow guns and those turrets seen amidships have barrels trained as far skyward as they could go and shell casings are still strewn around from her final frantic moments. We have a full set of Admiralty ships plans to help with dive planning, some parts of the ship more recognisable than others dependent on the degree of bomb damage sustained when she went down. Beyond the intrigue of the wrecks interior, the lack of fishing effort and diver interaction has lead to large marine life on the site that is the most prolific anyone of us had ever encountered. Diving conditions at the intended time of year are generally very calm with water temperatures upwards of 27c (80 Fahrenheit). Moderate to strong surface currents can run over the wreck South to North and make drift decompressions the norm, but bottom conditions are much more still.

Two dives a day will be made provided divers are prepared to start early. The wreck is about a thirty minute ride from shore by small outboard, morning dives will ideally be departing at seven am in order to return and refill for early afternoon dives.

Note that the diving can be physically demanding due to extremes of temperature, and the small boats that are available (restrictions are still in place in the area on size of outboard engines permitted to be used).

Other Wrecks

In 2011 we added the Wreck of the RFA Athelstane to the itinerary. She was sunk the same morning as the Hermes about 30 miles south. That dive is documented on video here . Near the Athelstane is the wreckage of another ship in shallow water, since confirmed as being the British corvette HMS Hollyhock. An additional day trip to this area can be added to the trip on request. More local to the Hermes are the picturesque and photogenic Boiler Wrecks, unidentified, resting side by side, and several old steam ships.

In 2012, the wreck of the SS British Segreant, a tanker sunk in 1942 during the same action, also became an optional extra dive, this time an hours journey North. Take a look at this page http://www.wrecksite.eu/wreck.aspx?104263 for general information on the ship.

The Sri Lanka trips are an exotic and one of a kind experience and as soon as it's practical to do so we'll be re-organizing our dates. Send us an email if you'd like to be kept informed.