Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts. These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
Maritime historians and professional divers urge Gov't to reconsider sinking Navy ships -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The Department of Defence has announced that the decommissioned vessels, Tobruk and Sydney, will be offered to the states and territories for the creation of dive wrecks.

Defence Minister Marise Payne says one reason for sinking the ships is the economic benefits that the creation of a dive wreck can have to local communities.

Scuba Diving operators are an obvious beneficiary, but as AM's David Taylor discovered, even some dive companies say the Government's made the wrong decision about sinking the ships.

DAVID TAYLOR: Scuba diving companies say shipwrecks are their life-blood.

SIMON JONES: Well if you've got one in your backyard, it's vital.

DAVID TAYLOR: Simon Jones is the director of the Perth Diving Academy.

He says divers are attracted to ship wrecks for a number of reasons, but a big drawcard is the seeing grey nurse sharks and other wildlife.

SIMON JONES: And just really interesting stuff, but once again the stuff you can't do normally, so for people to be able to do that if we organise a trip, you've got people, you know, falling over themselves trying to get in on it.

DAVID TAYLOR: In fact he estimates shipwrecks alone bring in tens of thousands of dollars to his business.

SIMON JONES: I think it's probably worth in the vicinity of $40,000 or $50,000 to our company.

DAVID TAYLOR: And that seems to be what's influenced the Minister's decision to sink the vessels.

In a written statement Defence Minister Marise Payne said she "appreciates the tourism and economic benefits that the creation of a dive wreck can have to local communities".

While there's little doubt the ships will boost economic activity, dive operator Simon Jones says there's something more important for the Minister to consider.

SIMON JONES: I really think Australia misses out on military history.

DAVID TAYLOR: HMAS Tobruk was used extensively during regional peacekeeping and humanitarian operations as well as border protection in Northern Australia.

HMAS Sydney was deployed to the Persian Gulf on five occasions in support of operations during the Gulf War, war in Afghanistan and the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Closer to home, Sydney was involved to support Australia's response to regional uprisings and humanitarian operations.

Max Bryant runs the Victorian Maritime Centre.

He says sinking the ships will make these important pieces of Australia's maritime history available only to an exclusive group of people.

MAX BRYANT: We've done this, you know, too often where we've lost these vessels that are part of our maritime history and they sit on the bottom and only a very few people can actually go and view them.

DAVID TAYLOR: Max Bryant has his own unique connection with Australia's maritime history.

His great-grandfather was the first ferryman on the Yarra River.

He says it'll be heartbreaking for all those with a connection to these two Navy ships to see them disappear underwater.

MAX BRYANT: The ship becomes your home and it's like, you know, your home, a bulldozer going through it. You know, it would break your heart knowing that you've grown up in that home and have it destroyed.

Well it's the same for a ship. These guys eat live and breathe that ship while they are on board and it's a...

DAVID TAYLOR: So it would be heartbreaking to see it sink to the bottom of the floor of the ocean?

MAX BRYANT: Absolutely, absolutely.

DAVID TAYLOR: Perth Diving Academy's Simon Jones says the Government needs to restore these ships and make them available to the general public.

SIMON JONES: And I'll tell you right now, you know, we haven't got that history. What's happened to them all? They all got sunk, they all got broken up, they all got scrapped because at the time people didn't have the foresight to see that.

But I can tell you now in 150 years' time if you can show them a Collins class submarine, if you can show them the Tobruk in all its finery with nothing ripped out and stripped down or whatever, if you can do that I reckon that would be unbelievable.

DAVID TAYLOR: Defence says it will schedule inspection days in June to allow the states and territories to attend briefings and inspect the vessels.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: David Taylor with that report.