Koh Chang to get first shipwreck

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Koh Chang scuba divers will get their first intentionally-sunk shipwreck when the Royal Thai Navy sinks the HTMS Chang off the Trat Province island next month.

The tank landing ship, also intended to be an artificial reef to help restore the island’s marine ecosystem, will be sunk Aug. 16 to honor HM the Queen on her 80th birthday. Until Aug. 14, the ship is open to the public at a naval dock near the Ao Sapporot Pier.

Tugboats tow the HTMS Chang from Bangkok to Koh Chang. Tugboats tow the HTMS Chang from Bangkok to Koh Chang.

The ship was originally slated to be sunk off Pattaya. Mayor Itthiphol Kunplome announced two years ago that Pattaya could get five shipwrecks over the next five years, but despite the formation of a coalition of area dive centers to push the initiative, a lack of follow-up by both city hall and the Tourism Authority of Thailand resulted in the ships being sunk off Koh Tao last year and Koh Chang this year.

The Chang will be sunk a few kilometers off the southwest coast of Koh Chang. The depth at which it will lie is still unknown, but is assumed to be within the range of recreational divers at less than 40 meters.

Capt. Nariaphikhak Saengsanit of the Designated Areas for Sustainable Tourism Association, said Koh Chang’s marine environment has been damaged over the years and the 100-meter-long former U.S. Navy ship will help to bring fish and other sea life back to the area.

Capt. Aathorn Kluabmas, a former officer aboard the Chang, said he was pleased the ship would continue to serve Thailand, who received the former USS Lincoln County from the U.S. in 1962.

He participated in the July 14 ceremony after the ship was towed from a Bangkok navy storage yard. Officials said the ship will be cleaned and prepared for divers before it is sunk to be sure it doesn’t pose a hazard to divers and the marine life it is intended to preserve. Both wrecks sunk in Pattaya created oil slicks and the HTMS Khram still had doors that could be locked when it was sunk.

Built in 1944 by Dravo Corp. in Pennsylvania, the former LST-898 saw action in World War II during the battle for Okinawa, Japan, then was mothballed until the Korean War, when it was transferred to the Navy for use in the Korean War from 1950-52.

It was decommissioned in 1961, then transferred to the Royal Thai Navy, which initially planned to use it as a firefighter-training hull at the Sattahip Naval Base.

The wreck is the first to be intentionally sunk, although other Thai ships were sunk around the island during a skirmish with the French in 1941.