By Brandi Mueller
This is an impossible task because I love all the wrecks of Truk Lagoon (Chuuk, Micronesia). I have my favorite wheelhouse (Nippo Maru), my favorite cargo hold (Rio de Janeiro Maru), my favorite wreck for marine life (Shinkoku Maru), I can go on and on.
Each wreck is different in its dive profile, what historical artifacts it holds and what marine life grows on and lives around the wreck. I find that while all the ships and planes reside within the same lagoon, the life one sees from one area of the lagoon to the next is very different and from ship to ship.
If you haven’t heard of the wreck diving in Truk Lagoon, here’s a quick recap. Near the end of World War II the Americans carried out an air raid (Operation Hailstone, February 17-18, 1944) on the Imperial Japanese base in Truk Lagoon sinking over 50 ships and destroying many airplanes. Today, this Micronesian paradise is one of the top wreck destinations in the world with warm, tropical waters, almost no current and extensive marine life. The wrecks were never salvaged so they are essentially a preserved underwater museum.
Underwater photographers will find themselves overwhelmed with photo subjects from the massive wrecks themselves (with visbility usually in clear enough for shadowy wide-angle shots); endless antiques of a time over 75 years ago including hand-painted Japanese dishes, medical kits, beer and sake bottles, crew personal affects and much ammunitions; and abundant marine life (there is even a ton of macro life if one can take their eyes off the huge ships long enough to look for it!)
Here’s a few of my favorites:
5 | Nippo Maru
The Nippo Maru was a water transport ship during the war and divers can see the massive tanks in the bottom of the ship. However, the 353ft long ship is probably most famous for its intact wheelhouse with telegraph, steering station, and speaking tubes, and the Type 95 HA-GO light battle tank on the deck. Inside the wheelhouse is a perfect opportunity to get ambient blue light streaming through the windows while lighting up the steering station and telegraph.
The ship also has stacks of beer bottles, gas masks, howitzer guns, folded wheelchairs and more. For those willing to go deeper, the engine room has interesting gauges, catwalks and piping. Visibility is usually quite good in this area of the lagoon making it easy to capture wide-angle shots of the ship and the forward mast is covered in brightly colored marine life.
4 | Shinkoku Maru
Probably the ship with the most marine life is the Shinkoku Maru. Large, multicolored anemones dot the ship in excess and the whole wreck seems almost draped in pink, purple and orange soft corals. The 500ft tanker has one of the most exciting engine rooms and photographers can enter the ship at 130ft through the torpedo hole that sunk the ship and wind through the engine room at various levels photographing machinery rooms, catwalks, ladders, generators, boilers, and more.
Schools of fish including jacks, fusiliers, and trevally roam the wreck and there are lots of artifacts including sake and beer bottles, bolts of cloth for uniforms, dishes, pots, pans and other remanence of ship life in the 1940s. The superstructure has lots of soft corals and fish life.
3 | Hoki Maru
The Hoki Maru was originally the Hauraki, a Scottish built vessel owned by New Zealand. The 450ft vessel was requisitioned by the British Ministry of War in 1940 for the allies and attacked and captured by the Japanese in 1942. In Truk she had aviation fuel onboard which caused a massive explosion when the ship was hit and sunk in 1944. Underwater, divers can see the front section of the ship splayed open with the ribs of the hull almost flat on the sea floor. A swim forward finds the very bow intact and upright and from mid-ship to the stern also standing upright, intact, even after the explosion.
Known for its cargo hold of construction equipment, many come to this wreck to shoot the trucks, bulldozer, tractor and other heavy machinery within. The ship also has excellent marine life including lots of soft corals and divers often see grey reef sharks and eagle rays around the wreck.
2 | Airplanes
- “Jill” Torpedo-Bomber – Nakajima B6N Tenzan
- “Zero” Type O Fighter – Mitsubishi A6M
I love underwater airplanes and Truk Lagoon has several. One of my favorites is the Jill off Eten Island that sits in sand at a depth of about 130ft. With a wingspan of 49ft and 36ft long it is encrusted in sponges and coral and small fish swarm the plane.
One of several Zeros has one propeller blade that sticks out at low tide. Much of the plane has crumbled but I love trying to shoot over-unders at this plane with the lush green islands behind.
1 | Momokawa Maru
I can’t explain it, but this is my favorite wreck in the lagoon. While others agree that it’s good, no one else seems to put it as high on their list as I do. I always have incredible dives on this wreck, like once, a manta joined circled the ship for an entire dive, swimming the entire length of the ship with me. It is 354ft long and was a passenger cargo vessel prior to the war. A similar ship design to the Nippo Maru its holds were extended to accommodate long lumber which was transported from Siberia to Japan.
This wreck sits on its port side, but with a slight list, so when inside the superstructure it always makes me feel like I’m diving in a funhouse because my eyes and mind adjust to the list but my bubbles don’t seem to be going up, rather to the side. The wheelhouse is intact and the steering station with metal ring from the wheel is still present as well as a telegraph and speaking tubes mounted at the front windows. There are also frames of three trucks, airplane parts and the engine room is quite intact with many catwalks, panels and gauges.
Truk Lagoon is an endless playground for underwater photographers looking to test their skills and get creative while shooting. Happy Shooting!
Ambassador Brandi Mueller has been nursing an addiction to WWII wrecks for years now. She fulfilled her childhood dream of becoming a Marine Biologist, then set off to travel the world exploring and teaching underwater photography. She published The Airplane Graveyard in 2018 documenting the history of wrecks photographed during her years in Kwajalein Atoll. She moved on to captain the MV Truk Odyssey in 2019 and we're never quite sure where she'll turn up next. Read more...