Diving in Micronesia
Wreck Diving at Bikini Atoll
Michael McFadyen - Devilfish Diving Services

Where can you dive, in the one day, two wrecks of 43,000 tons displacement and one of 31,000 tons? "Not possible" you might say! Well it is, and what's more, they are within a few hundred metres of each other and mostly within the magic 40 metres sportdiving limit set by instruction agencies.

The bad news, at least for the moment, is that although there is a dive operation that services these magnificent shipwrecks, the price is way out of reach of all but the richest divers. This is because the wrecks are to be found at the bottom of Bikini Atoll Lagoon.

The three wrecks mentioned above are the 43,500 ton USS Saratoga, a carrier of 880 feet, the 43,581 ton battleship HIJMS Nagato, 708 feet long, and the USS Arkansas, a 31,900 ton, 562 feet long battleship.

As well as these vessels, there are two US destroyers (Anderson and Lamson [sister to USS Tucker at Vanuatu]), two US submarines (Apogon and Pilotfish), one Japanese cruiser (Sakawa) and two heavy transports (Gilliam and Carlisle).

All these vessels (and a number of others) were sunk during two atomic tests (the third and fourth ever conducted) that formed Operation Crossroads on 1 July (Able) and 25 July 1946 (Baker).

Despite what you might think, the radiation is not dangerous. A recent study showed that the radiological dose while swimming in the lagoon is essentially zero and the radiological dose for a two week diving visit is estimated at about 1/10 that of living in a US city for two weeks.

The USS Saratoga is almost 100% intact, sitting upright on the bottom with the bridge area only 12 metres below the surface. The flightdeck is about 27 metres down and the sand 54 metres deep. Inside the vessel are aircraft, bombs and other remains. The Arkansas and Nagato are fairly intact, but they are located on their sides and therefore a bit deeper for real internal exploration. All the vessels sunk at Bikini were loaded with armaments, fuel and stores to simulate real wartime situations.

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Many claims are made about the largest diveable shipwreck in the world. The SS President Coolidge in Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu is most often put up as the largest. It is certainly the largest easily accessible shipwreck in the world at 21,936 tons and 651 (or 615) feet. Recent claims that the Mikhail Lermentov in New Zealand is larger than the Coolidge are not correct. It ship displaces less and is only 175 metres (574 feet) long. The three vessels at Bikini dwarf the Coolidge and Lermentov in terms of displacement and the Saratoga is over 230 feet longer than the Coolidge. If you have ever dived the Coolidge, you can only dream of how big the Saratoga must be!

One day soon it may be possible for the general diving public to visit Bikini Atoll at a more reasonable price (currently A$6500 or thereabouts for one week) and dive these huge wrecks. Hopefully it will be sooner than later.

Name Description Displacement
(Tons)
Length
(Feet)
Width
(Feet)
USS Saratoga (CV-3) Aircraft carrier 43,500 888 108
USS Arkansas (BB-33) Battleship 26,100 562 106
HIJMS Nagato Battleship 43,581 708 95
HIJMS Sakawa Cruiser 6,652 550 50
USS Anderson (DD-411) Destroyer 1,720 348 36
USS Lamson (DD-367) Destroyer 1,726 341 35
USS Apogon (SS-308) Submarine 2,424 312 27
USS Pilotfish (SS-386) Submarine 2,424 312 27
USS Gilliam (APA-57) Transport 6,800 426 58
USS Carlisle (AA-69) Transport 6,800 426 58

References:

  • The Archeology of the Atomic Bomb: A Submerged Cultural Resources Assessment of the Sunken Fleet of Operation Crossroads at Bikini and Kwajalein Atoll Lagoons by James P. Delgado, Daniel J. Lenihan and Larry E. Murphy - US Parks Service
  • Ghost Fleet - The Sunken Ships of Bikini Atoll by James P. Delgado