Notes from the diving trip to Sebuku shipwreck 27 Mar 2005
For photos click the following photo album: Sebuku Shipwreck
Shipwrecks fascinate me very much. Ever since I saw my first shipwreck in the Thousand Islands sometime in mid 2004, I was drawn to shipwrecks. I'm not quite sure what makes them so interesting. Maybe their strangeness, their out-of-placeness. They are big black or grey shadows in an otherwise blue sea. Something out of place. You expect to see the creation of Mother Nature: blue-green sea, fish, coral gardens, all those beautiful creatures. Then suddenly you stumbled upon these grosteque dead creatures born of human hands. Yet they are beautiful too in a sense, these dead creatures residing in Mother Nature's lap in the bottom of the sea.
Maybe they fascinate me because of their history. Of the famous ones you can find references of the times when they were still alive and well, winning the sea, serving humans in whatevery their capabilities - in a war, as a means of transport, tugging other ships. Of the small inconspicuous ones you can only guess what kind of service they have rendered to humans. Whatever they are, famous or insignificant, big and small, as soon as you hover above them you can almost smell their history.
Or maybe I'm drawn to them because of their spookiness. Because they are spooky. Especially those shipwrecks which are still more or less intact. You can peep inside and see the doors, the rooms, the gangway. You can imagine what they were like when there were still human walking, working and living in them. Now all that's left are the ghosts. It's as if those shipwrecks with their grey hue represent the shadow of death.
Yet, that is not quite right. They are not symbols of death. For now in between the walls, in the stern, in the gangway, the upper deck, in fact in every part, life is never as abundant. Just look at any part of the ship, none would be left bare - each tiny space would be covered with algae, some with corals, or sponges or sea squirts. Schools of fish would be swimming in and out. Eels and other solitary animals lurking here and there. It's teeming with life. When you really look at them from this viewpoint, shipwrecks are not just grey, colours sparkled from it more than in a rainbow.
So, no, shipwrecks are not symbols of death. It's full of life - and not the life of the ghosts left dead in them, but real, diverse and colourful life, albeit of the invertebrate and fishy kind. For me it's a sign that life always wins. Nature claims back the ships and bestow it with the breath of life.
Vicious Geological History
The shipwreck that we visited on 27 March 2005 was located in the eastern shore of the Sebuku Island in the Sunda Strait (see map). The Sebuku and its neighbouring Sebesi islands are two small volcanic islands +/- 20 km to the north-east of the Krakatau complex, 10 km south-west of the Rajabasa volcano in Lampung. It is reachable in 1.5 hour of speedboat journey from Carita beach in West Java in a fine weather. Pulau Sebuku's highest point Gunung Sebuku is 356m above sea level. It is covered by lush vegetation. The rocks forming the island are mainly andesitic lava spurted out by a volcano about 2-3 millions years ago (Pliocene). It's southern neighbour Sebesi with 844m above sea level highest point is also similarly covered by lush vegetation. This island is younger than Sebuku, being formed by breccia, lava and tuffaceous rocks ejected by a volcano of Holocene age, which is 12000 year old at the most. Right now the two volcanic islands are ringed by fringing reefs producing the islands' spots of white sandy beaches.
The tranquil sandy beaches belies the islands' tumultuous geological history. Being born out of volcanoes they were witnesses to the force of nature in its extreme. Even its recent history, which was also witnessed by human beings, recorded a vicious event, when the huge Krakatau volcano complex (consisted of three volcanoes - Rakata, Danan and Perboewatan) exploded in 1883. This cataclysmic explosion sent forth up to 20 cubic kilometers of material as far as the western part of Java and the southern part of Sumatra. The little islands surrounding the Krakatau complex - Sertung (Verlaten) and Lang (Panjang), and the Sebesi and Sebuku islands were attacked by hurrican-force wind full of hot material. All vegetation in Sebesi and Sebuku were obliterated, burnt by the hot pyroclastic flow. Then afterwards when the mighty volcanoes collapsed, forming a huge submarine caldera, the little islands were stormed by a great tsunami waves. Nothing was left of life in there.
And yet, life came back. A few years later grasses and small plants were found again in the islands and in 40 years the forest canopy has grown back. It's heartening to see that life is so strong and continues to win despite the setbacks caused by nature.
The Battle of the Java Sea
Not only the islands witnessed the vicious powers of nature, they saw also the vicious nature of mankind. During the World War II the Sunda Strait became the fierce sea battle ground between the Allied and the Japanese forces as the Japanese starting to invade the Netherlands Indies - as the Indonesian islands at that time were called during the Dutch colonial rule.
A quick internet research indicated that the Sebuku shipwreck was of a Dutch destroyer called Evertsen. It was ran aground by a Japanese ship in the famous Battle of the Java Sea of 1942 which also saw the demise of USS Houston and HMAS Perth in nearby locations.
On 28 February 1942 Evertsen followed the course of the Australian cruiser HMAS Perth and the American cruiser USS Houston to the Sunda Strait. Evertsen witnessed from afar the two Allied cruisers engaging in battle with a Japanese fleet on the late hours of 28 February. Conquered, in the early hours of 1 March 1942 HMAS Perth sunk, followed a few hours later by USS Houston. Evertsen, under the command of Lt. Cdr. WM de Vries tried to escape by sailing close to Sumatra and attempted to dash through the Sunda Strait heading to the Indian Ocean.
Unfortunately she was spotted by two Japanese destroyers Murakumo and Shirakumo which immediately opened fire. Evertsen returned fire; but outnumbered, she sustained a lot of damage. Her captain decided to beach the destroyer in the Sebuku island. While firing her torpedo the ship continued to drive ashore until the bow was high above water. She ran aground, then lurched to port and the stern sank. Some sources say that 32 of her crews were dead and others say that all her crew ran away but were taken prisoner by the Japanese a few days later. The captain died as a POW in April. In the aftermath of the battle, General Ter Poorten on behalf of the Netherlands Indies government capitulated to the Japanese General Imamura on 8 March 1942. It signalled the beginning of the Japanese colonialism in Indonesia, which finally ended when the Indonesians proclaimed independence on 17 August 1945, shortly after the World War II ended.
Evertsen shortly after beached during the Battle of the Sunda Strait (picture courtesy of The Battle of Sunda Strait website)
The Sebuku shipwreck, laying peacefully on the sandy-silty shore at the bottom of the shallow water of the Sebuku island, had actually been part of a heroic sea battle. Who would have guessed that these pieces of metals, now overgrown by algaes and all sorts of other invertebrates, was once a mighty ship trying to conquer enemies? The wreck is already disintegrated. The stern rested at around 16m of depth, while some small part of the structure still exposed above water. In the murky visibility and with the ship disintegrating, we couldn't really determine the main structure of the ship, though we could see many different parts laying around and I seemed to be able to make out the long, narrow hull, also some pipes and chambers.
Evertsen wreck now lying peacefully underwater in Sebuku shore. Click picture for more underwater photos of the wreck.
I wasn't aware of the battle story of Evertsenwhen I was diving around it. But observing the wreck looking for good photography angles I thought I could feel some deep history there. It, or she, the former Evertsen, was a witness to some small part of my country's history. It's lying dead on the bottom the sea now, but it's alive again with invertebrates life and fish swimming peacefully in and out of it. Life wins again.