SS Singapore

SS Singapore by Trev
Position-Keswick Island, near Mackay

GPS- 20 55 11s 149 23 25e

Permit Required – No

Depth- 27 metres

A huge tidal range and an unswimmable current will keep divers off the wreck of the SS Singapore for the majority of the time. Undoubtedly the ferocity of these currents played a significant role when the Singapore could not be displaced from the uncharted rock she discovered just south of Keswick Island near Mackay.

Built in Glasgow in 1874, the ship was owned by the tenacious ?Eastern & Australian Steamship Company?. In 20 years from 1875 onwards the company lost no fewer than 5 major vessels and still managed to continue business well into the 20th century. It has since been argued that this was because they were at the forefront of opening up new trade routes and were predominant in Australia?s early trade with our Asian neighbours.

The grounding of the ship was described in detail by the ships first officer in the Marine Board enquiry that followed; here he outlines the events on board on the afternoon of January 29th 1877:

?I went on watch at 4pm. The second officer said he was going to call the captain as he had orders to do so at 4 o?clock. The captain came on deck immediately after, took his glasses and looked at the land, asking what course I was steering. I replied ?southeast by east half east?. Shortly after he told me to keep her ?southeast by east?. I altered the course accordingly and then came down from the standard compass to the bridge compass*. I do not know the name of the seaman who was at the wheel. I was looking at the bridge compass to see how her head was by that when the captain came towards me saying it was a nice clear morning. And just as he said the words the ship struck, giving three bounds. I called for the carpenter to sound the pumps and found three feet of water in the fore holds a few minutes after she had struck. The ship was rapidly going down by the head with a list to port.

There was no sail set; the engines were going at full speed at the rate of about nine knots, weather being beautifully calm and clear weather. There was a lascar forward on the lookout; the lascars generally keep a good lookout.?

Although it was generally agreed that the local currents had set the 964 ton Singapore off course, the Captain and his crew were completely exonerated as the rock that sank the Singapore had previously been unknown to anyone, least of all the crew of the ship. The rock was promptly charted and has since been known as Singapore Rock, in honor of the ship.

The cargo aboard the Singapore was soon scattered across the seafloor. Most of it was perishable goods, predominately tea, and was almost immediately rendered worthless. The ship and its contents were sold soon after at a price little more than one hundredth of its actual value prior to the accident.

The Singapore I must admit was one ship I had no clue about how to find. There were no dive shops in nearby Mackay and it was not in an area where trawlers worked due to the rocks and reef around it. There was also conflicting reports about where the ship had actually struck, some divers were convinced she was actually on Wheatley Shoal about 600 metres to the southeast of Singapore Rock. I had received descriptions of the site from people who dived it who were in fact quite positive she was not on Singapore Rock. Just around the corner, just the day before, I had learned that the Cremer wasn?t on Cremer Point but the next one along, so it was easily conceivable that the Singapore wasn?t on the ?Rock?. Further down the coast is Waverley Creek, named after the shipwreck of the same name, And the Waverley certainly wasn?t anywhere near the creek. So as I left the confines of Egremont Pass that morning, I really didn?t know which way to go. My logic went like this. If Singapore Rock breaks the surface, how and earth could she have been ?an uncharted rock?. Wheatley Shoal was a lot more likely not to have been charted, its shallowest point was 5 metres at low tide. Another thing in favor of Wheatley Shoal was that it was further away from the island. Singapore Rock is just 500 metres from the shore on Keswick. If the morning was as clear as the captain had commented, why then was the ship so close to an island it surely must have seen. I was beginning to think that Wheatley Shoal was looking good. But something didn?t fit. For the Singapore to have hit Wheatley Shoal she must have had the further misfortune for it to have been dead low tide at the time and as I neared Singapore Rock I got the impression that the crew of ship could quite conceivably have thought it normal to be this close to the island, the depth was 30 metres all around.

The current was incredible, at least three knots, I would have to wait till the bottom of the tide to do a dive. I still hadn?t decided where. It came down to this. Singapore Rock is relatively small, maybe 80 metres in diameter. If I dive Singapore Rock on the low tide I can pretty much discount it if I don?t find the wreck because I can pretty much cover the whole thing. If on the other hand I chose Wheatley Shoal to dive first, I could easily miss the wreck and be none the wiser. Wheatley Shoal is half a mile across, not finding the wreck wouldn?t necessarily mean it wasn?t there. At least if I did one dive on Singapore Rock I would know one way or the other.

So I waited. At about 3 in the afternoon I shunted the yacht up to the rock and tried to figure out what the currents were going to do. It was still ripping, but there had been some considerable subsidence from earlier in the day. I dropped the anchor about 30 metres off in 15 metres of water and geared up. This dive was really significant. It was going to be the first real tricky dive of the whole trip. There was plenty of current, no-one was there to bail me out if things went south. There was no shore to readily swim to, the current would take me away from Keswick and out to sea. The water was green and a little murky, tiger shark territory. I was about to break just about every rule in the diving /boating book and the importance of it hadn?t escaped me. If I pulled this off and got back in one piece I would have the confidence to go north to Torres Straits and do the Warnambool and Quetta on my own. If I bailed out I might as well sail into port and forget the whole thing. If I went in and got lost, well that just didn?t bare thinking about. Success or failure of this solo dive trip rested with me right there as I stood with one fin over the railing and one fin firmly on the deck. I don?t mind telling you I was scared. On any other day this would be a walk in the park, but on any other day I would have backup. I was never big on the buddy system, but I always had good people on board that could and had sorted things out if there was trouble. Logic would say, take your gear off, don?t be so bloody stupid, but dives like this were precisely why I was here. I quickly re-checked that I had the ladder down, looked at the water; ?I must be mad?. Then I jumped. I changed my mind several times between the deck and the water.

The first thing that struck me about Singapore Rock when I got to the bottom was that it was a terrific dive site in its own right. Wreck or no wreck. If it weren?t for the fighting current it would be a local Mecca, a pinnacle of rock and boulders rising up out of 30 metres to just break the surface at low tide. Pelagic fish usually love places like this and this rock was no exception. Spanish mackerel [Scomberomorus semifasciatus] and Trevally[Caranx melampygus] horded around the edges while a myriad of reef fish swam amongst the sea whips beyond 15 metres. I reeled off to the right 50 metres and found nothing. Wound the reel back in, went up to the top of the rock and reeled down the other side. Nothing. Back up again and repeated on a different side. Nothing. Singapore Rock was a fizzer. ?Oh well?, I thought, ?at least I know now.? The current had increased with the change of the tide. Unusually though it hadn?t changed direction, just re-intensified. It was a tough pull back to the anchor and of course there was the weight of disappointment to haul back as well. I undid the reel and made my way along the chain to where it rose up off the bottom. Bugger it I thought, I will just try one more reel off from here, heading to the east. I re-attached the reel line in the middle of the anchor chain and let the current take me east. Almost immediately I was stunned. There she was, the gargantuan bow of the SS Singapore. I simply could not believe my eyes.

Unfortunately, I was out of gas. Completely out, so I quickly ascended and jumped up onto the yacht feeling triumphant and eager to see much much more. I would of course have to wait until the next afternoon at the very least, in the morning I planned to be diving the SS Llewellyn if I could find her. She was about 6 or 7 miles south east of the Singapore. In the morning I left for the Llewellyn and as fate would have it , it was a few weeks before I retraced my steps to Singapore Rock. On the first all I could tell about the wreck was that it was there, time had been all to brief.

This time, I knew where she was and could have a good look. Time would still be relatively tight, the current would always dictate that on this site. I jumped over the side of the yacht, this time without the slightest hesitation and began to explore.

The SS Singapore wreck lies over quite a large area and no longer resembles the form of a ship. Imagine someone took a model of a ship, broke it into small pieces, put it all in a box, shook it up, then tipped it back out. The site has no pattern to it. There is a collection of 4 boilers in one part, but a single boiler off on its own as well. Scattered plates lie everywhere and a section that looks like a bow [but may not be] dominates the central position of the site. She is alive with pelagic fish and there is heaps of machinery and goodies to keep the rust fanatics occupied for hours. In the section that looks like the bow it is easy to get in and penetrate down to a depth of 25 metres at low tide, which could be up to 30 at high tide. Red Emperor and genuine hump headed Snapper can be seen swimming in and out of this section. Surprisingly there are quite a few portholes left on this site, testimony to the fact that she would not be easily accessed without calm conditions and neap tides. When compared to the MV Cremer just around the corner, the Singapore is a far superior dive. A lot more of the wreck remains and she has the history and depth to make her an extremely worthwhile undertaking. Her disadvantage is that she is fully exposed to the southeast trade wind and of course there is that current