By Malaka Rodrigo - The Sunday Times
Abandoned shipwrecks rich in marine life have the potential to be steady magnets for dive tourism but they are being salvaged indiscriminately for scrap metal.
MV Cordiality, a large ship operated by a Chinese crew was anchored in the seas off Pulmoddai, loading valuable ilmenite, when LTTE Sea Tigers attacked it on September 1997. Six sailors were killed and the ship sank with its cargo close to the shore.
This war victim was forgotten within months, but nature claimed its ownership of the sunken vessel. Corals started growing on its large metal surface and thousands of fish and marine creatures have found the shipwreck a safe haven for the last 13 years.
Now however the ship is being salvaged for scrap metal.
“The MV Cordiality shipwreck at Pulmoddai has now become a huge artificial coral reef in the ocean, transforming itself into an oasis of marine life,” says Darshana Jayawardane, a marine naturalist who went diving near the wreck in May.
“One could spend hours just looking at the multitude of exquisite Lionfish, Scorpionfish, Butterflyfish, Juvenile Snappers, Nudibranchs and Fusiliers that swam around the massive hull. The huge towers, pillars and twisted pieces of metal lay around with ilmenite at the bottom, reminding one of a moon landscape,” Darshana said.
MV Cordiality could be easily developed as a key destination to attract tourists who travel around the world exploring marine and coastal environments.
Dive Tourism or wreck-diving is now becoming a huge business that forms a significant component of the growing global tourism industry. Sri Lanka has real potential to develop high-end Dive Tourism, based on these wrecks, point out marine specialists.
But shipwrecks, especially in the North and East, are being destroyed for their metal. Authorities sometimes claim salvaging is done to clean the shallow waters or because the wrecks are a problem for fishermen who cannot lay their fishing nets due to the underlying wrecks.
But what they do not know or consider is the long term value these wrecks can bring to our economy.
The revenue that can be gained by Dive Tourism based on these shipwrecks can be much more than the wreck’s scrap metal value.
If the average amount of metal that can be salvaged from this shipwreck is estimated as 15,000 metric tons and one kilogram of scrap metal is worth about 20 rupees – salvaging can bring Rs.300 million revenue from MV Cordiality.
But the long term gains from marine tourism are much greater and nothing special has to be done compared to the money that is spent on salvage operations.
The marine tourism potential of a ship wreck is in fact incremental because it is becomes richer with biodiversity and coral cover day by day.