HMAS Adelaide finds a watery grave

By AAP with AG Staff 13 April 2011
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The HMAS Adelaide has been sunk off the Central Coast to create a dive site and artificial reef.

A YEAR OF ROLLING legal action and 80 minutes of dancing dolphins were not enough to save the HMAS Adelaide from a watery grave. Thousands of spectators watched on Wednesday as the decommissioned warship broke up and sank in under a minute, 1.8km off Avoca Beach on the NSW central coast.

The sinking marked the end of more than 12 months of delays caused by protests, court proceedings, cleaning operations and finally a pod of dolphins that temporarily held up the detonations scheduled for 10.30am.

“This is their turf and this is their land,” local Aboriginal elder Lila Kirby told protesters gathered at the beach. She had performed a traditional whale calling ceremony on Sunday at nearby Captain Cook point in an attempt to delay the operations. “But now it’s up to the dolphins,” she said. “I’ll let them go to do what they want to do.”

The sinking of the Adelaide

Protesters hugged and danced after hearing news of the dolphins while National Parks and Wildlife crews ushered the mammals a safe distance away from the Adelaide, which will form an artificial reef and dive site. “They are chasing fish, mate, but they’re moving in the right direction,” NSW Maritime spokesman Neil Patchett told reporters, adding that a safety zone had been established to protect marine mammals from the scuttling operations.

The delay lasted until just before midday, when fireworks shot into the sky above the Adelaide followed by the deep boom of detonated explosions within the ship’s hull. “It was less than I hoped for but more than I expected,” said spectator Rod Isaacs.

Joanne Pym added the ship’s quick descent made her think of sailors who died in wartime. “You can imagine our poor sailors at sea and how little time they had to get off when a ship sank,” she said.

The Adelaide was originally scheduled for scuttling in March 2010, but court action by the No Ship Action Group required further removals of red lead paint and wiring associated with PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls). Government officials have estimated the extra work added $1.5 million to the total cost of $8.5 million.

Ship wreck to boost local economy

“Of course it was worth it,” No Ship Action Group spokesman Quentin Riley said of the prolonged court battle. “We would have seen fibreglass on this beach. We’re not going to see that now. That in itself is a wonderful achievement.”

The group had argued the ship’s sinking would harm local marine life, pose a health risk, disrupt surf conditions and cause beach erosion. But aside from the small group of protesters, most spectators were in favour of the new tourist attraction.

NSW Minister for the Central Coast Chris Hartcher said the wreck would generate millions of dollars in tourism and follow-on revenue for the coast’s economy. “This will deliver significant recreational, tourism and economic benefits to the region, as well as educational and scientific research opportunities,” he said.

The 138m ship went down to a depth of 32m, but recreational divers will be able to enjoy its main deck and above-deck superstructure at much lesser depths.

An exclusion zone of 200m around the Adelaide‘s resting place will remain in place until midday on April 15, while divers assess the vessel and its position on the ocean floor.