Wreck diving is not exactly what North Sulawesi is famous for. But if you like to dive wrecks, we have a great dive site right on our doorstep: the Molas Shipwreck. Details about the wreck are scarce, and the little information we found is not very reliable. For instance. Wannadive.net says the ship was called the Kongo Maru, but this Japanese freighter sank in 1942 in East Papua New Guinea, not Manado. Other sources like Sportdiver.com claim it’s a Chinese commercial iron ship.
So what is it?
After researching some more and asking around locally, we can fairly certainly agree this was a Dutch ship that sank near the end of World War II. This was at a time when the last remnants of Dutch resistance were desperately trying to maintain their foothold, while Japanese forces still controlled the territories.
Although it sank during wartime, some evidence suggests that this freighter is not downed by hostile aggressors. Its real story unfolds once you dive this beautifully overgrown wreck…
The wreck and surroundings
The Molas Shipwreck lies at a depth between 22 meters at the bow, and 41 meters at the stern. You can still find an intact propeller on the bottom. Obviously, this is a pretty “serious” dive with very little bottom time. The marine life is also pretty spectacular: snappers, schools of batfish and the occasional reef shark roam the wreck.
After you reach the location buoy, you descend using its guideline attached to the prow. The first thing you’ll notice is that the ship is lying on a sandy bottom in an upright position. It looks like it was anchored at the time of sinking — the port-side anchor chain is uncoiled, extending down under the hull until 15 meters away from the ship. The anchor itself however is missing. The starboard-side anchor is still hoisted up.
Following the port side, you can see a large dent in the hull. Opening up into a tear through the metal, it’s showing all the signs of a broadside ramming.
After the hull breach, the ship might have listed to port side. This might be the reason why the davits (the cranes that lower the lifeboats) on that side are not deployed.
On starboard however, the davits have been extended, suggesting that the crew must have gone off board safely. Strong torsion forces caused the steam pipes to break off and ended up next to the ship on the starboard side.
So what happened?
According to insurance records, this ship ran aground on the reef. But the nearest reef is at least 200 meters away from the wreck, so why is it on the sand? How exactly did this ship go down?
We base one theory on the fact that people do desperate things during desperate times.
Imagine you’re the owner of this ship, and you’re maybe tired of the war. Japanese forces are everywhere, and you just want to go home and leave all of this behind. Because of the war, it’s impossible to find a buyer. What do you do?
Wartime creativity in North Sulawesi
Well, the “safest” option would be to have a willing friend ram the ship after getting everyone off board, and claim the insurance money. But because the insurance company won’t cover any losses due to acts of war, you file the report as a shipping accident. And since this is 1945, no-one will come all the way from the Europe to verify if your story is really true.
In conclusion: we think the Molas Shipwreck is nothing more than an ordinary insurance scam. Who got to claim the money is still a mystery, but this is our theory. Whatever the case, diving the wreck is a fantastic experience that you shouldn’t miss!