SS Duke of Sparta Wreck in Ambon

SS Duke of Sparta wreck in Ambon Bay Coralia Liveaboard Indonesia by Debbie Arriaga

In Ambon Bay there is a little-dived shipwreck and there’s an interesting story behind it. The wreck lies with her stern at around 15 metres and her bow down at 35 metres. It is a huge ship, and the wreck is over 100 metres long. Due to the wreck being close to the busy port of Ambon, the visibility is rarely great! But the shipwreck is intact and covered in amazing coral growth. Sponges, hard coral, and soft corals, along with the wreck itself have created amazing spaces for a wide variety of marine life.

The mast and the upper parts of the wreck are covered in colourful soft corals. It’s in these areas where the light will be best and the visibility better. Make sure you bring a dive light for this dive! You can look for moray eels, nudibranch, frogfish, shrimps, and juvenile fish like boxfish and emperor angelfish.

Nudibranch on SS Duke of Sparta wreck in Ambon Coralia Liveaboard Indonesia by Debbie Arriaga

The Story of the SS Duke of Sparta Wreck

Divers Andreas de Beer and Marcel Hagendijk knew about a wreck of a cargo ship close to Ambon City without knowing her name. In October 2009 they penetrated the wreck and recovered a plate on one of the boilers. This led them to discover that the shipwreck is the SS Duke of Sparta. It was a cargo ship built in 1940 by William Gray & Company at West Hartlepool on Tees-side in the United Kingdom. The Duke of Sparta was built for Trent Maritime Co Ltd but was sold to Grimaldi Brothers of Naples, Italy in 1951.

Her new owners renamed the ship SS Aquila. The position of the Aquila’s final resting place had been unknown up until the point when the divers identified the Duke of Sparta! In April 1958 the Aquila  anchored off Ambon City when a Douglas B-26 Invader bomber bombed and damaged her. The aircraft was operated by the CIA and was painted black with no markings. The attack was part of a covert operation to support right-wing Permesta rebels in North Sulawesi. They wanted to destabilise the government and President Sukarno.

Pilots had orders to target foreign merchant ships with the idea to drive foreign trade away from Indonesia. This would then weaken the Indonesian economy and thereby undermine the President. After a pilot was shot down and captured the mission was quickly aborted, and the CIA radically revised its policy towards Indonesia.

Aquila stayed afloat for one more month after the bombing but finally sank on 27 May 1958. That is where she lay, a mystery shipwreck until 2009!!

Juvenile box fish on SS Duke of Sparta wreck in Ambon Coralia Liveaboard Indonesia by Debbie Arriaga

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