- Spencer, Mark
- Biographies and personal histories, History - WW1, WWI operations
- RAN Ships
- HMAS AE2
- December 2008 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
I have over twenty years of experience diving on and photographing deep shipwrecks, and have always enjoyed the challenge of shipwreck photography. Just before the news of AE2‘s discovery, a few friends and I had adopted mixed-gas technology to explore the 60 to 90 metre range of wrecks in Tasmania and along the NSW coastline. Among my friends were professional and amateur maritime archaeologists, model builders, video cameramen and expert divers, all of whom would be very useful in a project to survey and document the AE2. I like big projects such as this and set out to organise an expedition to Turkey.
The cost of such a trip, with five team members, the gases, not inconsiderable luggage, dive vessels, the employment of local talent, and on-board recompression facilities is mind-boggling, but after hundreds of phone calls and meetings, the Hon. Bronwyn Bishop (then Minister of Defence Industries, Science and Personnel) took a personal interest, made some introductions, and finally I had the sponsorship organised.
Our first trip to Turkey
We first arrived in Istanbul in early October 1997, and boarded the MV Saros, a beautifully restored 30 metre salvage and research vessel, operated by the Rahmi Kog Museum. After several days, everything was finally organised and we were ready to dive.
The dive team comprised Richard Taylor (diving officer), Mervyn Maher (video cameraman), John Riley (wreck survey) and myself as stills-photographer. Supporting us from the surface was the fifth member of our team, professional maritime archaeologist, Tim Smith. Also present were an Australian Channel 9 television crew of three (based in London) with European correspondent Mark Burrows reporting. The TV crew, who were under pressure to have something ready for ‘A Current Affair’ by the next day, begged me not to take my camera on this dive, as they wanted all efforts to be directed towards Merv’s video footage. So I was to be the lighting person. I wasn’t too concerned as I’d have at least five more dives which I could devote to stills photography. I was soon to be proved wrong!
We breathed 32% nitrox down to 30 metres, then switched to our trimix (14%O2, 46%He, 40%N2) for the remainder of the dive to the bottom. This would give us a very comfortable ‘equivalent narcosis depth’ of only 40 metres on the bottom. At 21 metres (70 feet), while descending, we passed through a very distinct halocline (water density differential). The top 21 metres was a murky green brackish layer. Right at 21 metres, the water cleared considerably to a dark grey colour. Much of the sun’s light was blocked by the turbid brackish water so it became increasingly darker as we descended. At 70 metres, we slowed descent so as not to crash into the wreck, a possibility given only about four metres of visibility. At 70 metres, we came upon the wreck, fortunately the very top of the bow post. This is one of the most diagnostic and convenient parts of a wreck to land on. Even though the mission was to positively identify the wreck, I was not prepared for anything but a submarine. ‘That bow post doesn’t look right,’ I thought to myself. ‘I should be able to see the bow torpedo tubes a bit deeper down. Mmmm! No sign of them. What’s this? Glass portholes! That’s weird. Submarines don’t have any portholes. This deck looks mighty flat and broad.’ Still, I was not prepared to give a thumbs down until I saw Riley gesture exactly that way. After a fifteen minute bottom time, we began our slow ascent, surfacing almost an hour and a half later.
The next part was not easy. The Channel 9 crew aimed their big camera and microphone towards me when we arrived back on Saros. ‘The wreck we dived on was not a submarine’, was all I could say. ‘A steamer – a small coastal steamer’, said John Riley. But everyone, including reporter Mark Burrows, was somewhat speechless and totally unprepared for this scenario. Selquk Kolay was the most devastated of us all.
The weather deteriorated and 35 knot winds made diving too dangerous. We did not dive again until five days later and even that was marginal with very turbulent seas. Our Turkish dive advisor Tosun Sezen pressured me to forego the diving that day, but my team was determined to dive again and try to find the area of the wreck that Selquk had originally dived. Until we found what Selquk thought was a hatch, we couldn’t be sure we were on the same wreck. Although we knew this was unlikely, perhaps there were two wrecks in close proximity to each other.