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SUNKEN NAVY FRIGATE ALREADY HOME TO A MYRIAD OF SEA LIFE
[December 27, 2005]

SUNKEN NAVY FRIGATE ALREADY HOME TO A MYRIAD OF SEA LIFE


(New Zealand Press Association)Pix avail exwww.nzpaimages.co.nz

Auckland, Dec 28 NZPA - The country's newest shipwreck and dive attraction is already covered in algae and home to a myriad of sea life.

The former Leander-class navy frigate HMNZS Wellington was sunk off Island Bay in Wellington on November 13 after six years of planning and preparation.

Marco Zeeman from the Sink F69 Charitable Trust, named after the ship's number painted on its hull, said the ship had settled into the seabed since the sinking and was showing no sign of movement.

``She has sunk nicely a good metre into the seabed and is well locked in now, perfectly upright.

``Her keel has settled into the sand so she is snug. The ends of her propeller shaft are now buried in the seabed whereas before they were nearly a metre above the seabed.

``In a month she has done over 400 dives. She is already covered in algae all across the top decks,'' he said.

``She is no longer her grey stealthy ship-like shape.''

He said within a few months he expected metre-long seaweed to be growing from the ship.

The top of the bridge and the ship's helicopter hangar was only six metres below the surface at low tide and could be dived on by snorkellers.

Mr Zeeman said divers with air tanks had said the internal dive on the ship could be done without a torch because there were so many holes cut in the ship which let in a lot of light.

The ship had already attracted a lot of sealife with schools of red cod and juvenile fish.

The ship was sold to the trust by the navy for $1 on instructions from the Government.

The navy paid for some of the cleaning and the tow from the Devonport naval base in Auckland.

It was moored at a wharf near Te Papa for five months as it was stripped of anything of value which could be sold.

Mr Zeeman said Wellington City Council underwrote the venture and the trust owed the council about $85,000 which he said the council was happy about.

``They had basically budgeted $600,000.

``I think it is a raging success. The divers are loving it...all the feedback has been absolutely amazing.''

Mr Zeeman said the project involved hundreds of people with only a few critics who got their noses out of joint over something they really knew little about.

He said the wreck was generating income for the city and had added a venture tourist attraction in short supply in the area.

``It is a shipwreck which 20 other shipwreck technology and sinking processes have been put into so she is the best in the world. She is certainly the most accessible from an international airport.''

The ship was visible from the air provided the water was calm.

He said the mission to sink the ship went almost entirely as planned although there was still about five tonnes of bronze and two or three tonnes of bronze nickel which could have been salvaged from the ship had the trust had more time.

```But we made a time in the sand for her sinking. The public wanted that time and we worked to the schedule.''

The ship sank in less than two minutes after a huge fireball exploded over the bridge and bow of the ship, and carefully placed explosive charges blew out pre-cut holes in the hull.

The sinking made international news and within minutes spectacular footage of the fireball and the sinking were shown on the American news channel CNN and the BBC in England.

The ship was built in England in 1969 for the Royal Navy and named HMS Bacchante. It was bought by the New Zealand Government in 1981 and renamed HMNZS Wellington.

NZPA AKL is dj

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