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Polynesia - Espiritu Santo

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Tui Tawate

Luganville, Vanuatu ‎

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Overview of Tui Tawate

The Tui Tawate has had several incarnations since being built in 1945. Originally known as the SS Empire Shirley, she was owned by the Union Steamship Company in New Zealand. In 1947, her name was changed to the Tapuhi. As the Tapuhi, she came to fame for the role she played in rescue efforts when the Wahine Ferry sank en route to Wellington, New Zealand.

On 10 April 1968, a routine channel crossing from New Zealand’s South Island to its North Island ended in the loss of 51 lives when the Wahine Ferry was hit by a gale force storm and sank on its approach to Wellington Harbour. The Tapuhi braved mountainous seas in an attempt to tow the Wahine to safety but the line secured to the ferry could not withstand the treacherous weather. While the Tapuhi failed to tow the Wahine, it did manage to rescue over 170 of the Wahine’s 733 passengers.

In 1974, the Tui Tawate arrived in Vanuatu when it was purchased for use in salvage operations on the SS President Coolidge. Her task was simple --carry salvaged oil from the SS President Coolidge to the SS Arcadia, a cruise ship that regularly visited Espiritu Santo, and had arranged to purchase the oil for $17,000.

The Tui Tawate changed hands again in 1986 when it was purchased by Clement Griffiths of Wellington, New Zealand. Clement intended to move the Tui Tawate back to Wellington and renovate it as a floating restaurant to memorialize Wahine Day. However, the tug was deemed not sea worthy enough to withstand the tow and so the Tui Tawate was left, abandoned in a river, in Espiritu Santo.

In the mid 90s, the Santo Fisheries Department began an expansion project near the abandoned ship, the company hired for construction requested that the Tui be moved as a condition of their contract. So, the resilient vessel with a remarkable history was towed into the Segond Channel and sunk to rest in the calm waters of the Pacific.

Although it’s been underwater close to 20 years, fewer than two dozen divers have been to visit the Tui Tawate, more because few people know about her than for any other reason. Plus, it’s difficult for any wreck, even one as historic as the Tui Tawate, to compete with the SS President Coolidge. But divers who have skipped a dive on the Coolidge to dive the Tui Tawate have not been disappointed. “It’s an incredible dive,” said one diver, “great fish life, gorgeous coral and this impressive wreck with all this history just sitting there daring you to come and explore.”

The Tui Tuwate isn’t an easy dive but divers traveling to Espiritu Santo to make deep, penetrative dives on the Coolidge are expecting a holiday with a few challenging dives in the mix. Her depth is a steady 40 to 45 metres for the duration of the dive and unlike the SS President Coolidge, you can see the whole wreck in a single dive. Her propeller and prop shaft are still in place and beautiful coral including sea pens can be found on and around the wreck.

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