The Mystery of the Molas Shipwreck

10/01/2018

Japanese, Chinese or Dutch?

The Molas Shipwreck is a dive site right in our back yard, near the beach of Molas village. Details about the wreck are scarce, and what little information can be found online is not very reliable. For example, Wannadive.net lists it as a ship called the Kongo Maru, but this particular Japanese freighter sank in 1942 off the coast of East Papua New Guinea, not Manado. Other sources like Sportdiver.com claim it’s a Chinese commercial iron ship. So what is it?

After doing some more in-depth research by asking around locally, we can fairly certainly maintain that this was a Dutch freighter sunk near the end of World War II in 1945, at a time when the last remnants of Dutch resistance were desperately trying to maintain their foothold on the colonies while Japanese forces still controlled the territories.

Although sunk during wartime, some evidence suggests that this freighter is not downed by Japanese aggressors. Its real story will unfold once you decide to dive this beautifully overgrown wreck…

The dive site

The Molas Shipwreck lies at a depth between 22 meters at the bow, and 41 meters at the stern, where a still intact propeller can be found. Obviously, this is a pretty “serious” dive with very little bottom time for experienced divers only. The marine life is also pretty spectacular, with a lot of snappers, batfish and the occasional reef shark inhabiting the wreck.

Diver above Molas Shipwreck

After you reach the location buoy at the surface, you will descend using its guideline, and the first thing you’ll notice is that the ship is laying on a sandy bottom in an upright position. From the looks of it, it was anchored at the time of sinking, since 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 and is probably functioning as someone’s garden decoration! The starboard anchor is still hoisted up in its anchor home.

Following the port side, you can see a large dent in the hull, opening up into a tear through the metal, bearing all the signs of a broadside ramming.

After the hull was breached, the ship listed to port side, and all the davits (the cranes that lower the lifeboats) on that side are not deployed. On starboard however, the davits are extended, indicating that the crew must have gone off board safely. The strong forces of torsion caused the steam pipes to break off and landed next to the ship on the starboard side.

Drawing of Molas Shipwreck by Sachiko

So what happened?

Now, according to insurance records, this ship ran aground on the reef. However, the nearest reef is at least 200 meters away from the wreck, so why is it laying on the sand? How exactly did this ship go down?

One theory that won’t escape our attention is based on the fact that people do desperate things during desperate times.

Just imagine you’re the owner of this ship, and you’re tired of war. The Japanese army is walking all over you, and you just want to go home and leave all of this behind to live in peace with your wife and kids. You could try selling the ship, but you find no-one to buy because of the ongoing war. What do you do?

Getting creative during wartime

Well, the safest option would be to have the ship rammed by a willing (and slightly crazy) friend, get everyone off board, and simply claim the insurance money so you’ve got something sweet for your future. 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 UK to verify if your story is really true.

So there ya have it: the Molas Shipwreck is nothing more than an ordinary insurance scam. Who got to claim the money is also still a mystery, but this is our theory. Whatever the case, diving the wreck is a fantastic experience that you shouldn’t miss!

Diver hanging above Molas Shipwreck


Arjen