Wreck Diving in Phuket: Phuket wreck diving and the King Cruiser wreck, the best wreck diving Phuket has to offer

April 11, 2010
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Wreck diving in Phuket has several enticing options that can grab most scuba divers interest. The King Cruiser wreck is the premier Phuket wreck diving destination and measures a cool 85 metres from bow to stern. The King Cruiser sunk on 4th May 1997 after the captain somehow managed to crash into the only shallow submerged reef between Phuket and Koh Phi Phi, Anemone Reef. Anemone reef is clearly marked on ships navigational charts and it’s still a matter of debate in the Phuket scuba diving community how this accident happened. There are several rumours of how and why it happened. Was it an insurance job? Could it have been pilot error? Did the captain fall asleep? We can’t answer any of these questions with any factual certainty, and it would be libellous to speculate without any hard evidence and proof. Regardless of how she sunk, the King Cruiser offers the best wreck diving Phuket has to offer.

The King Cruiser was a large roll on roll off car ferry which was designed and built in Thailand. Although capable of carrying vehicles for the short one-hour hop from Phuket to Phi Phi, she would only ever carry foot passengers on this trip, as there are no vehicles or roads on Koh Phi Phi. She measures 85 metres by 30 meters and had a maximum passenger carrying capacity of 1200.

The King Cruiser
The King Cruiser

The day the King Cruiser went down she was cruising to Koh Phi Phi in perfect weather conditions. Half way through the calm uneventful journey there was a sickening bang followed by a loud scraping noise as one of the ships twin catamaran hulls was ripped open like crepe paper by the unseen jagged granite pinnacle of Anemone Reef. From that disastrous moment it was inevitable the King Cruiser would sink, and sink quickly. Passengers donned life vests and panicked as their predicament quickly dawned upon them. The order to abandon ship was given, and the few life-rafts the ship had were hastily releas

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ed into the ocean. All the 561 passengers and crew made it off the ship safely. There were no fatalities. One elderly passenger suffered a broken back, and some were treated for shock. Some passengers made it to the life-rafts, many more were picked up by other boats in the area, including dive boats which were close by preparing to dive Shark Point as well as Anemone Reef. For the Phuket scuba diving operators, the King Cruiser couldn’t have sunk in a better place, just a stones throw from two other excellent Phuket dive sites in a designated marine sanctuary. From the moment The King Cruiser hit Anemone Reef she took less than 17 minutes to sink. She now sits in an upright position at a depth of 32 metres. It didn’t take long for Phuket and Phi Phi dive schools to excitedly add the King Cruiser to their list of dive destinations. A wreck was exactly what they needed and she quickly became a popular choice with scuba divers diving in Thailand. There was a new three-dive day on the Phuket scuba diving day trip itinerary. Guests could now dive the King Cruiser, Anemone Reef, and Shark Point, all in a single day.

It didn’t take long for the King Cruiser to attract a huge array of marine life. Initially it was possible to dive the entire length on the wreck through the vast cavernous car deck at a depth of 24 meters. It was possible to penetrate the wreck in many areas, including the passenger lounge, the passenger gangways, various stairways, the car deck, and the captain’s cabin. In good visibility the King Cruiser was an awesome dive site and was the highlight of the three dives in the area. Within a couple of years the new artificial reef was completely enveloped with barnacles and festooned with juvenile hard and soft corals. The king Cruiser became an aquatic Mecca for marine life and supported its own entire marine ecosystem. Huge shoals of Snappers covered the ship, including Two Spot and Five line Snappers. Trevally menacingly patrolled the outskirts of the ship swooping in with lightening speed to pick off their helpless victims. Wiley old Great Barracuda cloaking themselves in shoals on Snapper are often found on the wreck, including occasional whoppers that sometimes reach a staggering 2 meters. Lionfish congregate at the King Cruiser in large numbers, hovering almost motionlessly waiting for hapless prey to clumsily wander by before striking with such speed it’s over in the blink of an eye. The Lionfish here when fully grown can reach in excess of 45cm. Bearded Scorpionfish adore the King Cruiser and in places carpet the floor and railings. It’s especially important on this dive to watch your buoyancy and double check before touching any part of the wreck. A Scorpionfish sting is extremely painful and there’s no other dive site in Thailand where these fish are more common. Turtles can also be spotted on the King Cruiser, and so can Banded Sea Snakes, and a wide variety of Moray Eels.

By late 2003 the King Cruiser wreck had corroded so badly she started to collapse. Whilst diving you could clearly hear eerie groaning and creaking as the twisting wreck fought bravely to stay in one piece. A heavy storm in September 2003 challenged the structural integrity of the King Cruiser wreck. A large section of in the stern area collapsed making the car deck at 24 meters far more difficult to navigate. It also raised questions and concerns of safety, should more of the structure collapse while scuba divers were inside. Many dive centres now passed a memorandum to their instructors and dive masters instructing them not to take guests into the car deck. Over the following years more and more of the wreck has collapsed. Jokes abound that the wreck has deteriorated so quickly because it was it was built in Thailand out of cheap materials. One real reason that the wreck has deteriorated so quickly is that it lies in very shallow warm water, and is subject to fiercely strong currents.

These days the King Cruiser is still a very good dive regardless that safe penetration options for recreational dives are now extremely limited. The passenger gangways, the passenger cabin, and the captains cabin are now all gone. They simply corroded so much they disintegrated. There is still an area towards the aft of the wreck with a 10 metre wide passage through the car deck which is safe for experienced divers. There are a few comical porcelain toilets in almost new condition standing upright at the aft of the wreck, which sometimes provide shelter to White Eye Moray Eels. The King Cruiser is literally teeming with marine life. In fact, there’s probably no other dive site around Phuket with more fish. She is blanketed with shoals of Snapper in all areas of the wreck and as divers swim through the shoals they’re enveloped in a vibrant pulsating tunnel of fish. Macro lovers will salivate at the multitude of exotic Nudibranchs and other Macro life on the King Cruiser. Whalesharks sightings at the King Cruiser increase yearly.

At certain times of the month the King Cruiser is subject to extremely strong and sometimes challenging currents. Visibility can also sometimes be murky. Average visibility on the King Cruiser is around 10 metres. On a good day with 30+ metres it’s amazing. Occasionally when the dive boats approach the wreck, passengers can see the King Cruiser from the surface. These days are rare, but when it’s like this divers never want to surface from the dive.

The King Cruiser is only for experienced divers holding advanced level certifications or above. The top of the wreck is now at around 15 metres. If guests are taking their Advanced Course, it’s possible to include the King Cruiser as part of their course.

The King Cruiser is best dived from October to May although trips are scheduled all year. Monsoon conditions outside these months sometimes mean trips are rerouted to Racha Yai. Don’t be put off diving the King Cruiser in low season though, as this is when the visibility is often at its best. Have a look at our Day Trips Section for details on the King Cruiser day trip as well as different scuba diving day trip itineraries. Phi Phi and Shark point are also available to dive as part of a Hin Daeng liveaboard. Please see our Liveaboards Section for more details.

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