Diving the Riau Islands
Batam… oh Batam…
A magical place to a lot of us Singaporeans – a place of wondrous food and affordable massages.
But little do people know that Batam is just one of the 1,796 islands making up the Riau Islands, which also includes Bintan, Karimun and Tanjung Pinang. Other than being a shopping, food and city-escape for us weary Singaporeans, the Riau Islands are well known of unscathed, pristine coral reefs. If you haven’t been diving in Batam and the Bintan region and you’re dreaming of going diving somewhere nearby once the Covid-19 pandemic has all blown over, here’s a little snippet of the dives you can be expecting.
Batam is just a short 45 minutes ferry ride away from us (in comparison, it takes 2 hours to get from Mersing to Tioman!) I KNOW RIGHT?! Batam is so close to us yet we haven’t been exploring that region!
Some of you might be thinking, “you know, I’ve been to Batam, and the waters don’t seem that nice, how nice can diving there be?”
Well to some certain extent that may be true, but just by travelling a few extra nautical miles out from the murky shores of Batam and Bintan, a galore of wrecks and reefs awaits. You’ve probably heard of the Igara wreck from diver friends who’s been diving in the Riau region.
But what’s the story behind that wreck? To me personally, the stories behind each wreck always fascinate me as much as the dive itself – how the wreck got there and what was the ship’s purpose on its fateful voyage.
The Igara, once a mighty 300m long Italian ore carrier, went down in maritime history as one of the largest ever single insurance loss with over $25 million USD worth of Brazilian iron ore going down with the ship. The ship began taking in water when it struck an uncharted rock in the South China Sea in 1973. However, she did not sink immediately, but managed to continue her voyage until her bow went underwater about 110 km away from Singapore, off the coast of the Riau Islands. When I saw her underwater, the wreck’s sheer size blew me away, despite not being the entire ship. Half of the ship was blown off with explosives and towed to Japan for rebuilding. A new section was attached as the new ship was named Eraclide.
During the second World War, The Sarawak Maru, a 121 m long Japanese tanker was torpedoed NOT ONCE but TWICE, AND SURVIVED. She met her untimely demise off the cost of Singapore a year later in 1945 when she struck a mine.
A wreck with easy penetration from the starboard bow to the midships on the port, she boasts an impressive amount of marine life which even novice divers are able to appreciate safely. Despite the wreck’s proximity to the infamously murky Singapore waters, visibility around the wreck is a good 6 – 10 meters.
With schools of fishes, easy and safe penetration, occasional inquisitive and MASSIVE groupers, there’s much to love about this dive site!
Just nearby the Sarawak Maru, you’ll find the northern reefs of Bintan with over 8 different dives sites boasting different kinds of marine life, from coral clusters to the colonies of softies and hard corals, as well as nudibranchs aplenty. It’s a mecca for macro photography enthusiasts.
Shallower dives compared to the 2 wrecks above along with sandy bottoms, calmer waters and great visibility makes these reefs perfect for new and experienced divers alike. Perhaps a simple and easy dive to start off your weekend before you head out to the Maru or the Igara?
Did I pique your interests? I sure got excited by the mere thought of these beautiful wrecks and reefs that the Riau Islands have to offer.
Drop us a message here or on Facebook if you’d like to be one of the first few to grace these sites once Covid-19 is over!