The HTMS Chang, situated near Koh Chang, holds the distinction of being the most expansive dive site in the Gulf of Thailand. This enormous Thai shipwreck promises a wealth of knowledge for anyone eager to learn before delving into the exploration of its magnificent beauty.
|USS Lincoln County (LST-898)
|max 30 meters, main deck 24 meters
|Advanced Open Water divers (experienced Open Water Divers)
|not recommended (possible around the tower)
1.1 Brief Overview: The HTMS Chang (originally known as the USS Lincoln County) is a former U.S. Navy ship that was intentionally sunk off the coast of Koh Chang, Thailand, in 2012. It is now one of the largest shipwrecks in Thailand and serves as a popular diving site for local and international divers.
1.2 Historical Significance: The ship was built in 1944 during World War II and served in various capacities, notably in the Pacific theater. It was used for cargo operations by the Army, and eventually ended up in the service of the Royal Thai Navy in 1962, where it was renamed the HTMS Chang. It served for many years before being decommissioned and prepared for its final mission as an artificial reef.
1.3 Sinking and Preparation for Divers: The HTMS Chang was intentionally sunk in November 2012 near Koh Chang to create an artificial reef and diving attraction. Before sinking, the ship was carefully prepared to ensure it was safe for divers. This included the removal of any potential hazards and the creation of various entry and exit points for divers to safely explore the interior of the wreck.
1.4 Location and Environment: The HTMS Chang now rests at a depth of approximately 30 meters in the waters off Koh Chang. The surrounding waters are teeming with a diverse range of marine life that has colonized the wreck, making it a vibrant and exciting dive site. The clear, warm waters of the area offer good visibility, making it suitable for divers of varying experience levels.
1.5 Importance for Koh Chang: The sinking of the HTMS Chang has significantly contributed to the local economy by attracting divers from all over the world. It has also served to increase the biodiversity of the area by providing a habitat for a variety of marine species.
The history of the HTMS Chang
The USS Lincoln County (LST-898) was a tank landing ship constructed for the United States Navy during World War II. The vessel was named after counties in 23 U.S. states, and it was the only U.S. Naval ship to bear the name. The USS Lincoln County was built by the Dravo Corporation of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and was launched on 25 November 1944.
During World War II, the USS Lincoln County had an active service history. After a shakedown off Florida, the ship loaded cargo at New Orleans and departed on 4 February 1945, sailing via the Canal Zone. The ship arrived at Majuro on 12 March and then proceeded to Saipan to prepare for the invasion of Okinawa. The USS Lincoln County discharged cargo at Chimu Wan, Okinawa, which lay at the gateway to Japan. Following this, the ship shuttled troops and equipment among the Marianas, Philippines, and Okinawa during the remaining months of the War.
In the post-war period, the USS Lincoln County transported occupation forces and equipment in the Far East until late November. Between December 1945 and February 1946, the ship aided in the dismantling of Army bases in the Philippines, and it was decommissioned there on 9 May 1946. The ship was transferred to the Army for cargo operations on 25 May, and it returned to Navy control on 1 June 1950.
The ship was later transferred to the Royal Thai Navy and renamed the HTMS Chang (LST-2). As part of the Thai Navy, the HTMS Chang was actively used in various missions until it was decommissioned. The ship was intentionally sunk in 2012 to create an artificial reef off the coast of Koh Chang, an island in Thailand.
The wreck as a dive site
The HTMS Chang dive site, located near the tropical island of Koh Chang, Thailand, is an underwater wonderland that captivates both novice and experienced divers. The site is known for its serene beauty and vibrant marine life, providing a captivating underwater experience that is both challenging and rewarding.
As you begin your descent, the first thing you notice is the sheer size of the wreck. Measuring about 100 meters in length, the ship’s hull provides a majestic backdrop for the exploration that awaits. The ship sits upright at a depth of around 30 meters, with the top of the ship at approximately 14 meters, making it accessible to divers of varying skill levels.
The ship itself has been well prepared for diving, with many access points cut into the hull, allowing for safe exploration inside the ship. Always remember, though, that wreck penetration should only be attempted by divers with the appropriate training and equipment.
As you approach the wreck, you can’t help but feel a sense of awe. The ghostly figure of the ship, covered in a thin layer of algae and coral, is home to an abundance of marine life. Schools of trevally and barracuda patrol the area around the wreck, darting in and out of the shadows. Lionfish hover near the hull, their vibrant stripes providing a splash of color against the rusted metal of the ship.
Exploring the deck, you can spot remnants of the ship’s former life. The anti-aircraft gun on the stern is a popular spot for divers to take photographs. On the bow, the anchor chains disappear into the blue, reminding divers of the ship’s past.
Swim throughs provide an exciting opportunity for the more adventurous divers. The corridors and rooms inside the ship are a playground for those looking to explore. It’s not uncommon to encounter a moray eel peeking out from one of the many crevices or a grouper resting in the shadows.
If you are keen on macro life, the HTMS Chang will not disappoint. Look closely, and you’ll spot nudibranchs, shrimp, and other tiny creatures making their home on the hull. Night diving at the site offers a completely different experience, with nocturnal creatures such as squid, crab, and different species of shrimp coming out to play.
Visibility at the site varies, with an average of 10 to 20 meters, depending on the season and weather conditions. Currents are usually mild, making it a relatively easy dive. However, due to the depth and size of the wreck, it’s recommended for those with an Advanced Open Water certification or above.
A dive at the HTMS Chang is an unforgettable experience. The combination of historical intrigue, abundant marine life, and the thrill of exploring a large wreck make it a must-visit dive site when in Koh Chang. Whether you’re a seasoned diver or just starting your underwater adventures, the HTMS Chang wreck offers a fascinating dive that will leave you with lasting memories.
What you see underwater
The HTMS Chang wreck is a thriving artificial reef that supports a rich array of marine life. Large schools of fish such as barracuda, trevally, and batfish are commonly seen around the wreck. You might also encounter macro species like nudibranchs and shrimps hiding in the nooks and crannies of the wreck.
On the wreck itself, hard and soft corals, sponges, and anemones have taken hold, providing habitats for smaller fish and invertebrates. You may also spot larger marine life such as turtles, groupers, and the occasional reef shark in the surrounding waters.
Remember, the type and amount of marine life you’ll encounter can vary depending on the time of year and current conditions. No two dives are exactly the same, which is part of the excitement of exploring underwater ecosystems.
What about the whaleshark?
Whale sharks are the largest fish in the sea, reaching lengths of 12 meters (40 feet) or more. While they are massive in size, they are docile feeders, eating mainly plankton. They swim through the ocean with their mouth open, filtering water for plankton and small fish.
In terms of seeing whale sharks at the HTMS Chang wreck site near Koh Chang, it’s possible but not common. Whale sharks are highly migratory and their appearances can be unpredictable. They are usually found in areas with high concentrations of plankton, which means their presence can be seasonal. In Thailand, they are most frequently seen in the Andaman Sea, particularly around the Similan Islands and Richelieu Rock. However, sightings have been reported in the Gulf of Thailand, where Koh Chang is located, but they are rarer.
Whale sharks are a protected species in many countries, including Thailand. If you’re fortunate enough to encounter one while diving, it’s important to respect them and keep a safe distance. Don’t touch or ride them, and avoid flash photography, which can disturb them.
Safety on the HTMS Chang
When it comes to safety while diving the HTMS Chang, it’s important to bear in mind a few key points:
- Training and Certification: Before attempting to dive the HTMS Chang wreck, divers should have appropriate training and certification. This includes being certified as an Open Water Diver at minimum, and preferably having further training in wreck diving. This ensures that divers have the skills and knowledge to handle the unique challenges that wreck diving presents.
- Dive Planning: Prior to diving, it’s crucial to have a detailed dive plan. This plan should include the maximum depth and duration of the dive, the amount of air you’ll start with, and when you’ll begin your ascent.
- Buddy System: Diving should always be conducted with a buddy. This ensures that if one diver runs into trouble, their buddy can assist or get help.
- Equipment Check: Divers should conduct a pre-dive safety check to ensure that all their equipment is functioning properly. This includes checking that air supplies are full and that all equipment is properly secured.
- Health and Fitness: Divers should be in good health and physical condition before attempting a dive. If a diver is feeling unwell or unfit, they should not dive.
- Environmental Awareness: Divers should be aware of the conditions in the water, including the current, visibility, and temperature. They should also be aware of the specific features of the HTMS Chang wreck, including potential hazards.
- Respect for the Wreck: Finally, divers should remember that the HTMS Chang is an artificial reef and home to many species. Divers should avoid touching or disturbing the wreck and its inhabitants.
Remember that the HTMS Chang wreck is at a depth of around 30 meters, which means it’s suitable for Advanced Open Water divers or those with an equivalent certification. It’s always advisable to dive within your certification limits and experience level.
FAQ about the HTMS Chang
Wreck diving, while exhilarating, comes with its set of unique challenges. The HTMS Chang, with its vast structure, has areas with sharp edges, potential entrapment spots, and confined spaces that can disorient a diver. Mastery over buoyancy control is vital to prevent accidental contact with the wreck. Disturbing marine life or the sediment around the wreck can reduce visibility, so move with purpose and caution. Always be conscious of your air supply and no-decompression limits. For those aiming to penetrate the wreck’s interiors, specialized wreck diving training is essential, as it provides techniques and safety protocols specific to wrecks.
Nestled on the sea bed, the HTMS Chang lies at an impressive depth of approximately 30 meters. This depth offers a layered diving experience. The upper parts of the wreck are accessible to divers with intermediate experience, while the deeper sections provide a thrilling challenge for seasoned divers. The clear waters surrounding Koh Chang allow for good visibility, making it a picturesque dive.
The HTMS Chang, given its depth and the intricacies of wreck diving, is best suited for those with intermediate to advanced diving experience. While its upper sections might be navigable for divers with a few dives under their belt, the deeper parts and the potential challenges posed by the wreck’s interiors recommend at least an Advanced Open Water certification. Diving with an experienced guide or instructor, especially someone familiar with the HTMS Chang, is essential for safety and to get the most out of the experience.
Beyond the thrill of exploring the mammoth structure, the HTMS Chang teems with marine life. Since its sinking, the ship’s nooks, crannies, and expansive decks have become home to a diverse range of marine species. Schools of curious barracuda often circle the wreck, while groupers and lionfish have claimed various sections as their territory. Soft corals and vibrant sponges cling to the ship’s surfaces, adding splashes of color to the steel gray of the wreck. Each dive can reveal something new, making repeat visits a rewarding experience.
The HTMS Chang boasts a storied past. Originally launched as the USS Lincoln County (LST-898) for the U.S. Navy, this landing ship tank had an illustrious service history before being transferred to the Royal Thai Navy. After serving the seas for many years, the decision was made in 2012 to transform the ship into an artificial reef. It was then deliberately sunk off the coast of Koh Chang. Today, it stands as a testament to maritime history and has become a beacon for divers around the world, eager to explore its sunken chambers and decks.
About the Author
Maurice van den Heuvel
With 15 years of expertise as a scuba diving instructor, I've guided countless individuals through the aquatic wonders of our world. An entrepreneur with successful business ventures across Europe, I also channel my passion into web creation — including this site. My journey has taken me from the south of the Netherlands to the serene waters of Koh Chang. Dive with me and benefit from a legacy of trust, experience, and unwavering passion.