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Depth, Duration, Decompression and the USS Emmons Controversy

By: John Chandler

Date Posted: 2001-03-16

In February of 2001 after months of research, beginning last July when a Japanese fisherman reported an oil slick and it was confirmed by the Japanese Maritime Safety Agency that a wreck of a warship existed near Kouri Island, the diving community on Okinawa has been rife with rumors. While many folks conjectured what it was, and where it was, others were busy researching archival information and actively searching underwater. On February 19 Rich Ruth, Tami Clark, and Steve Tomlin diving from a boat captained by Jack Martin, came upon the wreck of what appears to be the USS Emmons.

Since that discovery, or re-discovery, was reported in Stars in Stripes on Sunday, March 3rd, 2001 there have been several perspectives reported in local papers. It will not be my goal to debate these perspectives because these are all valid and equally important. I dove on the wreck with Rich several days following his discovery and have been actively involved in the research of Emmons and our subsequent contacts with the Emmons Survivor Association. I have shown you several photos for everyone to enjoy. While I realize that I am in the controversy (if there really is one) I do believe that we can all benefit from this very open and very healthy discussion of diving on the Emmons. Further, I believe that ALL divers on Okinawa should be made aware that DEPTH, DURATION and DECOMPRESSION are really the topic here and not the wreck itself. However, the excitement of diving Emmons is causing divers on Okinawa to forget the three "D"s of DEPTH, DURATION AND DECOMPRESSION. That excitement has caused one diver to experience the discomfort of a mild case of the "bends." No case, mild, serious or otherwise should be considered acceptable and that is why I am pleased to see that the press is balancing the excitement of finding Emmons with some pragmatic warnings to all those divers seeking their next "Extreme" adventure.

The Emmons, for most, will be an "extreme" adventure and divers must prepare themselves for the experience. Few, as reported by Justin Evers from the Torii SCUBA Locker, are currently prepared for diving below 100 feet. There are many avenues for divers on Okinawa to gain this deep diving experience. Please remember this training must be from competent Instructors and NOT from your own experiential training. I often hear divers tell me "Oh, I have dove well below 130 feet and nothing happened to me, I am ready for this!" You are NOT ready for this. We are NOT ready for this yet, but preparations are being made to rig Emmons with down lines, and safety lines that will allow divers to regulate their descents and ascents. These are NOT decompression lines but safety lines that will direct you to the ship and then back up to your boat.

Further, boat operators that take divers to the wreck must stress that this is a gravesite, a resting place, for souls that gave all they had in an endeavor they valued with their lives. Which in laymen terms means: do not pillage the wreck! Part of the danger of diving at depth can be overexertion. Bringing up heavy brass, metal, or otherwise heavy, or explosive, souvenirs from depth takes specialized equipment and training even beyond that of just the ability to dive deep. In Truk Lagoon, where the world's largest collection of war time wrecks exists for divers to enjoy, they have one simple rule that is strictly enforced: NO SOUVENIERS! This can be enforced with the cooperation of boat operators and dive masters.

Next, we need to review some real facts that have not been reported in any of the Press as they relate to DEPTH, DURATION, and DECOMPRESSION. The Emmons lay firmly on her starboard side in 142 feet of water. However, you DO NOT NEED to dive that deep. Her port side sets in 110-115 feet of water. Since she is on her side it gives divers a wonderful platform and reference point to dive from. On both of our dives on Emmons I exposed two rolls of film and never went below 123 feet. My photographs speak for themselves and you can see that you will have all the excitement you should want, or need, and not go beyond the specialized training that you may have, or hopefully that you are now seeking. If this wreck is on your dive calendar please get the training first.

I have written articles about diving for you for the past year. I have striven to underscore that safety is always a factor we cannot ignore. DEPTH, DURATION and DECOMPRESSION, the three "D's" of safety, cannot be ignored in your excitement to get out and dive Emmons. But also, and in proper perspective, let's all remember that Onna Point, Bolo Point, and even Maeda Point all offer depths well exceeding 140 feet. You should at NO TIME dive below 130 feet. Only a few divers on this island are properly trained, and current, to exceed these depths. I am not one of them. So the Emmons, in her peaceful beauty, should NOT be an excuse for you to dive beyond your training and equipment limits. But she is divable, and she can be just as safe, if not more so, than Onna, Bolo, and Maeda if divers will respect her.

Since her discovery, our excitement may have been errantly focused on the adventure of a first class wreck right here on Okinawa. No more expensive trips to Truk, Guam, or Hawaii. All divers should be excited about that. But let's also thank concerned divers and medical personnel who stepped forward and paused our excitement with their courageous warnings. These will serve to protect us by reminding all divers to do the right things first. Get the training you need to safely operate at these depths, dive with competently trained boat operators, then plan your dive and dive your plan. Also, please remember the sanctity of Emmons and leave her memories for others to enjoy.

Now you have my perspective and I hope that you will enjoy the wonders of this exciting discovery. See you at the dock, I will be the bald guy reviewing his dive tables and checking the batteries in his computer. For more information about Emmons and this wonderful wreck please click over to www.jwchandler.com/emmons.htm and for diving plans click over to www.fathoms.net

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