The Chikuzen was a 240 foot Korean refrigerator vessel based in St. Maarten used at dock to service big Korean fishing fleets. It was early in 1981 when a hurricane was approaching St. Maarten. The government told the owners to move the decrepit ship so it wouldn't sink in the harbour or damage the docks.
The owners thought this would be a good chance to get rid of the ship once and for all. The owners set the Chikuzen on fire and sent it adrift, hoping it would sink just offshore. The smouldering vessel went adrift and ended up in the British Virgin Islands, close to Tortola, where it finally sunk. The wreck now serves a new purpose. Resting in 75 feet of water far from any reef, the Chikuzen is a magnet for marine life like an oasis in the desert.
Diving the Chikuzen is not always possible because of its exposed location and big swells but this is a wonderful dive if the conditions are right. Large pelagic fish, sharks and rays congregate around the wreck and in the inside, large schools of reef fish seek shelter.
We began our dive on the Chikuzen, greeted by hundreds, if not thousands of barracuda, hanging around the downline in 20 feet of water. A fantastic spectacle but we were there to see the Chikuzen so we continued our journey to the bottom of the sea.
We were blessed with good visibility and on our descent, we could see the entire 240 foot wreck. At the stern of the Chikuzen were some unusual pelagics on the sand - a pair of cobias. That was the first time and the last time I’ve seen these bizarre looking fish. With all our noisy bubbles, they quickly disappeared into the blue.
The ship is on its port side with the starboard rail reaching up to about 50 feet. Most of the ship is intact, with three large cargo holds that can be entered through open hatches. We visited each hull, and had nice surprises in each one. In the first we found a turtle sleeping. Once awake, the turtle swam towards the surface for a breath of air. In another hull, schools of grunts and snappers swam between the refrigerator piping. Ironically, small fish now seek shelter in a ship that once served as a refrigerator vessel for the fishing industry. In the last hull, was a Goliath grouper - surely a permanent resident of the wreck for the large supply of schooling fish. Back outside the wreck, a huge stingray buried in the sand gracefully swam up and over the Chikuzen in a grand finale.