The Wreck of the Terushima Maru

Shipwrecks Of the Marshall Islands

 A service mast of the  Terushima Maru  marks where the shipwreck lies in the lagoon off of Taroa Island while a black-tipped reef shark explores the shallows

A service mast of the Terushima Maru marks where the shipwreck lies in the lagoon off of Taroa Island while a black-tipped reef shark explores the shallows

 

Nestled in the shallows of a lagoon in the Marshall Islands of the Pacific lies the remains of a World War II shipwreck. The transport freighter Terushima Maru met its fate during one of the many battles surrounding Taroa Island of Maloelap Atoll, which was the most easterly Japanese airfield base. This commercial freighter was converted to see military action during WWII and supplied Japanese outposts until it was finally sunk by Allied bombers in 1943. Now resting quietly in 12 meters of water, the Terushima Maru is now home to an abundant amount of sea life and coral that take refuge in the twisted metal. Easily located by the service mast sticking out above the water it is a quick swim away from shore and offers the casual snorkeler, freediver, and scuba diver plenty to explore for hours on end.

This shipwreck has a checkered history of incorrect record keeping with various ways of spelling its name and inconsistent reporting of facts. Matthew B. Holly in an extensive report, Inventory of Submerged Cultural and Historical Resources of Maloelap Atoll, reviewed all of the published material surrounding this shipwreck and came to the following conclusion:

 

"...The vessel sunk in Taroa, Maloelap is the Terushima Maru. The US submarine Pollock damaged it on May 18, 1943, and it limped into Maloelap. It was anchored close in to shore to protect it from sinking in deep water if attacked. It was attacked [by an Allied aerial attack in December 1943] and it did sink."  

 The other service mast has fallen in the past two decades as a result of the shipwreck slowly decaying over time

The other service mast has fallen in the past two decades as a result of the shipwreck slowly decaying over time

 

Adding to the larger story of the Japanese's struggle to keep their airfield operational during the American bombing offensive, this cargo ship most likely supplied garrisons in the region with much needed supplies until its sinking in 1943. Constructed in the late 1920's or early 1930's the Terushima Maru is approximately 90 meters in length with a 10 meter beam. It was outfitted with some anti-aircraft guns that unfortunately are not found on the wreck anymore, however in one of the swim-throughs in a cargo hold a stack of depth charges can still be found! These pose a dangerous threat to the casual diver and it is highly recommended that one does not disturb the barrels.

During my week-long visit to Taroa Island in 2016, I would spend a minimum of a few hours every day free diving on the shipwreck of the Terushima Maru. It sits upright in the water with the stern of the ship being relatively intact while the front-end of the vessel is completely mangled. It is possible to swim through the stern house, following the rails used to drop depth charges off the back into the water, as well as check out the coils of cables sitting on deck. There are numerous nooks and crannies in the super structure of the ship, which are a delight to explore! Unfortunately as a result of demolition activities in the 70's eliminating live ordinance the cargo holds, the front of the wreck now sits in a pile of twisted metal on the seafloor.

 
 The bow section of the Terushima Maru remains relatively intact

The bow section of the Terushima Maru remains relatively intact

 

The massive size of the wreck and abundance of hiding places supports a large population of reef fish and even a few local white-tipped reef sharks. It has a healthy amount of coral growth on the shipwreck and is now home to massive schools of juvenile fish. Curious parrot fish and groupers would show no fear and swim directly towards you. Let's just say the occasional hunt for lunch while spearfishing always provided a tasty addition to the local produce we received from trading with the local village. Taroa Island and the shipwreck of the Terushima Maru is a must-see for any WWII history buff and avid divers who happen to find themselves in the Marshall Islands.