Labuan is a group of islands located off the coast of the state of Sabah in East Malaysia. The eponymous main island is surrounded by 6 smaller islands. Labuan’s capital Victoria is best known as an offshore financial centre and business district. Besides, the islands are famous among divers for its ship wrecks.
Since the 15th century, Labuan was part of the Bruneian Empire. In the 18th century it attracted the interest of the British who acquired it to use it as a naval base, and to suppress piracy in the South China Sea. During World War II, Labuan was occupied by the Japanese and served as the administrative centre for their forces. After the war, Labuan was given back to the British but in 1963 became part of the state of Sabah and the Malaysian Federation. In 1984, the Government of Sabah ceded Labuan to the federal government which later been accessed to a federal territory. It was declared an international offshore financial centre and free trade zone in 1990.
For underwater thrill seekers and divers, Labuan is a perfect destination, not least because of its famous wreck sites. Three vessels, namely the SS De Klerk, USS Salut and MV Tung Hwuang, are located only 40 or 50 minutes away by boat.
One of the vessels was mistakenly held for an Australian wreck having been sunk by the Royal Australian Air Force, but have now been identified as the Dutch vessel SS De Klerk. in 1944, the vessel hit a mine and sunk 23 kilometres southwest of Labuan. Today, only her metal skeleton is left, surrounded by an abundance of beautiful and colourful fish.
The USS Salut was in duty as a US Navy minesweeper during World War II. It lies 24 kilometres south of Labuan in about 30 metres of water, broken in two pieces, one lying across the other. It is a popular and challenging dive site with a lot of munitions both on and nearby the wreck. The Malaysian navy recently removed her unexploded depth charges.
The MV Tung Hwuang or Cement Wreck is a freighter that sank while transporting cement to Brunei for the sultan’s new palace on 25 September 1980. It hit the Samarang bank and miserably sank while still trying to reach Labuan for repairs. The wreck lies east of Kuraman Island and only 21 kilometres from Labuan. The vessel is 92 metres long, 15 metres wide and sits vertically on the seabed at 30 metres. Of the three vessels, this one would be the easiest to explore making it ideal for those training to wreck dive. There is also an incredible variety of marine life to be found including barracudas, turtles and reef fish. Soft and hard corals grow on the surface of the wreck, which makes this the best Labuan wreck for underwater photography.