Reef proposal for unwanted warship

Russian aircraft carrier could be a coral haven in HK waters

Environmentalists will ask the Shenzhen owners of the 40,000 tonne aircraft carrier Minsk to use the unwanted old warship to form an artificial reef off Sai Kung.

Efforts to auction the 271-metre vessel have been unsuccessful.

'Sinking a vessel as massive as the Minsk between Basalt and Bluff islands would create a haven for fish and other underwater life,' said Charlie Frew, a professional marine specialist and a director of the Sai Kung Association.

'If the ship was sunk in position between the islands it would lead to a rapid expansion in fish stocks, would encourage the growth of native corals and provide a focal point for the rejuvenation of underwater life for the entire eastern coastline of Hong Kong.'

Mr Frew, a long-time campaigner for ecological care of Hong Kong waters, wants the government to approach Shenzhen with the suggestion.


He has urged the Marine Department, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department and the Environmental Protection Department to take up the idea.

Sunken vessels have been used in many parts of the world as a nucleus for artificial reefs.

His idea was born when the owners of the Minsk failed to sell the ship when it was recently put up for sale. There was not a single bidder.

Mr Frew, 34, a director of Asiatic Marine, said he had felt for years that the fished-out waters around Sai Kung could be rejuvenated by an artificial reef.


'I was thinking about this for two years before the Minsk was put up for sale,' he said. 'When nobody wanted to buy the boat, I felt that a logical and useful end for the vessel would be as the core of a new reef.

'From its mooring on the Chinese side of the border at Shataukok, it is only a tow of about 10km to get it over the proposed site off Basalt Island.


Mr Frew, who has dived for more than 22 years, said marine planners had used old ships to create reefs for years.

'It's well proven. You just need the right vessel. The ecological value of a well planned artificial reef is enormous not only for fish stocks but as a tourist site.

'If nobody buys the old carrier the potential for using the ship as a reef would be less expensive than scrapping it.'


Hong Kong already has smaller artificial reefs, Mr Frew pointed out, notably in Hoi Ha Marine Park. The government has sunk more than 120 small wooden vessels and concrete blocks in Hong Kong waters to encourage corals to build new reefs.

'These are also anti-trawling devices that snag illegal nets,' Mr Frew said.

The Minsk has been berthed alongside the waterfront on the mainland side of the border village of Shataukok since 1993. It was part of a military theme park called Minsk World.


The owning company recently went out of business. A reserve price of 128 million yuan was put on the ship, but there were no interested buyers.

The aircraft carrier was the second Kiev-class vessel built for the former Soviet navy, carrying 32 aircraft.

Launched in 1975, the vessel was retired in 1993 after an accident. Repairs could only be carried out at the builders which were then in the newly independent Ukraine.

The vessel was sold in 1995 to a South Korean firm which later resold it to the Shenzhen Minsk Aircraft Carrier Industry Company which formed the theme park.

'This would be a useful end for the vessel,' Mr Frew said. 'Imagine an aircraft carrier, which has been prepared with a focus on dive safety features, such as exit points, guiding ropes and natural sunlight openings.'

It would be a huge potential tourism attraction.

'Imagine the economic windfall and recreational attraction. It would be the largest ship sunk in the Asia-Pacific region. The Minsk could do more good on the bottom of the sea than it ever did afloat.'