Wreck DiveWreck Dive | Boat access

Inside Port Phillip Open Water Rated Wreck Dive Site

Wooden Coal Burner | Max Depth: 18 metres (59 feet)

Uralba, Station Pier
Uralba, Station Pier
© Alan C. Green

The Uralba (aka SS Uralba, HMAS Uralba) shipwreck lies at a depth of 18 metres (59 feet) off Carrum in Port Phillip on a silty bottom and rises 5 metres (16 feet) from the seabed. The main deck, bridge deck superstructure and all machinery were removed before scuttling. The bare hull sits upright, with the only penetrable part being the forward accommodation area. Lying next to the Uralba on the starboard side about midships is a small 20 ft (6.1 m) steel vessel, sunk at the same time.

Diving The Uralba

Diving the Uralba
Diving the Uralba | © Phil Watson

The Uralba's bridge deck, along with all machinery, were removed before scuttling. The bare hull sits upright, with the only penetrable part being the forward accommodation area.

The fore mast lies on the deck, removed and obviously laid there before sinking. The mast still has the steel ladder attached and is on the port side. The rudder has broken away and lies in the sand just off the stern. All bollards are still visible on the deck, along with many other fittings such as fairleads, ladders, and a derrick pulley.

A section near the stern is still tiled and was apparently the galley area. The four water tanks are visible below the deck on port and starboard sides.

A small amount of damage has been done to the hull over the years by scallop dredges, four of which lie along side the vessel. A large amount of the decking has begun to deteriorate and is beginning to collapse.

Lying next to the Uralba shipwreck on the starboard side about midships is a small 20 feet (6.1 metres) steel vessel, sunk at the same time. The Uralba is a wonderful dive.

The Uralba is home to a large number of fish. Visibility is often very poor and the wreck is covered in sediment which is easily stirred up. Avoid periods after rain and dive on the flood tide. Beware of fishing line tangles and irate fishermen who seem to believe the dive site is their personal property.

Uralba wreck dive by Michael Mallis, BSAC (Bass Strait Aqua Club).

Uralba History

Uralba Steamer
Uralba Steamer
© Unknown

The HMAS Uralba was a wooden hulled single screw steamer. In the early 1940s, the North Coast Steam Navigation Company (NCSN Co), was in need of another vessel so an order was placed with E. Wright of Tuncurry, New South Wales, Shipbuilder. In 1942 the ship was completed and named Uralba. This was the last wooden coal burner built in Australia. The vessel still needed to be fitted out and subsequently was towed to Sydney. Here the Uralba was fitted with second hand machinery from the Ex-Sydney ferry Kuramia, an engine from the ferry Vaucluse, and the boiler from an old coaster called the Malachite.

Before the Uralba ever made a voyage for the NCSN Co, it was requestioned by the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) on 13 July 1942 for service in WWII. The Navy fitted out the Uralba to suit the task it was to perform; it was painted grey and armed with one 4 inch gun and one 20 mm cannon. The Uralba was based in Brisbane at first, where it operated as an auxiliary boom defence vessel and minefield tender. In 1944 it was sent to Milne Bay, New Guinea. There the ship was used as an armament and stores carrier. After the war when the Navy no longer had a use for the Uralba, it was sent back to Sydney. In 1947 it was completely refitted under the supervision of the Navy and returned to the North Coast Steam Navigation Company.

The Uralba was used for coastal trade by the NCSN Co, but in less than six months work had run out and the Uralba was put up to be sold. At this time the State Electricity Commission (SEC) of Victoria was in need of a vessel to carry building materials from Tasmania to the mainland for the construction of the Latrobe Valley power stations. On 20 July 1948 the SEC took delivery of the Uralba and the firm F.H. Stephens Pty Ltd was appointed as the managing agents for the vessel.

The Uralba made its first voyage for the SEC on 11 September 1948. In the three years that it served the SEC, it made a total of sixty four voyages. On each voyage it would bring back Tasmanian timber, cement and fibro-cement sheeting. On its return voyages, the Uralba generally carried cars, trucks and general goods to be sold in Tasmania. The SEC was pleased with the Uralba as it saved time and money on the construction program in the Latrobe Valley, although the crew was not of the same opinion. The ship apparently did not handle all too well in rough seas due to its flat bottom. The Captain had on many occasions requested the vessel be fitted with a bilge keel to offer some sort of stability. However, this was never done. In late 1951, the SEC had run out of need for the Uralba, and it was hired out for a period of eight months. It was later sold in September 1953 to the A and A Steamship Trading Syndicate of NSW.

Benny Gelbart of Footscray bought the vessel for conversion to a Northern Territory cattle boat but it sank on the 4 May 1960 in the Maribyrnong River — caulking had deteriorated. It was salvaged, re-caulked, and towed to a mooring opposite to the Charles Grimes Bridge on the Maribyrnong. Eleven of its natural knees were used in the reconstruction of the Golden Plover, now in Queensland. In 1964 the Uralba was purchased by Duncan and Russell Pty Ltd of Melbourne. Its engines where removed and was used as a dumb lighter.

The Uralba was allocated to the Department of Conservation, Forests and Lands for their artificial reef program. This program resulted in a number of reefs being established in Port Phillip and Western Port, including the George Kermode off Phillip Island.

Uralba Under Tow
Uralba Under Tow
© Unknown

On 5 November 1971 the Uralba was towed for the Fisheries and Wildlife Department by the Ports and Harbors tug Fury to the Carrum Artificial Reef. There she was scuttled with an old 20 ft (6.1 m) pleasure boat condemned by the Marine Board. She was blown with the use of twenty sticks of gelignite by 'Buck' Taylor — debris went everywhere.

Uralba Scuttling
Uralba Scuttling | © Uknown

Mr Alan Clark, in charge of towing the Uralba, stated that the amount of gelignite used to sink the vessel was far in excess of what was required. His personal view was that one stick would have done the job. As a result a large section of the keel and planking was blown out. Straight after the sinking Mr Clark dived on the Uralba and commented on the damage in the hold where part of the hull was missing. Timbers from the Uralba washed up on Melbourne beaches for weeks after. The Uralba is now home to a large number of fish and is occasionally visited by scuba divers who probably don't realise the vessel's colourful history.

Uralba Technical Details

  • Engine: Single Screw, Triple Expansion Engine 14 in x 22.25 in x 37 in. 21 inch Stroke, 81 HP. Engine Built 1914.
  • Speed: 8 1/4 knots on trial. Average 7 knots.
  • Coal Burner Bunker Capacity: 75 tons, Consumption 10 1/2 tons per day.
  • Boiler: Muir and Huston, Single ended Scotch, 3 Furnaces, l60 lbs, Bower built 1894
  • Hull: Wooden Hull (Turpentine)
  • Carvel built
  • Straight Stem
  • Counter Stern
  • 3 Bulk Heads
  • 2 Masts
  • Tonnage: Gross 602.84 Net 312.14
  • Length: 154 feet (47 metres)
  • Breadth: 36 feet (11 metres)
  • Depth: 9.75 feet (3 metres)
  • Hold Capacity: l8,340 cu ft, Length 76 feet (23 metres)
  • Water tanks: 40 ft (12 m) x 60 ft (18 m)
  • 2 x 10 tons Boiler feed tanks
  • 4 x 8.5 tons Fresh water tanks
  • 1 x 11.5 tons Fresh water tanks

The overall length of the Uralba was approximately 154 feet (47 metres), beam 35 feet (11 metres) and draught 9.75 feet (3 metres) giving a displacement weight of 603 tonne (665 short tons)..

See also Wikipedia: HMAS Uralba,
Australian National Shipwreck Database: Uralba,
MAAV: Uralba 1942-1971, and
Heritage Council Victoria: Uralba.

Latitude: 38° 4.731′ S   (38.07885° S / 38° 4′ 43.86″ S)
Longitude: 145° 2.285′ E   (145.038083° E / 145° 2′ 17.1″ E)

Datum: WGS84 | Google Map
Added: 2012-07-22 01:00:00 GMT, Last updated: 2019-05-28 10:01:20 GMT
Source: GPS
Nearest Neighbour: Firefly Aircraft 2, 3,280 m, bearing 225°, SW
ex SEC freighter, wooden coal burner.
Built: Tuncurry, NSW, 1942.
Sunk: 5 November 1971.
Depth: 18 m.

DISCLAIMER: No claim is made by The Scuba Doctor as to the accuracy of the dive site coordinates listed here. Should anyone decide to use these GPS marks to locate and dive on a site, they do so entirely at their own risk. Always verify against other sources.

The marks come from numerous sources including commercial operators, independent dive clubs, reference works, and active divers. Some are known to be accurate, while others may not be. Some GPS marks may even have come from maps using the AGD66 datum, and thus may need be converted to the WGS84 datum. To distinguish between the possible accuracy of the dive site marks, we've tried to give each mark a source of GPS, Google Earth, or unknown.

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