Wreck Dive: Hilma Hooker

Wreck diving. Typically I am not a fan of wreck dives as they make me really sad to think of the overall loss of life, cargo, and ship. But then I learned the history of the Hilma Hooker wreck and I decided to make an exception.

Hilma Hooker image courtesy: Bonaire Pro Dive Guide

How the Hilma Hooker sunk according to Wikipedia: In the summer of 1984, the Hilma Hooker had engine problems at sea and was towed to the port of Kralendijk, Bonaire. It was already under surveillance by drug enforcement agencies. Docked at the Town Pier, local authorities boarded the ship for an inspection when her captain was unable to produce any of the requisite registration papers. A false bulkhead was discovered, and held within was 25,000 lb (11,000 kg) of marijuana.  The Hilma Hooker and her crew were subsequently detained while the local authorities on Bonaire searched for the vessel’s owners, who were never found.

The ship languished under detention as evidence for many months and through general neglect of her hull she began to take on considerable amounts of water. It was feared that she would sink at the main dock on the island and disrupt maritime traffic. After many months of being tied to the pier and pumped of water, on September 7, 1984 the Hooker was towed to an anchorage. As the days passed, a slight list became noticeable. The list was even more obvious one morning.

Image courtesy of Bonaire Pros.

The owner was still not coming forward to claim the ship and maintain it so the many leaks added up until on the morning of September 12, 1984 the Hilma Hooker began taking in water through her lower portholes. At 9:08 am she rolled over on her starboard side and, in the next two minutes, disappeared.

Hilma Hooker image courtesy of DailyScubaDiver

The Hilma Hooker came to rest on a sand flat between two coral systems in an area known to divers as Angel City. The wreck has subsequently become a prime attraction for scuba divers. It lies in approximately 100 feet (30 m) of water and at 240 feet in length provides ample scope for exploration.

However, rumor on the island was that the local government did not want to sink the boat, but locals did.  The locals believed this would make an excellent dive site.  So, at the dark of night, several locals brought the listing boat in between two reefs and “assisted with the sinking process” with the hope that she would sink straight down on her bottom.  Unfortunately, she was listing so bad that she sunk sideways and landed on her side hitting part of the first reef.

Hilma Hooker is 72 meters (236′) long and 11 meters (36′) wide.  Her stern is about 21 meters (69′) below the surface, the bow is 26 meters (85′) below and the mast is 30 meters (100′) below.  Her original name which can still be seen on her transom is “Williams Express” from Panama.  There are two large open holds, but you are required to be certified wreck diver to swim in and around the interior of the wreck.

Diagram courtesy of ArtToMedia.com

Being so far down, 29 meters (95′), I was content hanging out around the exterior of the wreck.  Remarkably, I found some of the most interesting aspects to be on her bottom (where coral and sea life hung precariously to the bottom of the ship (upside down).  It is also where we saw a giant green moray eel and several trunk fish.  Many sponges and hard coral grow on the bridge and lots of little sea cities can be found all around the ship.

Hilma Hooker image courtesy Zeal.net

Since this was such a deep dive we did not bring the GoPro to take photos, so the images provided were taken by other photographers, credit give on each photo.

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