Nestled at the southernmost tip of Zambales lies Subic Bay, this area became famous because of it’s natural beauty and it’s strategic location for naval forces. During it’s heyday it was the biggest U.S. Naval Facility in the Pacific, now transformed into a bustling Freeport by the Philippine government.
Through the cooperative efforts by Olongapo residents and it’s local government majority of it’s facilities, forrest areas and shoreline remained intact for others to see and enjoy. However for a tourist going to Subic Bay one would still notice how it’s rich history is and how it became a centerpiece in the history of the Philippines itself.
The Spanish were the first foreigners to use Subic for it’s naval capabilities, after it was discovered by Spanish explorer Juan de Salcedo from a trip to Zambales he was amazed by its sheltered anchorages and deep water. Since majority of the Spanish fleet in the Philippines is located in Cavite, these features greatly rivaled it’s current facility.
In 1868 a military expedition was sent to Subic Bay to find out if it would be suitable to site for a naval yard. However it took a number of years before Spain consider establishing Subic Bay as the new home for it’s fleet. Mainly because the Spanish command is reluctant moving to a provincial location and be isolated. Finally in 1884, a Royal Decree was issued making Subic Bay a naval port.
CENTURIES OF TRANSITIONS
When war broke out between the United States and Spain on April 1898, it was a deciding moment for the world would see the emergence of a new super power. With the war spreading to the Pacific, the U.S. fleet stationed in Hong Kong headed by Commodore George Dewey were given orders to engage the enemy in the Philippines.
This led to the destruction of the Spanish fleet in the Battle of Manila Bay thus ending Spanish occupancy of the Philippines. However the transfer of Subic Bay to the American forces happened during the Philippine-American War, which was occupied by Filipino forces at that time.
In December 1899 the U.S. army launched an operation to clear the countryside of resistance. After a bloody battle with the Filipinos Subic Bay was finally taken over by American forces together with the town of Olongapo.
In 1942 the Japanese Imperial Army occupied Subic Bay and use the naval yard left by the Americans to construct wooden auxiliary vessels for their war effort. A total of 9 ships were built and transported to Cavite for engine installation. However none of them would see action because of damages sustained from the relentless bombings by American air-crafts.
By January 1945 the U.S. Army recaptured Subic Bay from the Japanese culminating in a bloody battle at Zig zag pass which lasted 15 days.
The 1950s and 60s brought about major development in Subic Bay with the construction of a naval air installation at Cubi Point. With it’s inhospitable location for construction, it was considered one of the largest and most difficult engineering feat the Navy’s construction battalion undertook equaling that of the Panama Canal.
It was also during this time that Subic Bay became home the U.S. Naval Hospital a major medical facility with 141 operating beds covering all primary clinical specialties.
During the Vietnam War the Subic Bay Naval Facility became the service station and supermarket of the U.S. Seventh Fleet who were currently engage in the war effort. After the fall Saigon in 1975, thousands of South Vietnamese refugees fleeing from the North Vietnamese were rescued by U.S. Navy ships and were brought to Subic Bay then transferred to a Refugee Processing Center in Morong Bataan.
The eruption of Mount Pinatubo on June 15, 1991 signaled the beginning of the end for U.S. forces in the Philippines. The destruction brought about by the volcano’s fury to Subic Bay and Clark Air Base led to the evacuation of thousands of Navy and Air Force dependents due to continued earthquakes and the lack of basic necessities.
After the evacuation a major rehabilitation was done and by September 1991 most dependent were back in Subic and Clark. At the same time talks between the Philippines and U.S. government in extending the lease of the U.S. bases did not work out and in 1992 the American flag was lowered for the last time marking the end of foreign military forces in the Philippines.
A NEW BEGINNING
The end of U. S. occupation in Subic Bay sparked renewed interest from visionaries in transforming the former military installation to a commercial area. Thus former base workers and the people of Olongapo with the help of the Philippine government decided to make it into an economic hub. Thus forming the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA).
Due to it’s natural setting and its proximity to Manila it wasn’t long before Subic Bay became a major tourist destination. With it’s waters rich in military history it offers the best location for Wreck Diving in Subic Bay.
From Spanish Galleons to Phantom Jets littering the ocean floor it is considered a scuba diver’s paradise. Many of these shipwrecks have different stories to tell not all were sunk by enemy fire some were scuttled intentionally to avoid capture. Here is a list of the most popular wrecks ready to be explored.
BEST SHIPWRECKS IN SUBIC BAY
- USS New York – perhaps the most south-after wreck in Subic. Built in 1891 with 8 inch guns she is the flagship of the US Asiatic Fleet and Pacific Squadron. She participated in World War I and other conflicts, finally laid up to Subic to be cannibalized for spares. He was sunk by U.S. forces in order for her guns not be use by the Japanese.
- El Capitan – is in reference to the USS Majaba which saw much action during World War II by providing vital cargo run for the U.S. Military. Her exploits earned her the distinguish Battle Star, after surviving a hit from a Japanese torpedo she was brought to Florida Islands and was repaired, after the war she was towed to Subic Bay where she will be returned to her prewar owner but a fierce storm sank her while anchored at Ilalin Bay,Subic.
- San Quentin – She was deliberately sunk during the Spanish-American War. Although a portion of the wreck was flattened by time and storm, the bow and stern section is still recognizable as well as it’s steam boilers.
- Oryoku Maru (Japanese Hell Ship) – Made famous because of it’s connection on countless atrocities during it’s voyage in World War II. Originally a cruise liner used by the Japanese to transport prisoners of war from the Philippines to Japan.
- LST (Landing Ship Tank) – This type of vessel was created during World War II to support amphibious landing operations, by directly carrying a large amount of vehicle and personnel to shore. One of these vessel was deliberately sunk in 1946 now sits at the center of the bay with an maximum depth of 36 m.
- USS Lanikai – Originally a copra trader ship in the Pacific it was seized by the United States when it entered World War I and was renamed USS Hermes. After serving as a submarine patrol vessel it was sold to the Lanikai Fish Company and was renamed USS Lanikai it sank in a typhoon in Nabasan wharf.
With numerous dive spots to choose from, Wreck Diving in Subic Bay is the best way to look into the rich history of this area. Many certified dive-shops can easily be located within the former Naval base and the Olongapo area. With almost all of them have websites for easy access. Here is a list of just a few.
POPULAR DIVE SHOPS IN SUBIC BAY
- Dive Shop Subic Bay Philippines
- Dive Subic Bay
- Scuba Tech Philippines
- Boardwalk Divers
- Johan’s on Baloy Long Beach
Prices vary from Shop to shop so it’s best to check their websites and see for yourself which one that offers the best package.