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27 October 2009

Fake Spanish-era cannons find novel purpose in Subic Bay

In a place where authentic shipwrecks abound, planting replicas of cannons, anchors and other parts of Spanish galleons on the seabed may seem an overkill.

But if professional diver Brian Homan would have his way, he would even sink in Subic Bay a full replica of a Spanish galleon for the sake of “authenticity.”

Since last year, Homan, an Australian who owns the watering hole-cum-maritime museum Vasco’s in this free port, has been making copies of bronze cannons that were once arrayed on ship decks of the mighty Spanish armada.

And the purpose of Homan’s fakes? To serve as “apartments” for crabs, fishes and other bottom dwellers in Subic Bay.

“Everybody is into artificial reef building,” Homan said in a recent interview. “But here in Subic, we’re trying to create something different—an artificial reef that would help both the environment and tourism.”

Homan’s personal project to reproduce marine artifacts stemmed from the fact that most artificial reefs consisted mostly of worn-out car tires, old vehicles and discarded appliances, like refrigerators, that, once sunk, appeared like eyesores on the seabed.

In Subic, which capitalizes on shipwrecks, coral reefs and underwater sceneries to attract tourists, the discards stuck out like the underwater thrash that they were, turning off divers.

As an alternative, Homan embarked last year on his artifacts-reproduction project with the express approval of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA), making casts of authentic Spanish cannons, then molding concrete replicas to be laid out underwater.

“It’s a very noteworthy project, and it gained our endorsement because it’s so environment-friendly,” said Amethya de la Llana-Koval, head of the SBMA Ecology Center.

“Brian has come up with an imaginative solution that positively impacts our thrusts to improve marine diversity and attract more visitors, particularly divers, to Subic Bay,” Koval added.

Subic Bay has at least 18 known shipwrecks, most of them of World War II, that were scuttled to prevent enemy ships from entering the port of Subic. But easily the most popular diving attraction here is the Spanish gunboat San Quentin, which sank off Grande Island at the mouth of Subic Bay in 1898.

Homan’s replicas, which are laid out in relatively shallow waters, won’t detract from Subic’s reputation as home to authentic shipwrecks, Koval said.

Homan said the concrete replicas—hollowed and fitted out with some holes for the entry and exit of fishes and crustaceans—each took from three to four weeks to complete.

But it took at least three months for the counterfeit cannons to blend in with the other elements in their new watery environment, Homan added.

So far, Homan said, his fake artifacts had successfully delivered on their primary objective of serving as artificial reefs. A cannon that he submerged late last year had already attracted colonies of barnacles and oysters.

In this condition, he said, the counterfeit cannons and anchors looked authentic and, hence, could also improve the underwater scenery in Subic Bay. Neophyte divers can even practice wreck diving among the reproduced relics, he added.

But divers not familiar with Subic’s known shipwrecks should beware because they could easily be fooled by the reproductions.

“They’d probably think they’ve discovered a new wreck, when, in fact, it’s just one of my crab apartments,” Homan said. (Henry EmpeƱo, Business Mirror)


In photo: BRIAN HOMAN shows a photo of a barnacle-encrusted cannon laid alongside his molded concrete replicas of the Spanish-era artifacts. The reproductions serve as artificial reefs in Subic Bay, which boasts of numerous authentic shipwrecks.

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