IT’S NOT OFTEN THAT CELEBRATIONS are held to commemorate 14 years since a ship was wrecked, but thats what happened in the Maldives this April.
The wreck is a 30m sand dredger called Rannamaari that was used in the 1990s for land-reclamation work on Male, the capital. Having reached the end of her working life in 1999, the decision was taken to sink her to form a man-made reef and diving attraction at Angsana Ihuru, a small island resort 10 miles south of Male.
The vessel was stripped, cleaned and moored next to the reef close to the dive centre, and preparations were made to celebrate her sinking on 26 April. The old ship had other ideas, however, and in the middle of the night slipped unseen beneath the waves to her final resting place.
The wreck remains intact, lying on its starboard side on a sandy seabed just feet from the reef, with its hull facing out to sea. The wheelhouse structure is open, providing some small swim-throughs, and the bow still bears the machinery used to dredge up sand.
Hard corals have colonised much of the vessel, and they in turn attract reef fish in all the magical shapes and colours that the Indian Ocean has to offer. The star attraction is a graceful shoal of batfish that have taken up residence near the bow.
Whitetip reef sharks pass regularly and guitar sharks often rest in the sand close to the dredger. A few metres off the stern, a resident shoal of bigeye trevally form a spiral of shimmering silver as they constantly circle just above the seabed.
Although small as wrecks go, the Rannamaari lies in just 24m, making it a good first wreck dive for beginners, and theres more than enough marine life on and around the ship to keep underwater photographers clicking away for several dives.
The wreck also makes a good starting or finishing point for a dive along the islands excellent house reef, with good chances of spotting turtles and blacktip reef sharks.
To mark the wrecks 14th anniversary, the Angsana Ihuru's dive team organised a 24-hour celebration sponsored by Watanya Telecom. After traditional drumming from local musicians and a short speech by the resort manager, the button was pressed to activate the cameras and the first wave of divers leapt off the jetty to head for the wreck.
Underwater cameras placed around the old ship beamed live images to local TV viewers and more than 2000 people logged onto live Internet coverage. Real-time images were also relayed on screens around the resort.
Guests and divers of 12 nationalities from nearby islands enjoyed the wreck by day and night, carrying out 138 dives over the 24-hour period. In the evening, dive-centre staff and local musicians performed a charming shadow play telling the traditional Maldivian legend of the wreck’s namesake Rannamaari, an evil sea demon who took the life of a young girl every full moon.
The wreck represents just a small part of Angsana Ihurus commitment to the marine environment of the Maldives. Along with the neighbouring island of Vabbinfaru, it is run by the Banyan Tree hotel group, which prides itself on a Corporate Social Responsibility programme that in the Maldives includes educational projects with local schoolchildren and conservation projects above and below the water.
A marine lab on Vabbinfaru oversees a coral-regeneration programme on both islands that has been running since 1997. It also runs a turtle headstarting project, whereby a small proportion of hatchlings from nearby islands are kept in captivity for around two years, giving them a vastly improved survival rate.
After a few months in a tank at the Marine Lab the young turtles are placed in a large enclosure in the lagoon until they are about 30cm long. In the past 10 years more than 300 have been released.
The biologists are on hand to talk about these projects and also feed a group of pink whip rays every day, giving a talk about the gentle giants as they do so. After being fed, the rays stay in the lagoon for about an hour, and snorkellers are welcome to swim with them as long as they don’t touch them.
As well as the chance to learn more about reef conservation and dive the Rannamaari and house reefs, both Vabbinfaru and Angsana Ihuru resorts run up to three boat dives a day to North Male Atoll dive sites.

BA flies direct from London to Male from £847; Srilankan flies via Colombo from £609. A villa for two with breakfast at Angsana Ihuru for seven nights costs between US $3733 (low season) and $9346 (high season). $145pp a day buys you up to three boat dives and unlimited shore dives including nitrox if qualified, plus all diving equipment.