The Jakarta Post
Old ruins: A diver observes a ship-wreck in one of the diving spots. (Wet Traveler/Pinneng)
A large number of dive shops, dive operators and resorts have suffered significant losses since the pandemic began to spread in Indonesia in March.
The Indonesian government’s efforts to reduce the pandemic’s impact on tourism seem futile as more and more countries ban their citizens from traveling to Indonesia. The country, after all, seems to have failed to contain the spread of COVID-19 effectively.
During this time of uncertainty, a number of dive operators in Indonesia have decided to start thinking outside the box in order to survive.
Ready to sail: The Benetta phinisi ship harbors at the Sunda Kelapa Harbor in Jakarta on Sep. 5. (JP/Jerry Adiguna)
The Benetta pinisi (type of Indonesian sailing rig) live-aboard ship is one of them. After mostly cruising the eastern parts of Indonesia, a heaven for Indonesian diving, the ship’s crew are now sailing around the Jakarta bay area. The ship’s owner, Bobby Weliyanto, said this change was necessary for his business to survive the pandemic.
One of the ship’s most recent voyages took place on Sept. 5 from Sunda Kelapa Harbor in Jakarta. Here, I met with fellow dive enthusiasts to embark on a diving trip exploring the Thousand Islands region north of Jakarta. Throughout the trip, all the participants tried their best to maintain social distance and wore masks.
Keep it safe: The Benetta ship crew sprays disinfectant to the hands of diving trip participants. (JP/Jerry Adiguna)
The first stop of the trip was Pari Island. The journey to this spot took approximately three hours at 8 knots using the Benetta’s motor. During the wait, the participants prepared their gear and discussed the plan for the first dive, exploring the wreck of a cargo ship near Pari Island.
Social distancing: the dive participants wear masks and keep their distance with one another throughout the diving trip. (JP/Jerry Adiguna)
Richard, one of the divers, is a British teacher living in Southeast Tangerang. He described himself as having a great passion for shipwreck diving.
“Indonesia holds a lot of underwater mystery and history waiting to be explored,” Richard said.
Splashing into the water with full dive gear ready to go into the deep sea is an exhilarating moment that most divers welcome with joy. The visibility in the waters north of Jakarta is not as good as that of eastern Indonesia, but the diving is still enjoyable.
Colorful: The visibility in the waters of the Thousand Islands region is good enough for divers to enjoy the sights of corals. (Courtesy/Yun Thing Tan)
At about 23 meters below the surface, the mysterious silhouette of the wrecked cargo ship begins to emerge. Laying cold at the bottom of the sea, the ship's body has been filled with coral, giving life to its surroundings. It is a sight that the divers must have been yearning for after being trapped in their homes for months.
Some of the divers posed so that the underwater photographers could take pictures. These divers were not going to let these precious moments go to waste. A few big pennant coralfish swam gracefully around the divers as if they wanted to welcome the strange-looking visitors from the land above.
Regrettably, I had to cancel my second dive after I lost my breath swimming against the current before descending into the sea. Safety is a priority, and there is nothing wrong with canceling a dive if you are not comfortable with the conditions.
Not long after I returned to the boat, two divers – Pinneng and Jovita – joined me after they completed their second dive.
“Some of the divers down there are just holding a rope and swimming like it was a flag”, said Pinneng with a small laugh while drying his hair.
Based in Kupang regency, Pinneng has witnessed the destructive impact of COVID-19 on the local tourism industry. This came as a surprise because Kupang is marked as a green zone, which means that it does not have a high number of COVID-19 cases.
That night, back at the ship, we enjoyed our dinner together and enjoyed the night sea breeze. A small group of dolphins were attracted to the light and entertained us with their swimming before we went to our beds and slept.
The next day, I decided to join the free diving activity, departing from the SCUBA diving team that went ahead for the next shipwreck exploration. One of our travel companions was the Indonesia free diving record holder Mikhael Dominico. It was a rare chance to learn a few freediving tips from him.
Like a fish: Dive participants can also opt to take in a free diving session. (Courtesy/Mikhael Dominico)
Wearing our long fins, we entered the water and enjoyed the dive together. Joining us were professional underwater photographers Yun Thing Tan and Ferry Rusli, along with travel influencers Gemala Hanafiah and Christie.
The waters surrounding the Thousand Islands hold various mysteries. The abundant exotic shipwrecks are just some of them. Beyond the wonderful, healthy coral reefs, many have reported seeing whale sharks in these waters.
Back on the ship, as we packed our gear and prepared for the short journey home, my thoughts wandered to the reality of the COVID-19 threat we were still facing. It was still frightening, and I did not want to fall victim to the virus. I also wanted to protect my family and loved ones from the virus.
Liveaboard cruise ships like the Benetta pinisi ship service allow you to experience diving adventures with minimal risk. With its private charter choice, you can minimize the risk of large gatherings. Its strict health protocols also give you more confidence to once again go diving.
Sometimes, you just have to take a deep breath and get out into the deep blue ocean because, after all, there is no point of continuing to live in fear.
The Jakarta Post received an invitation to sail on the Benetta pinisi ship for a short journey from Sep. 5 to Sept. 6 to explore wrecks in the Thousand Islands region. Before the trip, the Post had to take a required COVID-19 rapid test, sent by the Benetta crew.
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