The Scarlet Ibis A.K.A. The Maverick

It is the 11th May 1960 and the M.V. Scarlet Ibis is sliding stern first into the River Clyde, she is destined to join her sister ship, the M.V. Bird of Paradise in providing the shipping link between Trinidad and Tobago during the 60’s and 70’s. Built for the Trinidad and Tobago Government by Ferguson Shipbuilders in Scotland, she is identical to her 6 month older sibling M.V. Bird of Paradise, with an overall length of 198 feet 9 inches and beam of 36 feet 7 inches. They are the first ‘Roll on, Roll off’ designed ferries operated by the government and are each capable of carrying 192 persons and 244 tons of cargo at a speed of 14 knots, which translated into a 7-8 hour journey between Port of Spain and Scarborough.

Some 37 years later (1997) the M.V. Scarlet Ibis now named the M.V. Maverick is once again sliding stern first; this time it is below the gentle swells of the Caribbean Sea off of Mt. Irvine, Tobago. Unlike her birth as a passenger ferry; she is now beginning a new life as an artificial reef and playground to divers. Recognizing the tourism and fishery benefits to be derived in creating an artificial reef by the sinking of a ship; the Association of Tobago Dive Operators (ATDO) together with the Tourism and Industrial Development Company (now the Tourism Development Company/TDC), acquired the Maverick and stripped her of potential environmental and safety hazards before placing her upright at a depth of 100 feet on a flat sandy seabed. Not as easy as it sounds, it has taken weeks of effort and seemingly conscious of the watchful eyes of CNN cameras, she defiantly resisted departing the surface until finally slipping under at dusk.

Present day - she is now listing slightly to port and showing the effects of being immersed for 56 years. Once easily recognizable as the Scarlet Ibis and a safe swim through for visiting divers, her collapsing decks bear little or no resemblance to what she once was. The large ground swells of this past January have caused the port hull to collapse outwards; the starboard hull to collapse inwards and the upper decks to cave in. The supporting ‘I beams’ having dropped one after the other over the intervening years. Every inch of her structure is covered by encrusting sponges, together with both soft and hard corals including Black Coral, which was once much sought after in the jewellery trade. Clouds of Brown Chromis, Creole Wrasse and a variety of Silver bait fishes dance above her bridge which still stands (for now) at 60 feet. Mangrove Snappers, Striped Grunts, Queen, French and Grey Angels are to be found amongst her recently collapsed cabin and companionway spaces, while Bonito and Amberjack dart through schools of bait. Stingrays are sometimes found lying on the surrounding sandy seabed and migratory Cobias can be encountered between her rudders by the fortunate diver.

The most frequently visited wreck in Tobago; the Maverick continues to encourage the propagation of marine life in an otherwise featureless seabed; while providing an alternate dive site to natural reefs and is the ideal site for divers seeking their Advanced Open Water, Deep Diver or Wreck Diver certifications. I count myself amongst the fortunate few who have been able to visit her throughout her transformation.

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