NANAIMO, British Columbia (AP) -- The HMCS Cape Breton rumbled to the ocean floor over the weekend to begin its new life as the world's largest artificial diving reef.
With smoke and flames still shooting from its decks, the World War II merchant navy vessel slowly disappeared Saturday beneath the waves off Snake Island, about two miles north of Nanaimo.
''My heart started going,'' Mark Corbett, project organizer and spokesperson for the Nanaimo Dive Association, told the Victoria Times Colonist. ''It was highly emotional for everyone watching her go down, perhaps because we had all worked so hard for this day.
''It was also emotional because she was a proud ship, a victory ship that served us in the second World War.''
The dive association and the Artificial Reef Society of British Columbia were partners in the sinking.
HMCS Cape Breton's grand finale began with several flypasts from an Aurora CP140 military patrol plane from CFB Comox.
Then, while cheers rose from the decks of 400 pleasure boats and the B.C. Ferries' Spirit of Coquitlam, cutting charges blasted through the steel hull.
At the same time, a pyrotechnic show sent flames shooting 60 feet through the air.
''It was like watching fireworks,'' said Corbett. ''There were shooting, glowing flames, expanding into a dark orange.''
The 10,000 ton, 396-foot vessel sank in three minutes, 37 seconds, Corbett said.
''It looked like it was listing a bit, but we've already had divers down there and she's sitting squarely on her keel on the ocean floor,'' Corbett said.
The mast is about 30 feet below the surface. The bottom of the six-story ship is about 430 feet below the surface.
Hundreds of volunteers have turned out in the past month to ready the ship for her final resting place.
All the paint was scraped off the vessel's interior before the sinking, in accordance with regulations from Environment Canada.
''When the bottom of the ship went down, it started a new era for tourism,'' said Corbett.
''We're able to promote this as the world's largest artificial reef and also the cleanest ship. These are the highest standards that have ever been set.''
The City of Nanaimo Economic Development Office estimates that the 1997 placement of the artificial reef HMCS Saskatchewan now contributes $4 million annually to the regional economy.
The HMCS Cape Breton lies a few hundred feet away from the HMCS Saskatchewan.
''HMCS Cape Breton will confirm Nanaimo as the Whistler of diving,'' Dave Ilyn, president of Tourism Nanaimo, said in a press release.
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