Yangon River Divers
Project info

In the 1970s shipwrecks from WWII were found on the riverbed in the Yangon river.

People living by the river in the township Dala, invented then their own diving equipment and designed specialist dive boats to search for debris of sunken ships.

They first used bicycle pumps to pump oxygen through long rubber tubes into handmade masks. Now improved, they are using home-made gas-powered air compressors that pumps oxygen down through long rubber tubes to the divers.

With the handmade masks and chains to weight them down, Myanmar's salvage divers can dive as deep as 61 meters and stay underwater for up to 30 minutes.

Once they disappear into the brown water of this highly polluted river they are unable to see anything at all. They can only feel with their bare hands for what is down there.

They are searching for treasures like copper, iron and even more valuable metals, which then get sold on the other, wealthier side of the river in downtown Yangon for melting down and reuse. Salary vary between 0 and 100 USD a day, depending on what they can find. If they are lucky they get assignments from companies to salvage a sunken ship or do other underwater work like cleaning congrete piles of a bridge. Working in crews of four or five per boat, they dive twice a day, during the high tide. Between 20 and 30 diving crews operate out of the township of Dala.

It is a dangerous job, many had been injured during diving, but they need the money to support their families. Most of them wish to have another job on solid ground, not in the water. The divers strive for most simple basic needs: food and a roof over their families head. To fulfill that, they need to seek salvage of sunken ships everyday. Sunken ships are tragedies, but for the divers it means survive.