By Jun V. Lao
Frequenting the Philippines since 1996 for dive holidays, Michael Richard Stefurak met in one of his may sojourns seasoned technical dive instructor Terry O’Dowd, who himself had been based locally for close to two decades. Both struck a common chord as explorers while diving together in various spots in the country.
In 2015 the two decided to open dive operations in Subic Bay, Olongapo.
While Stuferak enjoyed marine life and diving in Mindoro, his first love actually was exploring wrecks, galleons and finding artifacts in his native Port Philip Bay, Australia. His passion led him to bring his boat, the MV Polaris, from his hometown all the way to Subic, in hopes of finding unexplored and unrecorded wrecks in the country.
Finding these underwater vessels requires divers with a special skillset, on one hand, and, a lot of specialized equipment on the other. This is where O’Dowd’s vast experience in technical diving offered by his company, Sea Scan Survey, came to fore.
With the MV Polaris and specialized gear in place, the two underwater specialists found several new wrecks in the waters of Subic: a couple of planes and landing crafts that were not previously on record. Beyond the area, Stuferak took some guests aboard the Polaris to other areas in the Philippines and discovered a pristine Japanese plane wreck in Coron, Busuanga.
They were also able to capture in photo and video for the first time the SS Corregidor, a sunken ship teeming in Philippine maritime history. It can be found just 30 miles off Manila Bay, and met its fate to rest under water just a day prior to the Japanese Occupation.
Stuferak is no stranger to business. Back in Melbourne, he successfully ran a transport company that he grew from one unit to currently a fleet of 80 refrigerated trucks, transporting fresh and frozen food daily to Brisbane and Sydney and Melbourne. He developed stringent standards and systems through the years, which he applied to his new company, Sea Scan Survey.
On the other hand, O’Dowd had a wealth of experience managing Live on Boards, a firm operating dive charters in the Asia-Pacific region, providing the backbone of instruction and customer acquisition. Interest in the business grew in less than a year, prompting the two to establish a sister company, Sea Scan Underwater Adventures, which is currently headquartered in Subic Bay.
“Sea Scan Underwater Adventures was borne out of our passion for history and exploration,” Stuferak said.
O’Dowd seconded, “Our company aims to provide advanced tools to help underwater explorers find what they are looking for, and discover unchartered territories of the Philippine seas.”
Meanwhile, their business, Mangoes Dive Center, expanded to include diver training and live aboard adventures, which are beyond their existing wreck hunting and research-based services.
Recently, Sea Scan Underwater Adventures purchased another 80-foot motor yacht, currently in its maiden voyage through the San Bernardino Strait—the body of water that separates the Bicol Peninsula and the island of Samar—on a mission to document elusive sunken Spanish-Manila galleons.
Having personally met the duo through good friend Mark Walton, currently the operation manager of Mangoes Dive Center, this writer was initially commissioned to take some pictures of their finds in Subic Bay. Thanks to Walton, he found himself lucky enough to join one of Sea Scan Underwater Adventures’s exciting and fulfilling chartered trips, appeasing his hunger for exploration.
Those interested in finding galleons and wrecks or learning to dive may get in touch with Sea Scan Underwater Adventures to Walton via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jun V. Lao is a marine alchemist specializing in underwater travel photo stories for conservation groups such as the World Wide Fund for Nature Philippines, US Agency for International Development and the Asian Development Bank, among others. A certified Professional Association of Diving Instructors scuba teacher and frequent traveler, he aspires to share his stories to have more people curious and involved with issues concerning Philippine seas. He may be contacted via email@example.com.