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The Shipwrecks of the Red Sea: a Diver’s Paradise


Under the surface of its calm water, the Red Sea has one of the most abundant coral reef ecosystems in the world, hosting countless living organisms between its grooves and crevices. However, despite the reef’s undeniable ecological importance, it poses a formidable threat to ships traversing the sea.

Over the centuries, the Red Sea has claimed several ships that tried to cross its waters. Whatever survived from these wrecks became a part of the ecosystem later on. Corals, fish, and other marine wildlife extended the breadth of their domain to cover these wrecks.

Each of these unfortunate ships had its unique history and background. Some were military ships from the dreadful time of World War II; others were cargo ships full of goods traveling east through the Suez Canal.

Egypt has been a thriving hub for diving tourism since the early 2000s, with Hurghada and South Sinai emerging as major centers along the Red Sea. The months of October and November are particularly favored by tourists and are hailed as the optimal time for diving in Egypt.

Despite their tragic histories, today, the shipwrecks of the Red Sea evoke a sense of adventure and awe among the hundreds of divers who visit them annually. These are the six best preserved of these wrecks.

THE SS THISTLEGORM

The SS Thistlegorm’s wreck at the Red Sea. Photo credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons.

After several commercial voyages to the United States, Argentina, and the West Indies, the SS Thistlegorm was assigned the crucial task of resupplying the British 8th Army during World War II in June 1941.

Departing from Glasgow, Scotland, the vessel sailed for Alexandria, Egypt, taking a detour around the South African coast in a 16-ship convoy to evade enemy threats in the Mediterranean.

After covering 12,000 miles, the Thistlegorm anchored at Sha’ab Ali, awaiting clearance to pass through the Suez Canal. During its two-week stay, two German planes dropped bombs on the ship, resulting in a catastrophic explosion due to the ammunition cargo, which caused the ship to sink in less than ten minutes.

Nearly 15 years later, French oceanographer, author, and filmmaker Jacques Cousteau rediscovered the Thistlegorm. However, it was in the 1990s, with the development of Sharm El Sheikh, that the shipwreck gained recognition as one of the world’s most famous diving sites.

The Thistlegorm wreck is a treasure trove of exploration and wartime history. In addition to the ship’s propellers and guns, the site boasts an intact cargo that includes motorcycles from BSA and Norton, trucks from Bedford, Morris, and Ford, UC-MkII tanks, rifles, aircraft and radio components, wellington boots, ample munitions, and two steam locomotives that were scattered on both sides of the wreck.

The site is teeming with marine life, including tuna, barracuda, lionfish, morays, sweetlips, batfish, stonefish, crocodile fish on the decks, and hawksbill turtles in the surrounding blue waters.

THE DUNRAVEN

Common lionfish swimming near the Dunraven wreck. Photo credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons.

Located on the southern edge of Sha’ab Mahmoud, the wreck of the Dunraven, also known as Beacon Rock, lies directly beneath the South Cardinal Beacon. Reaching this site takes about an hour by boat from Ras Mohammed but the duration of travel can be affected by weather conditions.

The British Steamer Dunraven was originally constructed in 1873 in Newcastle. Three years later, while traversing the Red Sea waters, it collided with the reef and now rests at a depth of 30 meters adjacent to the reef wall. The wreck is entirely inverted and split into two sections.

The stern section of the Dunraven is around 29 meters deep and features openings that qualified divers can explore. This section leads to a swim-through alongside the ship’s boiler, eventually leading to where the wreck has broken in half. The exit area is filled with thousands of glass fish.

In contrast, the bow section of the Dunraven is in shallower water, offering plenty of interesting spots to explore. However, there are no entry points into this section. After examining the bow section, divers usually continue the dive by gliding over the coral-covered hull and then transitioning to explore the reef wall and shallower areas before concluding the dive.

THE GIANNIS D

Common lionfish swimming near the Dunraven wreck. Photo credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons.

In April 1983, the Giannis D embarked on its final voyage from Rijeka, Yugoslavia, carrying a cargo of lumber to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The ship’s journey through the Adriatic, Mediterranean, and Suez Canal was uneventful.

However, while navigating the Straits of Gubal – a narrow shipping lane before reaching the Red Sea – the ship drifted off course and collided at full speed with the northwest edge of the Sha’ab Abu Nuhas Reef. The crew abandoned the ship and was rescued by an Egyptian boat nearby.

The Giannis D rests on the seabed, divided into roughly three sections close to the reef. Divers can explore the stern section, with the option to swim through the bridge and access the engine room and accommodation areas. However, the angle of the wreck can be disorienting when inside, requiring caution.

Sha’ab Abu Nuhas Reef is located just north of Shadwan Island, around 32 kilometers from El Gouna, and accessible by day boats from Hurghada. Due to the reef’s hazardous nature for boats, most dives are conducted from rigid inflatable boats while larger vessels moor at a safer distance.

THE YOLANDA

Diver swimming next to the Yolanda’s wreck. Photo credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons.

The Yolanda, a Cypriot cargo ship, embarked on a voyage to Aqaba, carrying cargo that included containers filled with sanitary facilities, bathtubs, pipes, cases of whisky, and the BMW 320 car belonging to the ship’s captain. On the night of 1 April 1980, the Yolanda ran aground on a reef at Ras Mohamed.

The site attracted numerous divers during the first five years following the shipwreck. However, in 1985, a severe storm dislodged the wreck from the reef, causing it to vanish for two decades. Two divers rediscovered the Yolanda lying 145 meters deep in 2005.

Divers can navigate the remnants of the Yolanda wreck, including toilets, pipes, and unrecognizable debris scattered across a shallow sandy area. This underwater landscape teems with marine life, such as scorpion fish, napoleons, blue-spotted stingrays, and crocodile fish.

THE CHRISOULA K

Tiiles from the Chrisoula K. Photo credit: Oceans to Alpines.

The Chrisoula K was loaded with large patio-type floor tiles in Italy for delivery to Jeddah in August 1981. The journey from Italy through the Suez Canal to Port Said and down the Gulf of Suez went smoothly. However, on 31 August 1981, just as the ship was leaving the Gulf and entering the open Red Sea, it ran aground on the northeast corner of Sha’ab Abu Nuhas Reef.

The ship was declared a total loss, and neither the vessel nor its cargo were salvaged. Over time, the Chrisoula K slipped off the reef and now rests on the seabed below.

The wreck is easily accessible to divers, lying at depths ranging from five to a maximum of 25 meters. The middle part of the ship suffered significant damage when it ran aground, causing it to rest at a slight incline.

The wreck offers a relatively mild current and shallow depth, inviting divers to explore the interior. Inside, you can admire the well-arranged cargo in the hold, with some tiles still bearing the inscription ‘Made in Italy.’ The cabins are also interesting to explore, featuring bathrooms with sanitary facilities and an open electric stove in the kitchen.

A highlight of the dive is the impressive four-meter-diameter propeller. You can also visit the former workshop near the less accessible engine room, where tools are still scattered across the floor.

This wreck caters to divers of all experience levels Novice divers can enjoy swimming above the wreck in relatively shallow water, while more experienced divers have the opportunity to penetrate the engine room.

THE ULYSSES

Diver traversing the Ulysses’ wreck. Photo credit: Scuba Travel.

The Ulysses departed from London in August 1887 en route to Penang. It was Captain Arthur Bremner’s first voyage in the Red Sea. After clearing the Suez Canal, he carefully checked their position and charted their course. However, the ship ran aground on 15 August as it was nearing the end of the Gulf of Suez and approaching the open Red Sea.

Initially, the incident was considered minor, and a passing ship was summoned to seek immediate assistance in Suez. This aid did not arrive until 18 August, when the hull had sustained serious damage, and the ship was deemed lost.

With the Royal Navy offering protection, the crews of the Ulysses and the Lighters from Suez managed to salvage most of the cargo. The Ulysses was eventually abandoned on 6 September, but no specific date for its sinking was recorded.

Diving the Ulysses wreck today offers an intriguing underwater experience. The stern of the Ulysses rests at a depth of 28 meters, with the front third of the ship scattered as a debris field.

The primary section of the wreck lies on its port side. Much of the wooden decking has deteriorated, revealing an iron framework. The stern is elegantly rounded, with the rudder and propeller still intact. Features such as bollards, winches, railings, and a large tiller are still visible.

The main structure is spacious and accessible, allowing divers to explore the vessel at two levels down to the keel.

Source: Egyptian Streets

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