Shipwrecks support coral conservation in Egypt

Text and photos (c) 2013 Erkki “Eric” Siirila, copyright & all rights reserved. (The article below is a short version of a more complete magazine article published elsewhere.)

In popular diving areas like the Red Sea, sunken ships can take diving pressure away from the heavily used coral reefs. This is the story of five recently located wrecks in Egypt. They do not only relieve the pressure caused by divers on the reefs, they are even in the process of becoming reefs by themselves. Fish and coral have started to colonise the remaining ship structures already.

Four of the new dive sites are 100-250 kilometres north of Hurghada in the Gulf of Suez, one is just a day trip from the city shores. Recently innovative dive guides and underwater photographers like Kimmo Hagman, a Finn based in Hurghada, have initiated week-long live-aboard expeditions to these little-known sunken ships.

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The northernmost of the “new” wrecks is SS Turkia (part of the propeller pictured above). The construction of this British ship was completed in Hull, U.K., in 1910. The 91-meter long vessel sank on its keel after a fire and explosions onboard. Everything was not destroyed, and there is a lot to explore, as the image (below) demonstrates.

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The disaster took place off Zafarana in 1941. The reasons for the events (air attack or an “ordinary” explosion of hazardous cargo of military material) are not clear. On this wreck the dive depths vary between 15 and 24 metres.

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Another little-known wreck, which is extremely interesting to explore, is SS Scalaria (image above), a Shell oil tanker from Britain. The vessel was launched in Newcastle, U.K., in 1921. While being anchored in the Ras Gharib oil production area, close to the western shores of the Gulf of Suez, the ship was attacked by German war planes and destroyed by powerful explosions in 1942. 11 men lost their lives.

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Of the main hull structures of this 125-metre long vessel, only the bow (photo above)  and stern can be identified by divers. The ship sits on its keel and most of the dive will be spent at only 10 to 12 metres.

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The third big and rarely visited wreck in the Gulf of Suez is the Egyptian cargo vessel MV Aboudy (image above). The 76-metre long ship was constructed in Ville de Tenes in the Netherlands and  launched in 1959 or 1960. Aboudy met its destiny during a storm in 1988. The disaster occurred in the shallow waters of Ras Gharib.  The hull of the vessel, which lies on its port side, is in a good condition. Aboudy is an enjoyable dive: the maximum depth is 12 metres and visibility about 25 metres.

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MS Bakr is an easily dived small wreck (foredeck visible above) close to surface in the Ras Gharib area. The vessel was built in Kiev, Ukraine, in 1964, when Ukraine was still part of the Soviet Union. Before sinking in an attack by Israeli fighter planes in the Yom Kippur war in 1973, Bakr functioned as a survey vessel in the Egyptian oil exploration. The hull is still quite intact in spite of the missile attack.  The maximum depth is 10 metres. You can explore the whole ship during one visit, as it is only 49 metres long. Visibility  is 10 to 15 metres.

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The fifth virgin dive site, which takes dive pressure away from the heavily visited “old reefs”, is MS Hebat Allah (photo above), built in Ingrandes, France in 1985. This 44.5-metre wreck is a small cargo ship which was damaged during a storm and intentionally sunk in order to make it Egypt´s first artificial reef for scuba divers in 2004. Accidentally the ship went down into deeper water than planned and never became everyman´s dive site. Now Hebat Allah can be found sitting upright on sand in the marine area between Small Giftun Island, Gota Abu Ramada and Hurghada City. The bottom depth is 46 metres, and 40-metre visiblity is common (see the second image below).

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More information on the new Egyptian wreck attractions can be found on the web sites mentioned below. In addition to several dives on the sunken ships, these internet addresses were used as information sources for this article:

http://www.aquatours.com/

http://www.shipwrecksofegypt.com/

http://www.deeplens.com/

http://www.facebook.com/KimmoHagman.Photographer

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