Everyone loves a good shipwreck story. After all, they are the main inspiration behind legends of pirates and lost treasures. Nature's unforgiving force has put millions of ships to rest in a watery grave, some which we can explore while others remain beyond our reach. Among those we can enter, there are certain rusty behemoths that have become veritable time capsules. So go ahead, dive your way through history, to an underwater world full of mystery.
Pictured above. (Courtesy of fordivers.com)[/caption]
Bahia Blanca was a 500-foot Hamburg-built passenger-cargo vessel that set off on her maiden voyage in 1911. In 1935, it was purchased by the Italian government, turned into a troopship and renamed The Umbria.
Fast forward to June 1940, just before Italy's entrance into World War 2, when The Umbria was carrying a secret cargo across the Red Sea to Italy's East African colonies. A secret cargo of 8,600 tons of ammunition to be used against the Allies, that is. While approaching their port, British troops went on board searching for contraband.
Weary of the ship's contents and knowing Italian entry into the war was only a matter of time, the British delayed the departure of The Umbria and were ordered to stay aboard The Umbria over night. The next morning, Italy declared war. The captain of The Umbria was the first one to find out, and being surrounded by the British, he had only one solution - deliberately sink the ship. All men were ordered to abandon, and following the captain's orders, the chief engineers opened all the valves and drowned the ship to the bottom of the reef.
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Often described as the best shipwreck in the world, The Umbria is incredibly well preserved. Lying at a maximum depth of 124 feet, she is now part of the reef, its bloodthirsty cargo still intact, aerial bombs stacked in hundreds of rows. Overall access is pretty easy and divers are welcome to explore each and every inch of this historical site.
On the morning of October 22, 1961, a boiler-room explosion started a fire aboard the Bianca C. It was not the ship's first encounter with such a life-threatening situation. In 1944, while being towed near Marseilles, France, it was torpedoed by the Germans. Like a Phoenix rising from its ashes, it was refitted as a cruise ship. But it was not as lucky the second time around.
The ship was anchored in St. George's Harbor in Grand Anse, Grenada when the fire broke out. There were 673 people on board that morning, out of which all but three survived thanks to the fast response from the shore. Two days later, when the Royal Navy arrived, the ship was still in flames. As Bianca C was being towed away from shore, she began to sink, reaching the sandy bottom at the mouth of the harbor.
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Today, Bianca C is the largest diveable wreck in the Caribbean, 165 feet underwater. Several of its decks collapsed in the fire, yet there are plenty of interesting details that have been preserved in excellent condition, like its midship swimming pool, a great place to start the dive. Named the “Titanic of the Caribbean,” the 600-foot cruise ship deserves several dives, especially for its abundance of marine life, including large, green sea turtles.
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On the morning of October 6, 1941, British army-freighter SS Thistlegorm was anchored north of the Straits of Gubal in the Northern Red Sea. Carrying military equipment for the Allied troops' World War 2 efforts, it was awaiting instructions to proceed through the Suez Canal to Alexandria. It was thought to be a safe location. Without warning, the 415-foot vessel was split in two by two bombs from a German bomber plane, sending it to an early watery grave.
The SS Thistlegorm lay undisturbed on the seabed for 14 years until Jacques Cousteau took the first steps into what has now become a fascinating artificial reef. The ship went down with all its original cargo – Bedford trucks, BSA motorcycles, tanks, piles of explosives and rooms stacked with ammunition and war supply. No wonder it is considered the most famous wreck in the Red Sea, with visible, spine-tingling signs of explosions. Divers can reach the site by boat from Sharm El Sheikh. Several dives are required to do it justice.
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Just off Florida's coast, a massive vessel lies 190 feet below the water surface. The Northern Light was one of the first steel hulled, steam freighters ever built. Completed in 1888, it was designed to travel the Great Lakes. How did it end up on the bottom of the Atlantic? Well, that's just one of its oddities.
Northern Light was not destined for a life at sea. To start with, it was too big to even leave the Great Lakes system. But in 1917, the owner split the ship in half and reassembled it to make it seaworthy. Which brings us to the next oddity. During the economical crisis in the 1920s, the ship became more costly than productive. On August 16, 1927, Northern Light caught fire. It was, of course, an insurance scam- one that didn't quite work as planned. On November 8, 1930, it was being towed during a severe storm and for some reason, became separated from the tow vessel, making it sink. When it sank, it split in two. It was the perfect ending to a vicious circle of oddities.
The Northern Light now lies in Elbow Reef off Key Largo, between 180 to 200 feet underwater. The two portions of the once massive vessel are now governed by marine life, including Bull sharks and schools of Jacks, making it an coveted spot among experienced divers.
S.S. President Coolidge
On October 26, 1942, USS Coolidge was carrying troops and warfare to the South Pacific when it struck two friendly mines near Vanuatu. The captain immediately put the ship on a reef, saving the lives of the 5,340 men on board. Convinced it would not sink, he ordered all passengers to evacuate and leave their belongings behind. He did not expect the liner to slide under with all those World War 2 relics that have now become a magnet for divers.
This was not your average war ship. Completed in 1931, President Coolidge was destined for a life of luxury cruising the world's oceans. It all ended in 1940, when it helped evacuate US citizens from Hong Kong after the attack on Pearl Harbor. One year later, the ship was converted to carry troops during the war efforts. Some of the luxury touches survived, like the fireplace in the main smoking salon and other details divers will be happy to discover.
(Courtesy of airvanuatu.com)[/caption]
The world's largest shipwreck, the 650-foot SS President Coolidge is packed with military gear, its holds filled with jeeps and artillery. It is also one of the world's most accessible shipwrecks, lying on its side at a depth of between 70 to 240 feet.
The Russian Wreck
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Some 80 feet below the surface of the South Egyptian Red Sea, a mysterious shipwreck lies horizontally on the sandy seabed. Simply referred to as “The Russian Wreck,” its exact identity remains a mystery. What looks like a commercial ship on the outside is stacked with communication equipment and directional-finding antennae on the inside.
It was rumored, although not proven, that it was the wreck of the Khanka, a Russian trawler that was lost at sea before July 1981. However, some of the ship details do not match the description. It is now widely believed it is an electronic intelligence ship from the Cold War. Little is known about what it might have been doing off Zabargad Island or why it sunk, although there are signs of an explosion on board.
“The Russian Wreck” has become a popular diving site in the Red Sea. Almost intact, the wreck offers easy access to the pilothouse and engine room. The holds are accessible as well, with loads of “spy” equipment for all you 007 fans out there.
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In October, 1867, the San Narciso Hurricane hit the Great Harbor of Salt Island. The RMS Rhone was stationed there, hoping to resist the violent storm and make it safely to the Caribbean. When the winds began to calm down, the captain tried to make his escape through the canal. In an unprecedented turn of events, the winds shifted, throwing the ship into the rocks. The RMS Rhone was broken in two and the boilers exploded in the cold waters. As was common practice in those times during bad weather, the passengers were tied to their beds. Out of the 146 men on board, only 23 crew members survived.
Resting 30 to 80 feet underwater, the 310-foot Royal Mail Steamer remains largely intact. Although some of it was salvaged, many original artifacts remain still, on the background of the Caribbean's most spectacular “natural décor".
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Truk Lagoon Ship Graveyard in Micronesia is without doubt one of the most haunting places on the planet. A bloody snapshot of WWII, it is the site of an American surprise attack – Operation Hailstone. In 1944, more than 400 tons of bombs and torpedoes were dropped and launched on the ships harbored here, sinking 40 of them. Ten weeks later, another wave of bombs sank even more ships.
Out of all these, Shinkoku Maru is considered the most picturesque wreck in the lagoon, covered in lush coral formations. The 500-foot vessel participated in the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941 as a support ship. Three years later, it met its fate when torpedo bombers fired at it seven times. The modern tanker, built in 1939 for the Japanese Navy, now lies upright between 135 and 500 feet underneath the surface of the central Pacific. The wreck's centerpiece may be its massive engine room, occupying three floors in the midship, but it is the artificial reef with abundant marine life that makes it one of the best dives in Truk Lagoon.