The wreck of Rio Sainas

The wreck of Rio Sainas

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In the early hours of 11 March 2013 the, 35 meter, 300 ton fishing vessel “Rio Sainas” made her final journey to the bottom of the sea. She was under tow after spending nearly 3 weeks on the shore at Zavora, Mozambique; the result of losing power and drifting in a high wind before running aground on the sandy beach. Fortunately for her crew and for the environment, she ran aground on sand, right between two rock reefs. Had she hit the reef the crew would have been in real trouble considering the state of the sea and her fuel and oil may well have leaked out of a damaged hull, posing a considerable pollution risk for the area.

Text by Jon Wright

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Initial attempts to re-float her by her owners proved futile and she was declared a total loss by their insurance company.The salvage company Subtech were called in and they began the arduous task of cleaning her up so she would not pose any threat to the environment. Over the course of 10 days more than 35 tons of fuel and oils were pumped off and several tons of debris was removed before she was deemed fit to be towed out to sea. It took several attempts to free her, each pull from the large tugboat resulting in small gains, with the salvers having to wait patiently until the next high tide to try again. Working day and night in foul weather they finally won the battle on the afternoon of 10 March, freeing the stricken vessel in 20 knot winds and 3 meter swells.

As she had run aground bow first, she was being pulled from the stern with the plan being to relocate the massive hawser to the bow for towing away from Zavora. However sea conditions had deteriorated so much, it was not possible to launch the small boat needed to carry out this operation and the tug and tow had to sit it out at anchor in the bay. The next morning, we awoke to a much calmer sea, but with only one boat floating on it. We can only assume the tired old ship was taking a lot of water over her stern in the heavy sea and her not very watertight hatches were unable to cope. At some stage during the pitch black, stormy night, she slipped beneath the waves.

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In the short time she has been on the bottom she has already become an aggregation point for many species of fish, including several sightings of a 2 meter brindle bass which we are hoping will be a long term resident. Juvenile fish of various species are finding a home here and we often see trevally, cuda and other game fish hunting around her. A vessel which, during 40 years of operational service, killed so many marine organisms is now sheltering and nurturing these same animals providing a new habitat for life in Zavora.Their loss became our advantage; now the Rio Sainas is Mozambique’s newest wreck and at only 9km from our launch, it’s on our doorstep. Lying in 33 meters of water, with a 35 degree list to starboard and coming up to 19 meters she is a perfect dive site for recreational divers. The scour by the propeller goes down to 35 meters and there is plenty of scope for penetration for the more experienced diver. It is possible to enter the aft deck hatch, proceed through the pristine (but not so spacious) engine room and exit by the galley one deck up. From there, you can enter the crew accommodation, proceed up one deck and into the wheelhouse.

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Rio Sainas was engaged in deep sea lobster potting at the time of her grounding but had previously been involved with long lining – divers’ most detested fishing practice (the crew told us they had been shark finning at one time). She was under a Mozambican flag, crewed mainly by Filipino’s and owned and operated by Pescamar, which itself is owned by a Spanish fishing conglomerate. She had 3 FADM (Mozambique armed forces) personnel on board and was armed with 3 AK47’s and a PKM machine gun, the mount of which is still clearly visible, (to the rear of the superstructure on the starboard side) to act as protection from possible pirate attack.

So, one down, so many to go! While we can be happy that there is one less fishing boat in the channel, we must also do our part. Knowing that the food we eat comes from sustainable resources, and does not involve the exploitation of less fortunate people is the least we can do ethically. For our own health, we must also take a stand against current industrial food production practices such as the over-use of pesticides, hormones and the increasing dominance of genetically modified ‘Frankenfoods’. Eventually, we consumers call the shots. If we stop buying fish from the red list, it will not be economically viable to catch it. What is needed is a common consensus, we only have power in numbers. The future of the sea and indeed, the land, is in our hands.

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One less fishing boat plying its trade in the channel means the oceans get a break, albeit until the next one comes along. And as the aging fishing fleet sinks and becomes home to ocean life it means fishing companies are forced to reconsider their options and economics. For divers, it’s a bonanza – something to explore, something to attract fish life and something to be marveled at.

Zavora is home to two marvelous diving wrecks – the Klipfontein and now, Rio Sainas. A fortunate intersection of shipping misfortune meets ocean life to create a diver’s dream dive.

Diving Eilat

Diving Eilat

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Squeezed between the Arabian Peninsula and the continent of Africa, the Red Sea pushes northwards and splits into two gulfs at its northernmost point. The Gulf of Suez connects the Red Sea with the Mediterranean Sea via the Suez Canal whilst the Gulf of Aqaba separates Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula from the Arabian Peninsula and comes to rest at the busy port and popular tourist resort, Eilat.

Text and Images Ilan Ben Tov 

Eilat is Israel’s southernmost city and home to some forty-six thousand people. It has an arid desert climate with low humidity moderated by its proximity to a warm sea with almost all-year- round excellent diving conditions.

Because Eilat is located at the northeastern tip of the Red Sea it offers great diving conditions. Whilst the busy port and intensive tourist industry has had an impact on the coral reefs and beaches the southern shore still provides excellent diving opportunities; from artificial reefs, such as Tamar reef, and sunken wrecks (the wreck of the Sufa) blooming with underwater life, to the northernmost coral reef in the world.

Most dive sites are accessed from the beach and don’t require a diving boat – simply walk in to the sea from the marked entrance on the beach and dive the site.

Tamar Reef

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This artificial reef is a macro photographer’s paradise. Originally created in an attempt to attract underwater life, the artificial reef has been a resounding success attracting divers and sea life in abundance.

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Located in front of Deep Siam Dive Club, at a depth of only 6 metres and on a sandy slope, Tamar Reef is full of life. It has become a permanent home to many small reef fish, juvenile barracuda and other predatory fish and a myriad shrimps and critters that hide in the crevices.

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Here, the macro underwater photographer will happily use up bottom time being lost photographing critters and fish in relative ease.
But for divers who prefer to explore there is a deeper area that slopes away from Tamar reef and there are nearby coral formations just waiting to be explored.

Coral reserve
Coral Beach Nature Reserve runs from the Yam Suf Hotel to the Underwater Observatory and is a splendid option for deep and shallow dives.

Entry to the water is possible from either of the two jetties inside the nature reserve or from the small beach at the reserve’s northern boundary next to Deep Siam dive club. There is an entry fee and a it is mandatory that you receive a briefing from a nature reserve ranger before diving.

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Coral bommies and pinnacles teeming with underwater life break the shallow sandy seafloor’s topography. The two largest pinnacles are known as Moses rock and Joshua Rock
and both slope to a depth of 30 metres from a shallow point of only 6 metres. Whilst the pinnacles are covered with large hard corals, a fringing reef runs the length of the reserve at a depth of 2 to 3 metres. This makes for an excellent long shallow dive or the perfect finish to a deep one.

A typical dive profile entails entering from the jetties and locating the spectacular Moses Rock and Joshua Rock at a depth of 6 metres. Once found it is pleasant descent over dense coral beds where the view is pure blue. The westward return trip offers lovely spots for safety stops and ultimately the reserve’s lovely home reef leads back to the easily recognizable jetties.

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The marine life is plentiful with varied clouds of fairy basslets decorating the coral formations where there are many cleaning stations where cleaner wrasse groom groupers, goatfish, morays and even the occasional barracuda.

Blue spotted stingrays can be found in the sandy areas around the rocks and anemones with attendant anemone fish can be found in every coral formation. Peep into the rock crevices
and you will find a rich selection of shrimps and crabs.

Wreck of the Sufa (Satil)
This is a wreck of the Sufa missile boat that served in the Israeli navy and was sunk in order to serve as artificial reef. The wreck lies on a sandy bottom at a depth of 24 metres and is one of Eilat’s most popular dive sites for both day and night dives.

The dive starts near Marina Divers Dive Club from the marked access point and is followed by a steep drop to around 7 metres, where a large coral formation lies. From the coral formation proceed to the east and the seafloor slopes gently to 18 metres. In this area the sea grass is dotted by little coral islands and at night it is a perfect place to view Cuttlefish hunting in the sea grass.

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The wreck that lies parallel to the beach at a depth of 22 to 24 metres. The wreck can be semi-penetrated at several locations at the bow (18 metres) and stern (21 metres).

The bridge of the wreck starts at a depth of 12 metres and is covered with red soft corals. It plays host to a large number of small fish with lionfish and glasys sweepers taking refuge
between the soft corals from time to time. During your ascent from the dive octopus, sea urchins and sea cucumbers are often found and observed by divers doing their safety stop.

The marine life on the way to the wreck and on the wreck itself is plentiful. Expect to meet yellowtail barracuda, angelfish, moray eels and the occasional octopus.

At night the bridge is often covered with basket stars.

Wreck of the Yatush

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This is a small patrol boat that lies at a depth of around 30 metres in the coral reef. It is best dived as the first dive of the day since visibility is better in the morning and currents are weaker.

The dive starts in the marked area in front of Aqua Sport Diving Club where you descend to a depth of 4 metres and follow the sandy slope gradually downwards in a direction of approximately 45 degrees from the starting point. When you reach the drop- off, at a depth of around 6 metres, you will notice that the area is populated with garden eels – an excellent place to do your safety stop when you return from the dive. From here you descend to
a depth of 27 metres and then keep north at a depth of 24 to 27 metres until you see a small ship wreck. The wreck’s bow faces east, and it lies on a sandy and grassy bottom with scattered coral clusters.

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A big group of glassy sweepers live inside the wreck and can be seen swimming in formation. Cleaner shrimp live in a cleaning station inside the small wreck and if you are lucky you will see them grooming a yellow-mouthed moray eel. Outside the wreck you can see patrolling lionfish and sometimes, big coral groupers swim by.

When ascending, from the stern, up the sloping seafloor you pass two striking coral formations (at 18 metres and 12 metres) that rise from the sandy floor. It is worth investigating these formations since they host plenty of life.

Princess (southern) Beach
The location is at the south beach in front of the Princess hotel. With a sandy slope and a depth of around 20 to 22 metres you pass striking coral formations at around 6 to 8 metres and there are several large table corals at around 20 to 25 metres.

Entry to the dive site is possible from either of the two jetties at the Princess Hotel beach or from marked areas on the beach itself.

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Diving usually starts by descending to a sandy slope that in some areas hosts colonies of garden eels, and then to a depth of around 10 to 15 metres to various coral formations.

Sea grass covers the slope at depths of 15 to 30 metres and you can find several large table corals at a depth of 20 to 25 metres. Look closely at the table corals and you will see that they are populated with yellow lemon gobies. Look too under the corals where sometimes you will find a big puffer fish hiding.

In the second half of the dive you will want to explore the coral formation in the shallows as these are filled with shrimps and small fish.

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Marine life of this site is abundant with corals both hard and soft, plenty of cleaning station with Cleaner Shrimp and Wrasses, the jetties are an excellent place to do your safety stop because they team with life.

Dive Clubs
There are many dive clubs in Eilat, most of which are located in the Almog beach area at the southern beach. All dive clubs have dive schools that offer dive courses, from basic to advanced levels. At all dive clubs you can rent scuba gear and join a guided dive to one of Eilat’s diving sites. The larger dive clubs usually have a dive shop.

Nitrox is available in all large dive clubs and Nitrox courses are avaiable at all dive schools.

Manta Diving Center
Located in Almog beach, Manta is Eilat’s biggest dive club. Situated in the Yam Suf hotel, the club provides top facilities – from a swimming pool that is used for dive courses (and a great warm place to hang between dives) to a sauna that has the same function in the winter months. The only disadvantage is that the club is located across the road from the beach and getting to the sea requires crossing the road with your gear.

Deep Siam
Located on the beach in the Almog beach area this excellent club has the best location in Eilat for the entrance to the Coral Reserve. It is in front of Tamar Reef and near the wreck of the Yatush. Its facilities are not of the same level as Manta’s but are decent and access to the sea is easier.

Aqua sport
Located on the beach in the Almog beach area, Awua Sport is walking distance from Deep Siam. This is Eilat’s first diving club and it is located in front of the wreck of the Yatush and in walking distance from Tamar Reef and the entrance to the Coral Reserve.

Sigala Diving School

This is a boutique diving club managed by Sigala, an experienced dive instructor. It is a great place to learn diving because of the personal approach and the small size of the dive groups. The club also has on-premises accommodation.

Getting there

By plane
Eilat Airport (ETH) is right in the middle of the city. Flights to Tel Aviv are frequent and take only 50 minutes. The cost of a one-way trip is around NIS 250. Charter flights via the Ovda International Airport (VDA) (65 km – 40 miles) and nearly a 50 min drive from town) are also an option.

By bus
Egged Express buses drive from Tel Aviv (390/394) and Jerusalem (444) to Eilat hourly. The trip takes around 5 hours and costs NIS 78 one way (60 for students) or NIS 133 for a return ticket. It is advised to buy tickets in advance because assigned seating is in use. All buses in Eilat leave from the Central Bus Station on HaTemarim Boulevard.

By car
There are a couple of ways to drive from Tel Aviv to Eilat. One is via Mitzpe Ramon. Another nice alternative is from Tel Aviv to the Dead Sea via Arad – stay a couple of days there or just make a short stop and
then continue to Eilat. It takes approximately 5 hours from Tel Aviv, and a similar duration from Jerusalem.

Red Sea Wrecks and Reefs

Red Sea Wrecks and Reefs
Chrisoula K Wreck
Chrisoula K Wreck

My eyes were as wide as saucers, but it was only partly due to the dim light inside the hold. The Thistlegorm was every bit as good as her reputation, and then some. To boot, my buddy and I were the only ones in her, despite hosting over 60,000 dives a year. We swam a circuit round the hold, going over British WW2 Enfield motorcycles, past a truck and a jeep, aircraft engine cowlings, and round the chassis of a car, its radiator remarkably whole. Something stirred in the gloom and my torch beam I picked out a large green turtle. As we came out of the hold, by the locomotive water tanker sitting on the port side of the deck, the rest of my shipmates were descending the anchor line amidships.

Thistlegorm - Enfield motorcycles in the hold
Thistlegorm – Enfield motorcycles in the hold

Text and images by Christopher Bartlett

Discovered during one of Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s first expeditions aboard the Calypso during the early months of 1956, the 375-foot SS Thistlegorm had been bombed and sunk by the Luftwaffe on the night of October 5th 1941. The ill-fated vessel’s amidships were blown open when bombs struck the ammunition hold exposing Bren gun carriers, rifles, and artillery shells. She sank with her cargo full of war supplies, taking the lives of nine sailors with her. Laying to the north west of Ras Mohamed, at a depth of 17 – 35metres, the SS Thistlegorm has become one of the most sought after wreck dives in the entire world.

Thistlegorm stern
Thistlegorm stern

After leaving the holds, we finned with the gentle current to take in the stern and the coral encrusted artillery and anti-aircraft guns mounted to the rear. She is a real beauty with many treasures to discover. I managed to dive her three more times in the following 16 hours. After a very eerie night dive into the hold punctuated by watching another group of divers put on a light show Jean-Michel Jarre would have been proud of, I hit my cabin early so as to hit the water at sunrise, a cunning plan to get her alone with my buddy again.

The light was incredible and the current slack, allowing us to move 25 yards off to port to check out one of the two locomotives blown off the deck in the explosion. With a locomotive laying on each side, when the current is pumping it’s hard to get to either of them. At sunrise the port side loco looks particularly cool, and must be one of a very few underwater train wrecks. When the current picks up with the tide, as it did on my last dive, the bows around the anchor winch buzz with schooling fish swarming back and forth.

Thistlegorm - port side locomotive on the seabed
Thistlegorm – port side locomotive on the seabed

Operated by the Red Sea Diving College, VIP One is a 16-berth, purpose built, luxury motor yacht which has been crafted and built by lovers of the Red Sea. Drawing on twenty years’ of Red Sea expertise, VIP One has been designed to offer the best in both comfort and safety for both open circuit and rebreather divers. On my trip there were four rebreather divers who were assigned their own CCR guide (all the guides are at least instructors).

Air conditioned and spacious throughout, the interior boasts large double cabins with private bathrooms, a generous saloon and dining room and a fully stocked bar area. Externally you will find sizeable sundecks on a number of levels perfect for sunbathing, reading or even an on-deck barbecue. And a top deck bar offers a perfect location for enjoying the Sinai’s spectacular sunsets.

VIP One moored up for the night near the straights of Tiran
VIP One moored up for the night near the straights of Tiran

Before embarking on the VIP One three days previously, I wasn’t much of a wreck-head. I did have a penchant for WW2 plane wrecks from Papua New Guinea, but I’d always rated corals and fish over metal hulks. Three days on and my horizons had been widened. We’d warmed up to the Thistlegorm by visiting a series of wrecks on the other side of the Straits of Gubal at Abu Nuhas reef, which has claimed at least four vessels. The first two days diving were spent diving the splendid wrecks of the Giannis D, the Carnatic, the Chrisoula K, the Kimon M, and the Kingston. Then we crossed back over the straits to arrive on the Thistlegorm just as everyone else had left their moorings to get in two afternoon dives and a night dive on one of the most interesting wrecks in the world.

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The wreck of Giannis D

But let’s go back to the start. The Giannis D, a 300-foot Greek cargo ship that sank in 1983, was a spectacular start. He stern is arguably one of the most photogenic anywhere. The viz wasn’t as good as ideally necessary for a noise-free image, but she was still a stunner with great soft corals and a bridge full of glassfish. The Chrisoula K is another Greek freighter from the early ‘80s with easy access to the bridge, another sexy stern and resident batfish.

The P&O steam sailer SS Carnatic sank in 1879 and has almost become a reef in itself, starting at just 12 feet depth at the bows. Access to the holds is easy and open, with more soft corals, glassfish, lionfish and anemones. After a great dive on this iconic site, my buddy and I were the last ones to surface with Hooch, our guide, and were zipping back to the boat in the RIB when its helmsman Mohammed simultaneously swung hard over to port and yelled “dolphins”.  “Snorkel gear on fellas” was the order from Hooch, and in we went. It was hard to resist freediving down to play with them, but luckily a few clumsy rolls and spins at two metres was enough to get them to play. There were close to a dozen, with two youngsters sticking close to their mums, and a playful adult who dived down to the reef and came up to Hooch balancing a stick of dead coral on its nose. Splendid.

Napolean Wrasse on Shark Reef
Napolean Wrasse on Shark Reef

The Kimon M is also nearby. Lying on her starboard side, she has an excellent swim-through down most of her length, and pink, white and orange soft corals decorate her superstructure, making her a treat for wide angle and fisheye lens. Small schools of batfish hang around her too.

The wreck of the Kimon M
The wreck of the Kimon M

Ras Mohamed and Tiran Straits

After such a wreck-fest, we cruised from the Thistlegorm back to Ras Mohammed, home to some world-renowned dives sites, such as Jackfish alley, Shark Reef, and the wreck of the Yolanda.

We arrived mid-afternoon, just as the last of the day boats from Sharm-el-Sheikh moved off, leaving us and one other liveaboard alone. Day boat operators from Naama Bay tend to depart from and return to the Naama Bay jetty at the same time, meaning that there can be a high number of day boats on the most popular sites in Ras Mohamed (Shark Reef, Yolanda, Anemone City, Shark Observatory, etc.) and Tiran (Jackson reef especially).  Liveaboards are allowed to overnight in Ras Mohamed Marine Park, meaning that you can dive the best sites before the daily boats arrive around 09:30 and after they leave at 16:00. It is not uncommon to be the only group on the best sites, even in July.

Reef scene from Gordon Reef
Reef scene from Gordon Reef

Between June and August large schools of snapper and barracuda hang around in the blue just off Shark Reef and have given it a reputation as being one of the best dive sites in the world. It did not disappoint, delivering a large school of both and a friendly Napoleon wrasse, two turtles, and a giant moray. There are fans and some swim-throughs, hard and soft corals. At sites like Temple and Fiesta, it is wise to keep an eye on the blue for mantas and whale sharks.

After another early morning extravaganza, we’d just finished breakfast and cast off when the flotilla from Sharm started to arrive. In an hour it would be diver soup. Not for us though, as we cruised to the straits of Tiran and Gordon reef for a post-lunch, late afternoon, and night dive. The Tiran Strait reefs of Gordon. Thomas, Woodhouse and Jackson have good hard and soft coral coverage, plenty of fish, and more fans. Jackson reef can be like swimming in fish soup on occasions, but its popularity also makes it a day boat magnet. An early morning blue dive off the back of Jackson yielded a distant glimpse of eight scalloped hammerheads, and a diver-free exploration of its gorgonian and fish-covered tip to end a fantastic week.

Whip Coral Goby on Thomas Reef
Whip Coral Goby on Thomas Reef

Need to Know:

When to Go: VIP One operates year-round. The schooling snapper and barracuda come to breed in June and July, but the big stuff like mantas, whale sharks, and scalloped hammerheads can be found, with a bit of luck, anytime.

Dive Conditions: Water temp: ranging from 21C in January to 29C in August

Viz: Often 90 feet +

Book through www.indogosafaris.com

 

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