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.

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