23. Oct, 2016

Ship wrecks and their fate.

The sea beds of the world are covered with the corpses of ships that once in their glorious working days sailed the oceans to various  destinations. Their meager remnants   are bound to rest for ever in the  gloomy depths.  Many of them were battle ships or freighters sunk during WW II.  Some  legendary  vessels like the Lusitania—the elegant passenger ship that was sunk by a German submarine in 1915 is  one of the pivotal moments of World War I.  The Bismarck and the Titanic, two other icons. were thought to be unsinkable.

Some wrecks have stranded on beaches where they remain as tragic maritime monument of the past*  ‘Listening to the wind that howls mournfully in the cracks of her busted deck’.  Indeed, a ship wreckage has always been a dramatic event that even inspired poets to write down sad lines.    However not all sunken ships have become grim solitary tombstones. Some of the  more shallow  wrecks  even enjoy a great popularity. There are two reasons  why. Wrecks  often attract  large schools of  fish as well as  species like   groupers, moray and conger eels.  Second,  they have built a reputation as photogenic locations ‘par excellence’   with light breaking through openings  in the decks and  portholes. The expansion of  underwater photography made wreck diving evolve  from a risky sport for  ‘dare devils’  to an  opportunity   for shooting exceptional   and artistic images.  But even then one should be aware of  its hazards:  loss of orientation and sense of depth,  getting stuck in a narrow passage  or entangled  in lines or nets.

Numerous  wrecks have attracted the attention of divers or been  described in diving magazines. That  is why  I shall only pick out some of the more famous ships, most of which I was able to visit myself.

Mediterranean     The Donator (Prosper Schiaffino)  is perhaps  the most famous shipwreck of the French Mediterranean coast. In November 1945 its bow hit  a drifting mine near the island of Porquerolles where it lies at a depth 40 meters.  Not so far from the Donator lies the  Michel S,  a cargo ship sunk in1900 at a depth of 40 meters.  The often strong currents,  great depth and low visibility make these sites less suitable for the underwater photographer. Of all the wrecks that have sunk in the last two millennia  in the Mediterranean those of ancient Rome have always made  the strongest appeal to our imagination. The Romans called the Mediterranean  ‘Mare Nostrum’, our sea.  But  many of their  wrecks are covered by sand and mud, or  have vanished  leaving only their cargo held in clay jars known as amphorae.

Red Sea.  Some  Red Sea wrecks enjoy a  tremendous popularity. The treacherous reefs are one culprit for their sinking. War activity is the other. Most famous perhaps  is  the Umbria in the  Sudan.  This  German freighter. built in 1912  and later turned into Italian cargo ship, can be found just off the coast of  Port Sudan.  At the time it was sunk in 1942  the ship went down with a huge loot of cargo- 360,000 aircraft bombs.  The reason why  is that the captain did not want his cargo to come in hand of the following British navy. So he  decided to sink the boat at Wingate reef where he was forced to anchor. The Umbria has a great marine life and easy to dive because of its shallow and sheltered location.

Even  more  popular became the  Thistlegorm, a wreck in northern Egypt.   She  was sunk on 6 October 1941 North West of  Ras Muhammad  by German bombers, and  discovered  by Cousteau  about 10 years later. The  cargo consists of explosives, Bedford  trucks and  Norton and BSA motorcycles The wreck is broken in two parts which makes it easy  to enter the holds with the vehicles  in bow section of the ship.  

Not so far from the Thistlegorrn, near Hurghada, lies another  popular wreck the Ghiannis D,  a Greek cargo ship  that was built in Japan. After crossing the Suez Canal in April 1983 it  headed south but was diverted from its course to the northwest corner of Abu Nuhas reef where it crashed. The stern section is separated from the rest of the ship which gives an easy  access to the engine room and several stores and warehouses. Light plays an essential role in this wreck, offering beautiful effects trough the decks and portholes.  It is visited by  numerous glassfish occupying the bridge, batfish, lionfish hovering over the wreckage. In fact the whole area in the Strait  of Gubal  around Abu Nuhas,  north of Hurghada  is a wrecks graveyard with wrecks  like the Carrnatic, Chrisoula K.  and Kimon M.  And, not to forget,  the Dunraven west of Ras Muhammed.

The Carribean. The Kittiwake in Grand Cayman,  has  recently become the most famous wreck of the Caribbean and  a favorite target of UW photographers.  This  former submarine rescue vessel was brought to her location for the purpose of forming  a new artificial reef She was  sunk off at  Seven Mile Beach  Grand Cayman   in January 2011. The  vessel was cleared of all hazardous materials and  had holes cut from the hull. Many original instruments were left intact, allowing divers to roam through the different chambers.  Many smaller  wrecks in the Bahamas  lie on  its shallow banks. Some of them can be easily explored by snorkelers. The wreck of the Sapona for example  has been a sailor's navigational landmark for many years, because it sits high out of the water south of Bimini. The Sugar Wreck, off the West End of Grand Bahama Island Is said to have congregations of snappers, grunts, wrasse, gobies, angelfish and parrotfish. Then there is  the Hesperus lying on the vast sandy plain of the Grand Bahama Bank, also packed with fish and huge Loggerhead turtles that shelter within its planks and plates at night.

Pictures of wrecks  Pictures of  wrecks at some distance  are often taken  with  available light  with  a  wide angle or even fish eye  lens. The stern portion  of the Giannis D  has often been used for this purpose.   Sometimes in color using a magic filter. But big scenes of a  wreck also  come out nicely  when transformed to black and white. Shooting inside the wreck requires subtle mixed lighting. The  strobes   are needed to  lighten up colorful foreground objects  like a school of fish or a sea fan,  while capturing  some blue water  on the background for a nice perspective. Sometimes  a ‘snoot’ can help in lighting a smaller object,  without affecting the interior of  the wreck. In  some wrecks like  the Thistlegorm or the Kittiwake off camera strobes have  become a popular  gimmick. Here the secondary  strobe  is  hidden in or behind  the vehicle  and  triggered by a slave by the primary  strobe on the housing.