To many, the words “shipwreck” and “sunken ship” conjure images of treasure and piracy in days long since past, but in fact the sunken wrecks of ancient wooden ships are the exception rather than the rule…
Over three million shipwrecks are sat on the ocean floor, according to the United Nations. Some sank because of war, others due to the weather or accidents, and still others have been deliberately scuttled. We’ve trawled the murky ocean depths to find ten fascinating sunken ships – together with the story behind each wreck.
10. Frigate 356, Cayman Brac
In the waters of Cayman Brac, 150 miles south of Cuba and 40 to 90 feet below the surface, lies Frigate 356, a spectral sunken ship that has split in two. Built by the Soviets in the early 1980s – during the dying stages of the Cold War – she was transferred to the Cuban Navy and was being prepared for service when the USSR collapsed. After sitting as scrap for ten years, the 306 feet-long warship was bought by the Cayman government, scuttled as a dive wreck, and renamed the ship Capt. Keith Tibbetts. On the seabed, she initially settled overhanging a 6,000-foot undersea cliff known as The Wall, but batterings by storms gradually moved her back to a position 100 feet away from the precipice. Interestingly, nature has had a hard time getting a grasp on the ship because of her resistance to rust. Photographer Mark Lightfoot explains: “Its primary component, aluminum, has rendered it a death ship in the afterlife.”
9. Unnamed Yacht, Egyptian Red Sea
Abu Galawa Shiwayya is a reef in the Egyptian Red Sea with a turquoise-colored enclosed lagoon in its midst. The name of the place translates as “Small Father of Turquoise Blue Water.” There are differing ideas as to the identity of the sunken yacht that is to be found in this idyllic location.
Local guides seem to believe it is the remains of an American sailboat that sank in 2002, but Rik Vercoe, a diving instructor, contends that it is the shell of the Endymion, an Australian yacht that went to its watery grave in 1998, apparently following a navigational mistake. Vercoe points out that the coral on the wreck – whose decking and upper structure are no longer present – is more likely to have grown over ten years than five.
8. Sweepstakes, Tobermory, Ontario
Twenty feet underwater – but still visible from the surface in Tobermory – are the remains of the Sweepstakes, a 119-foot Canadian schooner that was used to transport coal. Built in 1867, after 18 years of service she was damaged near Cove Island and towed by tugboat to Big Tub Harbor in Fathom Five National Marine Park. The damage occurred in August 1885 but was not repaired quickly enough, so the ship sank in the harbor in September of the same year.
Considered one of the best-preserved 19th-century Great Lakes schooners, the Sweepstakes has suffered deterioration that the marine park is actively working to curb with repairs so that the deck doesn’t collapse.
7. Russian Wreck, South Egyptian Red Sea
Known simply as the “Russian Wreck”, this sunken ship is thought by some to have been the Khanka, a Russian spy ship that sank sometime before 1982. Whether or not it is the carcass of the Khanka, most seem to agree that it was a communications and surveillance ship of some sort. The Soviets began to use commercial vessels like fishing trawlers for intelligence gathering from the 1950s onwards and apparently established a surveillance facility in Yemen’s nearby Ras Karm Military Airbase in 1971.
In and around the Russian shipwreck, divers have found a plethora of electronic equipment, including over 200 batteries, large multi-core cables in the communications mast, and directional-finding antennae. Located off Zabagad Island up to 80 feet below the surface, the ship most likely sank after a head-on collision with a reef.
6. USS Utah, Pearl Harbor
Launched in 1909 and having served in World War I, Florida-class battleship the USS Utah had a large complement of crew on board when the never-to-be-forgotten attack on Pearl Harbor took place on December 7, 1941. The 521 foot-long vessel had been converted into a target ship but was later rearmed and refitted for training purposes. Yet, whatever threat she actually presented on that fateful day, nothing would stop the torpedo fired as part of the Japanese attack from hitting the ship – and sinking her in minutes.
Six officers and 52 men died on the Utah that day, and of those 54 are still sepulchered inside the rusting, half-submerged hulk. No access is permitted to the public, and the memorial erected on nearby Ford Island can only be visited if one is sponsored and accompanied by authorized military personnel.
5. P29, Malta
A more recent ghostly presence on the ocean floor, the P29 was scuttled around September of 2007 at Marfa Point in Malta. A navy patrol boat, she was 167 feet long. There’s not much to be found about the history of the ship itself but as a dive site the wreck has various points of interest, including narrow passages through which to swim; an abundance of knobs, levers, gauges and other instruments still in place; and a painting of the Tasmanian Devil of Looney Tunes fame!
4. USS Arizona, Pearl Harbor
An iconic memorial has been built over the sunken remains of the USS Arizona, the Pennsylvania-class battleship built in the first decade of the 20th century that met such a tragic end in Pearl Harbor. When the bombs fired from ten Japanese airplanes struck the 608 feet-long ship, not only was there notable damage from the four direct hits, but the last shell penetrated the ship’s ammunition magazine, causing a ferocious blast and fires that lasted for two days. The explosion was so massive that it even extinguished the blaze that was raging on the Vestal, the repair ship moored alongside.
Sadly, 1,177 met their deaths on the Arizona that day – nearly half the total of those who lost their lives in the entire attack. Interestingly, each day over two quarts of oil still leak from the wreck of the Arizona, and you can see the seepage in the water.
3. Giannis D, Egyptian Red Sea
Visible listing to one side on the seabed, this next sunken ship is a favorite dive site in the Egyptian Red Sea. Built in Japan in 1969, the Giannis D was originally named the Shoyo Maru; then when she was sold in 1975, the 300-foot cargo vessel was renamed the Markos – a moniker that can still be made out on the ship’s hull and which some people erroneously know her by.
The ship was sold again to a Greek company five years on and acquired her final name, the Giannis D – with a large ‘D’ inscribed on the funnel. However, on April 19, 1983, while taking a shipment of softwood lumber from Croatia to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the vessel hit the Sha’ab Abu Nuhas – a coral reef – at full speed, and now lies next to the reef that sank her.
2. Tugboat Rozi, Malta
Not much is known about this former tugboat except that it was scuttled in 1992 at the popular dive location of Cirkewwa in Malta. Many tourists are likely to have visited the vessel in a glass-bottom boat and marveled at her condition – for she is completely intact except for her propellers and engine.
Yes, Tugboat Rozi stands tall in roughly 118 feet of water and is home to many sea creatures – including jellyfish, and moray eels that use the pipes within the tug as the crevices and alcoves they favor inhabiting.
1. Prince Albert, Roatan, Honduras
Intentionally scuttled in 1987 by the owner of the Coco View Resort in Honduras, the island freighter known as the Prince Albert had an eventful past. It was used by Nicaraguans to take refugees fleeing their war-torn country to Roatán, the largest of the Honduras Bay islands.
However, while docked in the harbor, the 140-foot tanker was stripped of her spoils and abandoned, partially submerged in the water. It was then that Bill Evans saw an occasion to turn the old vessel into a diving wreck for his guests. After a mishap that saw a shrimp boat stranded and severely damaged on a reef while it was towing the Prince Albert in rough seas, at last the Nicaraguan ship was sunk, and subsequently given its present name.