Update on Soma Bay Al Kahfain wreck

In our last newsletter, we wrote about a new wreck off Soma Bay/Safaga, the Al Kahfain.

Richie Pett kindly contacted us to ask about the safety of the wreck. True to Emperor Divers' thoroughness, Denise Fletcher, Dive Centre Manager, Soma Bay and Paul Vinten, Tekstreme Instructor and wreck specialist, Hurghada, dived the wreck on 21 December. Their comprehensive report follows:

"The local and widely corroborated version of events is as follows:
On 2 November 2005, the Al Kahfain, with no passengers aboard, was heading south from (it is believed) Suez to Jeddah, to pick up passengers. On board was a crew of 58. Mid-morning, as the ship passed Shadwan Island, off Hurghada, an explosion and fire in the engine room occurred. In the incident 1 crew member was killed and another is listed “missing”.
ulster queen 1_sm.jpg

The crew of the ship was taken off the boat by local vessels including fishing and diving boats. The ship was then left, it is assumed with no crew on board, to drift south with the prevailing wind, burning out of control.

At approximately 1pm staff at Emperor Divers in Soma Bay spotted a pall of smoke on the horizon slowly moving south. By 4.30pm as the light was failing, bright orange flames were evident from the vessel on the horizon. During the afternoon several vessels had approached the burning ship to offer assistance but returned empty handed as all crew had previously abandoned ship. Reports of naval intervention are sketchy and uncorroborated.
ulster queen 2_sm.jpg

Local reports tell that in the early hours of 3rd November 2005 the burning ship drifted sideways on to Sha’ab Sheer and came to rest towards the East end of the reef on the exposed north side. The approximate co-ordinates of the wreck are N 26° 39.800 E 34° 03.250. To correct earlier reports from other sources – this is in the Safaga area of the Red Sea and by no means close to Giftun Island! Currently it is easy to find as the stern half of the wreck is above water.

The Dive
The ship is now lying on her starboard side resting on her funnel and main mast, so that she is at an angle of approx 110° off upright. Maximum depth of the wreck is 22m, with the stern section above water level and the propellers at about 6m.

The wreck shows clear signs of extensive fire damage, including an obvious explosion area on the funnel. The bow area is intact and still gleaming pearly gray, while the helipad ‘H’ still clearly visible between the anchor winches and the bridge. All life rafts appear to have been deployed and discharged fire extinguishers litter the area around the engine room.

The wreck is still fairly buoyant – it would seem that large pockets of air exist in both the bow and stern section. The day we dived it there were 1.5 – 2 m swells (any worse and it would have been undiveable), and the bow and stern sections were both clearly moving as the ship pivoted on the funnel and mast. The flag staff at the stern was rising and falling some 0.5m off the sand but the bow was gently rocking up and down as much as 2m. The movement was also evident in the noise. As soon as we entered the water, some 25m from the wreck to avoid the surf, and commenced our decent and approach, the booming noise caused by the wreck pounding up and down on the reef echoed around the divers. Added to this the creaks and groan of parts of the superstructure moving in the wave action was very eerie.

Paul Vinten, a wreck specialist, approached the currently stable parts of the wreck to assess the conditions inside. His verdict was that penetration was not advisable. The general aspect of the wreck and its instability on the sea bed would be sufficient to suggest this but the condition of the interior emphasizes it. The interior has obviously been gutted by fire and the bulkheads are weak, crumbling and highly unstable and the visibility would be extremely poor due to the heavy silting from fire debris and further deterioration.

What next?
It is likely that the wreck will not remain in its present location. Any leakage of air from the pockets in bow and stern currently buoying the vessel will cause it to settle more heavily on the sea bed and thus reduce the current movement. This may take some months if the air only escapes after the metal at the top of the air pocket rusts through and may be the final resting place of the Al Kahfain.

An alternative scenario is that the parts of the ship currently supporting the wreck may disintegrate and this coupled with the escape of air from bow and stern may cause the wreck to slip down the reef slope and over the drop off which at this point on Sha’ab Sheer is only about 25m from the reef wall. If this occurs it is likely that the wreck will come to rest on the plateau below at approx 70m.

In calm to moderate seas the wreck is easily diveable. It is exposed to northerly prevailing winds and seas, and surface conditions other than these would make the dive unsafe. Once in the water, approach the wreck with caution and do not, under any circumstances, enter any part of the interior. It would also be advisable not to swim under any over-hanging parts of the wreck as any collapse of the superstructure would result in the deck area dropping towards the sea bed. The visibility at Sha’ab Sheer is generally very good and the wreck can easily be enjoyed from a safe distance. In higher seas it is advisable also to leave the wreck after some 20minutes and proceed east (reef to the right shoulder) and rendezvous with the dive boat in the settled waters in the lagoon area around the eastern tip of Sha’ab Sheer.

It is a dive suitable for all levels at present, bearing in mind the above cautions. Emperor Divers in Soma Bay, Safaga, will be offering regular trips to this and the Salem Express (just 15 minutes sail further south) as long as the weather and the condition of the wrecks permit. However, were the Al Kahfain to slip down the reef and settle at 70m, Emperor Divers Tekstreme team would be happy to offer the necessary technical dive training to still enable divers to visit this latest addition to the Red Sea’s modern maritime history!"



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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Bryony published on December 22, 2005 4:10 PM.

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