The Red Sea has a long history as one of the most important waterways in the world. Even before the opening of the Suez Canal, the Red Sea was an important trade route between Africa, Arabia and beyond. Once the canal opened in 1869, joining the Red Sea to the Mediterranean, and Europe to Asia without the need to circumnavigate Africa, the Red Sea became one of the most important trade routes of all time. Unfortunately, it also became one of the most strategically significant waterways for the movement of troops and arms during times of conflict, especially the Second World War. The Red Sea’s offshore reefs, almost invisible beneath the surface at certain times, have claimed many an unwary vessel, but thanks to the shallow water surrounding those reefs, the ships have been preserved and remain accessible to recreational divers.
The Giannis D – sometimes known by her former name, Markus – is a 100m-long cargo ship originally built in Japan and christened the Shoyo Maru. Bought by a Greek shipping company and renamed as Giannis D in 1980, she set sail in April 1983 on a voyage from the Yugoslavian (now Croatian) port city of Rijeka bound for the Saudi Arabian port of Jeddah. Carrying a cargo of wood, she passed through the Suez Canal and into the Strait of Gubal, whereupon the ship’s first officer ran the ship at full speed into the treacherous reef of Sha’ab Abu Nuhas, after the captain had retired to his bed for the evening and the ship drifted off course. The stern of the Giannis D remains fairly intact at a depth of around 25m, with parts of the superstructure reaching almost to the surface. The bow is likewise relatively intact at around 18m, with everything amidships mostly broken into pieces. Diving is available from Hurghada and nearby resorts such as El Gouna, and Sha’ab Abu Nuhas – which contains at least seven other wrecks – is a mandatory stop for liveaboards on itineraries such as ‘Northern Wrecks and Reefs’. The shallow depths, sandy bottom and good conditions make the Giannis D suitable for novice divers, although more advanced certifications are required to explore the wreck fully.
Availability: Hurghada, Northern Liveaboard
The SS Carnatic is thought to be the oldest of the wrecks found at Sha’ab Abu Nuhas, indeed, the name of the reef translates from Arabic into ‘The Reef of Father Copper’, part of the cargo that the Carnatic was carrying. A steam-and-sail powered clipper, the Carnatic was sailing from Suez to India when she struck the reef on 12 September 1869. The ship broke in half while the crew and passengers were abandoning the vessel, resulting in the loss of 31 lives. The Carnatic was also carrying a cargo of gold, worth several million pounds in today’s money. Salvage operations in the weeks after the sinking claim to have recovered the gold, however, rumours persist to this day that there might be some left within the wreck. Today, the 90m long Carnatic rests on its port side, parallel to the reef at a maximum depth of 28m. Parts of the bow and stern remain intact but the midship area is little more than debris, now heavily encrusted with coral
Availability: Hurghada, northern liveaboards
MV SALEM EXPRESS
The most tragic of all of the Egyptian Red Sea wrecks, the Salem Express was a roll-on, roll-off car and passenger ferry, which sank in December 1991 on a voyage from the Saudi Arabian port of Jeddah, carrying pilgrims making the return journey from Mecca. The ship collided with the Hyndman Reefs not far from the town of Safaga, forcing open the doors to the car deck, causing her to sink within a matter of minutes. Official records state 470 people lost their lives as a result, many of them sitting in their cars waiting to disembark, but the actual figure may be closer to 700, perhaps even more. The 115m long ship lies on its starboard side, rising to around 12m from the bottom of 32m. Penetration of the wreck was initially prohibited due to its status as a maritime grave, although the interior has become accessible in recent years. Choosing to do so is still considered controversial, and some operators will refuse to allow divers inside as a result, although partial penetration of the upper decks is possible. Like most wrecks, there is much wildlife to be found, but the Salem Express is most often described as ‘atmospheric’ and ‘eerie’. Dive conditions around the exterior are usually easy, but it’s not a wreck for everybody.
Availability: Hurghada, Safaga
Depth: 12 – 32m
Difficulty: AOW / 20 dives
Sunk in 1876, the SS Dunraven is a sail- and steam-powered ship that was carrying a cargo of cotton and spices which, due to a navigational error, crashed into a reef near Beacon Rock at the southern end of Sha’ab Mahmoud. After a night spent trying to free the vessel from the reef, it eventually foundered and capsized, where it remains today in just 26m of water. The wreck is broken into three parts but much of the hull remains intact, with an interesting swim-through passing by the two huge boilers and the massive prop shaft, and the interior filled with hordes of glassfish. The 86m-long wreck rises to around 12m, after which divers can take the opportunity to explore the local reef, filled with an assortment of Red Sea wildlife and often a great place to find stonefish. Conditions are usually quite easy and the wreck can be dived by relatively inexperienced divers. The Dunraven is mostly dived as a day trip from Sharm, or during a northern liveaboard itinerary.
Availability: Sharm, northern liveaboards
Depth: 12 – 26m
Difficulty: OW, AOW recommended
The Rosalie Moller is a technical wreck dive, lying in a depth of around 50m, just to the north of Sha’ab Abu Nuhas. She was a coal freighter, held at anchor in a different location to, but at the same time as, the SS Thistlegorm, waiting for a blockage of the southern entrance of the Suez canal to be cleared. Two days after the Thistlegorm was sunk, a second pair of German bombers were dispatched to the area to search for other ships in the convoy, and the Rosalie Moller was targeted. The ship sank in the early hours of 8 October 1941 and remains upright on the sea floor. Although her cargo is not as interesting as the Thistlegorm, the Rosalie Moller is more intact and, as it is less accessible to divers, often described as superior for the condition of the wreck and abundance of wildlife that surrounds it. There are a limited number of dive centres that offer trips to the Rosalie Moller from Hurghada, but visits by liveaboard are more widely available.
Availability: Hurghada, northern liveaboard
Depth: 30 – 50m
The most famous and best-loved of the Red Sea’s wrecks – and possibly the entire world – is undoubtedly the SS Thistlegorm. A freighter on a voyage to resupply the British Army fighting in North Africa, the Thistlegorm was sunk in 1941 as she lay at anchor near Sha’ab Ali, by a German bomber returning to base after a failed mission to sink the RMS Queen Mary. The explosion broke the ship in two, and the wreck now lies in 30m of depth, still full of military supplies including trucks, cars, small tanks, arms and armaments and two steam locomotives. The interior is an easy penetration, and the whole vessel is surrounded by an immense amount of marine life. Currents can be harsh and the wreck is often crowded, and most dive centres will require a minimum of 20 or more dives to visit. Day trips are available from both Sharm and Hurghada, and on most of the available northern Red Sea liveaboard itineraries.
Availability: Sharm, Hurghada, northern liveaboards
Depth: 12 – 30m
Difficulty: AOW / 20 dives+
The 75m-long SS Aida was a lighthouse tender designed for use by the Egyptian Ports Authority, but was also used as a troop ship during the Second World War. She was attacked by the same Heinkel bomber that sank the Rosalie Moller, however, the quick-thinking captain beached the vessel and it was later re-floated and repaired. On 15 September 1957, the Aida arrived at Big Brother island carrying supplies and personnel for the coastguard station and lighthouse located there. Attempting to offload in heavy seas, the ship struck the rocks and began to take on water. All 77 members of the crew were rescued, but the ship sank stern-first and slid part-way down the reef. The bow now lies at 28m with the stern and prop at 52m, meaning technical/deco diving experience is required to explore it fully. The Aida lies just 100m from Big Brothers’ other famous wreck, the Numidia, a much larger ship which sank in 1901 and lies between 8 and 80m.
Availability: liveaboard only
Difficulty: AOW / Technical
The Ulysses was a 95m-long steamship, also rigged for sail, that sank at Gubal Seghir, an island in the Strait of Gubal, over several days during August. On a voyage from England to China, the ship had passed through the Meditteranean and Suez without incident, but shortly after the captain retired to his cabin, the Ulysses ran aground on the northern side of Gubal Seghir in the early hours of 16 August. Judging the damage to be limited, the captain decided to wait for assistance. In the four days that it took for help to arrive, the seas grew rough and, battered against the rocks, by the time her cargo was unloaded the Ulysses had been damaged beyond repair. The ship sank shortly afterwards, with the bow partly above the surface, until heavy seas pushed her further down the reef. The Ulysses now lies on her port side between a depth of around 4m with the stern at around 28m. The bow and the stern section remain relatively intact, and although the wooden decking has long since rotted away, the steel supports make the wreck an easy penetration, with much of the ship encrusted with coral and a huge amount of biomass circulating through the interior. The propeller, shaft and engine remain in place, and some of the loading equipment remains attached to areas of steel decking. Currents can be strong here, so a minimum of AOW and at least 20 dives will usually be required to dive the wreck.
Availability: Hurghada, northern liveaboards
Depth: 4 – 28m
EL MINYA / EL MINA
The Russian-built minesweeper El Minya – often referred to as ‘El Mina’ – was sunk in 1970 during a period of intense military tension between Egypt and Israel, following Israel’s capture of the Sinai Peninsula during the Six Day War of 1967. In retaliation to Egyptian aggression in attempting to regain control of the Sinai Peninsula, Israel launched a bombing raid targeting a radar installation based in Hurghada. The El Minya, at anchor in the port, was struck by a bomb on the starboard side of her bow and turned upside down, before sinking after taking machine gun fire to the exposed hull. The 58m-long ship now lies on her port side at a maximum depth of around 32m. There is less in the way of coral growth than other ships that sank near reefs, but the interior is home to large schools of glassfish, and many other species of fish take shelter in the interior. The El Minya’s anti-aircraft guns are still in place towards the rear of the ship, and open doors and the blast hole, located at around 20m of depth, allow for limited penetration. Care must be taken as live ammunition is still scattered around the area, plus the presence of currents and often quite poor visibility, combined with the depth, mean that divers must have some experience before being allowed to visit.
Chrisoula K was originally built in Germany and christened the Dora Olendorff, before being acquired by a Cypriot company in 1979. In 1981, the 100m-long cargo ship was bound for Jeddah, Saudia Arabia, carrying a cargo of floor tiles. Like the Giannis D, it is rumoured that the captain was asleep and a junior officer at the wheel, but also like the Giannis D, after leaving the Gulf of Suez, a navigational error saw the ship run at full speed into Sha’ab Abu Nuhas, as the reef claimed yet another victim. The crew were safely rescued but the ship was written off as unsalvageable and sank to around 28m on the sea bed, with the upper part of the ship rising to approximately 5m. Known as the ‘Wreck of Tiles’ or ‘Tile Wreck’ due to the cargo, the forward part of the ship sits upright on the bottom, but the stern has broken off and now lies on its starboard side. Parts of the interior, especially the open holds, are easily penetrated, along with swim throughs along the exterior walkways. Much of the equipment remains in place and many of the tiles remain in the hold, even though they have been picked off by several decades’ worth of divers. The Chrisoula K lies on a more exposed part of Sha’ab Abu Nuhas and diving is limited by sea conditions, but otherwise, the wreck is suitable for divers of all levels. Experience beyond entry-level training is recommended to make the most of a visit.
Availability: Hurghada, northern liveaboards
Depth: 5m – 28m