Home Planet Blue A SURVIVORS TALE

A SURVIVORS TALE

By: PETER COLLINGS, SS1 PLATINUM PRO 5000


Since witnessing the sinking of the Giannis D in 1983 Peter Collings has commuted between England and the Red Sea diving, locating, identifying and surveying many wrecks. His efforts were rewarded recently when His Excellency the Governor of South Sinai - Mr. Moustafa Afifi presented Peter (and Aymen Moussa of the Tornado Fleet) with “Awards of Excellence” in recognition of the contribution to tourism over the last 15 years.Now he gives us this bizarre tale from a first hand account of a lucky sailor.

One of the most popular diving areas in the world has to be ABU NUHAS. Its proximity to Hurghada, El Gouna and Sharm has ensured its claim to fame.

For years there has been utter confusion over the identity of two of the wrecks; the “Kimon M” (lentil wreck) and the very popular "Tile wreck".
Despite the undisputable facts published back in 1996, there are still publications emerging with the incorrect identity of the tile wreck at ABU NUHAS. Guide books, dive maps and even a CD ROM, still wrongly quote the tile wreck as the CHRISOULA K. This only goes to increase the confusion. Any one of the facts listed below proved beyond a doubt the true identity of the vessel.

- In 1978 a group of 8 divers from the north east of England helped a local skipper retrieve part of the cargo of a ship which has sunk a few months previously. At the same time the ships bell, bearing her original name was recovered. The bell and the tiles remain in Sharm to this day. The Chrisoula K did not sink until 1981!
- Photographs taken from the bridge of the Giannis D (taken by Peter Collings) as she sank, clearly show THREE sets of bows.
- The bow section of the Chrisoula K sat on the reef, totally separated from its main hull (see photo's) until it was dispersed by the Navy.
- The Tile wreck still has her bow in place!
- The derricks and booms from the Chrisoula's bow lie northward on top of the derricks from the Marcus.
- The engines in the tile wreck differ from those fitted to the Chrisoula K.
- In the year 2000 Ali Baba, Mohammed Farouk joined Peter Collings and successfully located the main body of the Chrosoula K some 600mtrs out from the reef in deep water.

A quick look at some of the wrecks in Egyptian waters which have a familiar ring to them: "Greek vessel changes name, owner, reinsured, runs aground". Gianni's D, Chrisoula K, Kimon M, Million Hope, Zingara, Hamada, etc, etc, all have suffered this fate - bad seamanship, co-incidence or something else? For those who are not yet convinced that the tile wreck is indeed the MARCUS (not MARKOS which was a previous name of the Giannis D), I enclose below a letter from a Polish seaman who had the misfortune to have been shipwrecked 4 times in two years in the Red Sea.

"My name is Stephan Jablonski and I understand that some of my experiences as a ships engineer are of interest to sports divers and shipwreck historians such as Peter Collings. I understand that there has been much debate over the identity of some ships which I had worked on between 1971 and 1981. I hope that my story will help solve some of the mysteries. I am retired now and have been for some 20 years but still recall the events of those years. It is difficult to forget being shipwrecked 4 times! Indeed in one year I had to abandon ship 3 times. It was then I decided to retire.

I had worked on many ships from the early 50's, moving from one to another as ship owners sold vessels and shipping companies came and went. Some times it would be the same employer but trading under a different name and in some cases ships names would change during a working period. I worked on all kinds of vessels mainly very old steamships, usually general cargo vessels, which sometimes carried passengers. Most were Polish and Greek and many of my fellow Poles worked on these ships too, as there was much poverty back home in Poland. We were very much at the mercy of the employers and wages were not good but the sea was a better option than some of the jobs
available back home. In 1978 I was employed by the Vikki Shipping Line. They were a Greek merchant fleet, made up of very old ships. Most ships had a supply of photos of the vessel which could be used as postcards, and these were used by the crew to keep families back home informed of our travels. I have collected and kept one when ever I could. Quite often the ship would have a different name on the postcard. (I have previously sent one of these to Peter because of his interest in the ships). It was on my third voyage for this company that I had my first experience of being shipwrecked, although I had been on board ships during many groundings and collisions. Hardly a voyage went by with out seeing or being involved in an incident.
In May of ‘78 I had been moved to a newly purchased vessel - a 4 hold freighter with 4 big offset diesels. She was a real rust bucket (as my English crew mates would say) but the engines were well maintained. The engines were offset to port and the generators set to starboard. Seeing Peters underwater shots of the engine room brought back memories. It was the only ship I ever worked on with this kind of layout. It would be very eerie to go back - if I were fit and brave enough! She was called the Marcus, I remember arriving and seeing her old name being painted out - only the last letters remained... SKY. I don't recall the K being fitted to her funnel, but they certainly were on the next three ships.

There seemed to be some urgency in leaving. We were in ballast and heading for Italy - a regular run - to pick up floor tiles - stacked on pallets - bound for Saudi Arabia, some Sheiks palace no doubt! I always looked forward to this run because it took two days to load the cargo and there were some nice Italian ladies we had become friendly with!

We headed south through the Canal and with my shift over I went to bed. I was awakened in the early hours by a tremendous noise of screeching metal, utter panic and crew running everywhere. We had run aground on a reef. For the next 6 hours we tried to stop the water flooding into the ship. The engine room was in 6 ft of water and it was rising. The ship was settling by the stern and the accommodation block was soon underwater. By now several ships had stopped and had sent their boats to help. We abandoned the ship - I could not get back to retrieve my personal things and lost all my tools, but I had always carried my passport and important papers everywhere - vital for a Pole outside his country in those days. The Egyptians and Israelis were always suspicious and I didn't fancy being shot as a spy. There was a big swell running and one of the life boats was washed onto the reef, although no one was badly hurt the coral was very sharp and the men had lots of cuts.

I didn't know exactly where we were but it was near a big island to the west of the shipping lane. We were taken on board one of the vessels heading back for Suez. I was told that the ship had run out of control - a steering problem and caught in the swell had ran onto the reef.

After a month or so I got a new birth, and then in 1981 while working on the Elphinki I was again shipwrecked this time in the Mediterranean. Then in August I was on another cargo ship the Chrisoula and found myself reliving the journey of my first shipwreck. Off to Italy, although after taking on the cargo of tiles, we had to make an" emergency" stop. Syracuse I was later told. The bridge reported warning lights on the instrument panels and although we found no faults on the engines we were ordered to make a full overhaul of the engines. That was a hard 18hr shift. Then we were given the all clear and the engines re started and we continued south through the Suez Canal, but we were much higher in the water. I was puzzled at this but now realize we had discharged the cargo. During my next shift I was working in the generator room when suddenly the ship ground to a halt and there was that now familiar sound of twisting screaming metal. I ran up onto deck and thought
I was dreaming there was that island and again there was the same reef in front of us. We were still afloat but held fast by the bow and the swell was pushing the ship deeper into the reef. Although it didn't seem as though we were sinking we were ordered into the boats. As we left I noticed the bow of my old ship the Marcus, sticking out of the water close by. I was later told that we had ran aground on Abu Nuhas. I decided at this point that I should retire and after being landed at Alexandria I returned home to Poland".

The final piece of the puzzle was solved by a skipper onboard one of the safari boats I had worked on. As he watched my presentation of the wrecks at Abu Nu has he recalled seeing two tugs attempting to pull the Chrisoula-K off the reef?  The main section of the ship broke off, leaving the bow behind, and as the tugs surged forward the ship began to sink almost taking the tugs with it, it was this clue which prompted Ali Baba and me to go and look for the final piece of the puzzle. A bowless, tile-less wreck lying north of Abu Nuhas!


 

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