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SS Thistlegorm: Closed for Conservation

The wreck of the SS Thistlegorm will be inaccessible to divers for a period of one month from 15th November till 15th December 2007 whilst urgent conservation measures take place that will help to preserve this historical and legendary wreck for the future.

The closure is part of the new ‘Saving the Red Sea Wrecks’ Campaign, which is being launched by Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association (HEPCA) at the UK Dive Show in October. The Campaign already has the full support of many influential individuals, H2O MAGAZINE, dive centres and boat operators, tour operators, the Chamber of Diving and Water Sports (Egypt), regional bodies and organisations.

The pioneering Campaign proposes a detailed safeguard plan to implement a mooring system, and a change in common vessel operational procedures that contribute to the degradation of the wreck. A complete educational and awareness program is also in development to encourage more environmentally friendly briefings and best practice. The Campaign will later target the Rosalie Moller and other Red Sea wrecks under threat.
 
For Amr Ali, Managing Director of HEPCA, the Campaign is long overdue: “For too long, divers, diving operators and organizations have sat back and witnessed the long-term effects of an unprecedented level of use on the SS Thistlegorm and other wrecks in the Red Sea. Now is the time to take action before it’s too late. Without the intervention of proper preservation management we will lose these valuable wrecks forever.” 
 
A group of leading professors from Suez Canal University, alongside representatives from HEPCA and the National Parks of Egypt, have assessed the wreck of the SS Thistlegorm ahead of the conservation work. The operation will address the two main actions that act as a catalyst to natural erosion. Vessels currently mooring on the wreck are subject to high winds and strong under currents that increase the stress placed upon the line and the wreck itself. Secondly, trapped air bubbles left by the thousands of divers penetrating the wreck on an annual basis cause air pockets that lead to considerable damage.

During an intense three-phase operation, the wreck of the SS Thistlegorm will acquire:
 
- Buoy mooring system - up to eight isolated mooring points capable of securing three liveaboard vessels each. 
- Separate descent and ascent lines – safety lines for divers direct to the wrecks.
- Air-escape outlets – a series of outlets will be drilled into the body of the wreck to allow for pockets of disposed air from scuba tanks to escape.

The new buoy system will require that divers are dropped on the site from a tender, with the descent and ascent lines providing drop-off / pick-up points directly above the wreck. HEPCA hopes that all divers, diving operators and organisations will stand together to assist in the realisation of this unique operation and the ‘Saving the Red Sea Wrecks’ Campaign, which will help raise the benchmark for Egypt’s reputation in providing environmentally sustainable tourism.

 

Sales and Operations Director Natalie Elliott from Red Sea Liveaboard operator, blue o two commented: “We support HEPCA 100% in their campaign to save the Red Sea Wrecks and believe that its implementation is vital if Egypt is to keep up with the changing global attitude on conservation and ethical tourism practice. Concern for sustainable tourism and protection of unique areas is high on the agenda for all visiting nationalities to the Red Sea. For the buoy mooring system to be a success, vessel operators must work together and adopt these new ethical operations.”

Karim Helal, Chairman of the new Chamber of Diving and Watersports and the Chairman of  H2O Magazine (the international face of the Red Sea) has also added his support to the Campaign: “God has gifted the Egyptian Red Sea with a unique universe of coral reefs and marine life, and over the centuries nature and manmade conflicts throughout history have further caused the Red Sea to be the resting place for so many shipwrecks of all types and of all ages, each one with its unique story, many of which remain untold.

Today, as we have been investing so much in preserving our natural reefs, we are now realizing that it is equally important to preserve these awesome time capsules to be enjoyed, discovered and explored by divers from all over the world as a testament to humanity. Save our Shipwrecks.”

More information on the Campaign will be available soon. HEPCA will host two seminars at the Dive Show at the NEC, Birmingham, UK, in October alongside diving operators and wreck and conservation specialists.
 
Information will be distributed for operators to use in conjunction with their normal dive site briefings to educate their divers and staff about the new operational procedures, and the importance of achieving good diving practice throughout the Red Sea.
 

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