Home Features THE TANKER WRECKS NEAR RAS BANAS

THE TANKER WRECKS NEAR RAS BANAS

Credit for the discovery of this wreck goes to the then Skipper of Lady M., “Ahmed the Crazy”. They called it the half wreck because it consisted of a stern and superstructure and one very large hold. At first we thought this was the Hadia, which had been described as a tanker in some records, but entering her engine room revealed a large single triple expansion steam engine, not a diesel as in the Hadia. Inside the engine room a plate with R.C. Craggs embossed and a works number would if fact prove to be something of a red herring in her identification, but without this knowledge to hand we set about looking for the missing section of the ship; the other half in fact. We were to search in vain…the bow lies in deep water somewhere to the north.
Initial research from the makers plate pointed to the Atlas, which had been built by Craggs, and although this ship was reported to have been torpedoed off the Yemen.

Further initial research into the Atlas listed her as a British built, 4000 ton, 345 ft long steam tanker, built as the Conrad Mohr under Greek registration. At the time of her sinking she was named the Atlas. Built in 1909 by R.C. Craggs, Smiths Dock, Middlesborough. She was torpedoed on Sept 6th 1940 by the Italian submarine Guglielmotti off the Yemen.

The ensuing explosion broke the ships back and as she settled by the bow she broke in two. With war materials at a premium, a daring salvage attempt was made and the stern section made watertight and the long journey north to Alexandria began. Massawa was still in the hands of the Italians, from where their submarines could still pose a limited threat, made less potent by the poor line of supply and the lack of will of the Italians to engage in a fight.

 

The salvage operation was directed by non other than Jim Devellyn, a naval salvage operator during the Second World War. He had successfully salvaged the bow section of the Inverlane, another tanker, in 1939. I had interviewed Jim as he lived locally and had also been involved in salvaging many north east England wrecks. His notes and diaries were to be a great help in filling in some of the missing questions about the Atlas.

The two tugs which Jim described as “liberated rusting tubs” were christened Hercules and Golliath. Hercules was eventually to find her way back in north eastern waters, where she ended up sinking off the Tyne. It would seem they were borrowed, or as Jim put it “requisitioned for the greater good of the war effort.” Where they came from, Jim would never elaborate, but I suspect, that tale would make a great story!
Jim went on to recall that the project went well until in Jim’s words “they reached Ras Banas”. At this point, the prevailing winds whipped up the sea from the north and the ungainly hull was caught a–beam of the waves. The towage was broken and the stern section foundered and sank.
When the name Atlas appeared in a piece in DIVER magazine, Neddy Seagoon proclaimed the identity wrong. Announcing with great pomp, that it was the Adamantia K (which of course, is a small broken up German freighter in Abu Galawa) without even ever having dived either wreck!
With these two pieces of evidence to hand it seemed that we had identified the “half wreck”.
However several new pieces of evidence came to hand. Firstly, after Jim’s death I was given an insight into more details of the salvage. Jim’s diary stated that the foundering took place “as they neared Ras Banas.” Then, while exploring the “half wreck” we found another manufacturers plate this one was inscribed John Dickinson Ltd, Sunderland, 1912 and inscribed with a yard number.After many years of searching, tracing lost records and the invaluable help of the Tyne/ Wear Archives and the Guildhall Library the “half wreck” has now been positively identified as THE S.S.TURBO.

MISTAKEN IDENTITY
A combination of the initial evidence had lead to the mis-identification of the “half wreck”, not only Jim Devlyns verbal report, but the plate from R.C GRAGGS. Another tanker belonging to the Anglo Petroleum Company was also wrecked in the Red Sea, far to the north at Ras Gharib in the Gulf of Suez. This too, had outfittings by R.C.GRAGGS of Hartlepool.

The similarity between the two vessels didn’t help either. The Turbo was a mere 29ft longer and had an addition tonnage of 900 tons - built 3 years and 30 miles apart. Considering we only had half a wreck to deal with, it is easy to see how we were deceived!

THE WRECK OF THE ATLAS
Having eliminated the ATLAS as the “half wreck” at Sataya El Bara, we set about locating the ATLAS herself. Referring back to Jims diaries, his notes stated that the hulk was cast adrift as it began to founder as they neared Ras Banas, described as a “sandy headland surrounded by coral reefs”. “Our attempt to make Port Berenice to make repairs failed and the hulk was cast adrift until it grounded in a sandy bay, her engine house still above water”.

There is a further reference in Jim’s diaries that the superstructure was subsequently removed to the waterline and “the hull left totally flooded and deemed lost as more pressing matters were at hand”.A rough sketch in Jim’s diary showed us the rough area in which the hull has sank - in 12mtrs of water in a sandy bay within the restricted area of the Port Berenice.
Initial brief dives (unauthorised!) have shown the hull complete with central walkway, pipes running the length of the hull to the break, valves and other deck fittings still in place.

The superstructure has gone and what was not salvaged seems to have fallen into the engine room. There is evidence of debris buried in the sand and the visibility seems much reduced, due mainly to the lack of coral and presence of sand. The shallow sections of the walkway with its vertical supports and cross beams are covered in sponges and sea squirts as opposed to corals. Again, presumably due the amount of sand and are home to a vast number of shoaling fish and many rays were seen on the surrounding seabed.

I intend to return at least once to the wreck – to place a memorial to a very remarkable man –Jim Delyln, salvage diver extraordinaire!
Once again fate has shown truth is often stranger than fiction – two tankers built 30 miles and 3 years apart, end up only a few miles apart within 2 years of each other, and then only their stern sections!

THE S.S.TURBO

Built at Sunderland in 1912 by J.D.LAING for the Anglo Saxon Petroleum Co. The 4900 ton, 374 ft “contemporary plated, fitted for carrying liquid fuel in bulk, machinery aft”. The records also show her engine specification, built by DICKINSONS as “3 cylinder triple expansion engine” and out-fittings by R.C. CRAGGS of HARTLEPOOL

On August 20th 1941, she was attacked by German aircraft while en route from Haifa to Alexandria with a cargo of 7500 tons of Admiralty fuel.
She arrived at Port Said on the 21st, her 42 crew and 10 gunners all saved. After discharging her cargo and damage made good, her armament was removed and she left Suez on April 1st 1942 for Aden in tow of the GLADYS MOLLER (sister-ship of the Rosalie Moller) destined to be used as a fuel storage hulk.

On the 4th April as they neared Ras Banas (reported position puts them approximately 15 miles north) the ship broke in two, presumably from the damage sustained in the bombing, and cast adrift due to heavy weather. The forepart of the ship was deliberately sunk as it was deemed a danger to shipping and the afterpart “presumed to have foundered”.

The hull now lies on its port side, on a sandy bed in 28 metres, very close to the reef face. The starboard side is in about 18 metres, while the port side almost touches the sand. The stern faces northwest.
The break in the hull is from the rear of the centre island, which sank with the fore section. The raised walkway runs aft to the engine room and accommodation island and the cross members are covered in corals and home to a multitude of fish. The helm direction indicator is intact and stands proud on her aft deck and although her rudder was removed, the prop can still be seen partially buried in the sand.

Judging from her intact fittings, handrails and portholes, few have been here before, if at all. The engine room is huge, easy to explore and totally intact.

It is possible to explore three floors down into the heart of the ship. Gauges, valves, piping, dials, notices (one reads “water 1/3 above combustion when show in glass in all engines”), gratings and handrails are all intact. There are many rooms and a workshop, galley, weather deck and companionways to explore. There are even oilcans and watering cans! Lifeboat davits, handrails and stairwells provide great backdrops for photography.

Fascinating marine life, including vast numbers of the Pixie Hawkish - a rare sighting anywhere else but here, the Major Dominus of the wreck. Although the visibility is less than stunning, the encrusting, macro and fish life and general intactness are a great incentive to dive her more than once. Sadly the aft mast which used to reach up close to the surface has been snapped in two.

 

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