Diving the Zenobia
Cyprus - June 2008...
The Zenobia was a Swedish built roll-on-roll-off ferry built back in the late 1970's and launched in June 1980. She sank on her maiden voyage barely a mile off Larnaca harbour in Cyprus. At the time of her sinking she was carrying more than 100 fully loaded trucks and trailers most of which were chained to her decks - many still are. She sits on her side in 42 metres. She has two vehicle decks and some quite extensive passenger areas including cabins and a large cafeteria. Unlike most ro-ro ferries Zenobia embarked AND disembarked her vehicles utilising a circular one way traffic flow system both in and out through her huge stern doors which had swivelling ramps in order to allow berthing alongside rather than the more conventional nose or stern in arrangement.
On Saturday June 7th. 1980 at 2.30 AM she sank. The cause has never officially been revealed however as always numerous conspiracy theories abound, the most popular being an insurance scam and Israeli or Arab special forces sabotage! The most likely reason however was a major malfunction in her computerised ballast tank pumping system which apparently caused her to ship water uncontrollably into the port side ballast tanks causing a progressive list until she eventually keeled over and sank port side first - the computer in question must have been using Windows!
We were due to travel out to Italy to dive the Amoco Milford Haven in our newly fitted out camper van, compressor, O2 pump et all, however the authorities in Genoa shut the wreck for an environmental study and we couldn't make it in the time we had left when she was eventually re-opened, so we opted for a week in Cyprus instead. We dived Zenobia with our guide Lee ("I'll have a double chocolate please"...) through a company out there at Protarus called EasyDivers.
The wreck is a really short hop out from the moorings in Larnaca and you seem to be over her before you've even had time to assemble your kit! The visibility on all of the dives was great - never less than around 25 to 30 metres although it was a little bit hazy. The wreck however is very clean with little in the way of silt to kick up, quite unlike most of the wrecks in UK waters, so penetration conditions are ideal. In total we completed 6 dives on the wreck including a lot of very extensive penetration. The bottom vehicle deck is cavernous and goes on seemingly forever - when you are half way into this huge black void a bailout cylinder bigger than 10 litres suddenly seems most desirable! Imagine if you can swimming slowly along in a wide open empty space, the floor of the wreck several meters below you, a steel wall above your head, in pitch blackness with only your torch for light, a tiny green glowing pin point which is your exit seemingly a thousand miles away in the distance - all the tiny little niggles begin - will my unit be OK? Will it get a fault today? Is my slime packed correctly? What if my torch josses out? If I bail out now will my 10 get me back?!! Oh but the whispers take a hold of you seriously in situations like these! Lee took us through the engine room, up a lift shaft, through the passenger areas and most of the bridge (photographs past and present above left and opposite right) and associated control rooms. We also saw the "egg wagon", the "meat wagon" and the wreck's huge bow thruster. Below the bridge we went into the officer's mess via a corridor leading off the paint locker where I saw what I initially took to be an arcade game lying on it's side, however if it had been an arcade game it was the most "knobby" one I have ever come across. Only after several seconds did the penny finally drop and I realised I was looking at a radar unit. Later inspection of some photographs from the internet confirmed my suspicions and you can see the photograph to the left. I must say it gives me an enormous thrill to be able to identify a specific piece of the wreck so irrefutably after the dive! The tartan carpet on the cafeteria floor is still very readily apparent within the wreck despite the long immersion it has had to endure however due to the fact that the Zenobia lies on her side the floor is now the wall and it's a little odd to see tartan flock wallpaper! Again a week or two after we came home, we were able to find a photograph identifying what we had seen on the wreck - if you live in York or Bewdley or even Hull for that matter, and you want to find the best possible carpet for your lounge then you may wish to have a good look at these pictures by way of a "before and after" immersion comparison... J
The down side to diving the Zenobia is the price... six hard boat dives, two dives per day, doesn't come cheap unfortunately but all in all the Zenobia is a pretty exciting dive and we hope you enjoy these photographs as much as we enjoyed taking them, long swims in endless black holes aside that is!
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