Egyptian Red Sea Southern Wrecks

The Engine Room Of The Moma Class Russian Wreck






There can be no more an evocative dive than a tour of a British  war ship-especially  when it has seen action. In many cases this kind of shipwreck is often off limits to divers. The ensuing conflict usually creates casualties, often fatal, and the wrecks receive war grave status. The vision of armament  and the evidence of damage is  a strong  reminder of a conflict which took place many years ago-a violent struggle which ended in defeat and often death.

Egyptian waters are littered with British warships, mainly from the second  world war, Barham, Coventry, Calcutta, Defender, Heythrop and Zulu are just a few, and these vessels rest along the Mediterranean coast. The Egyptian Red Sea is the resting place of two British warships (and one American lend lease )-but neither are a result of the Second World War. The Thistlegorm has often been wrongly labeled a warship, even HMS-she was a defensively armed merchant ship-her guns could only train (I resist the term fire) her guns in the aft quadrant

In the southern waters of Egypt, a classic world war two destroyer, still boasting her WW2 armament sleeps quietly in rarely dived waters. PETER COLLINGS takes us on a guided tour of this  maritime museum, a window into our naval warfare past.

In 1955 the Royal Navy decommissioned several of its “Z”(ZAMBESI) class destroyers. These were fast (35knot) vessels, sleek and manoeuvrable and designed primarily as sub chasers. While many of the vessels were scrapped 4 were sold on-Two to Egypt-HMS MYNGS (to become the AL QAHER), H.M.S.ZENITH (to become the   AL FATHA ) and two to ISRAEL, HMS ZEALOUS and HMS ZODIAC( to be renamed ELATH and YAFFA respectively) .

On October 21st 1967 during the Six Day War the ELATH, was 14 miles off Port Said, when she was sunk with  4 “ Styx” miles from the Egyptian-Komar class  missile carrying gun ship ASSUIT.47 of her crew died with many of the 151 survivors injured. She had been zig- zagging in the bay of Romani-in and out of territorial waters, taunting Egyptian radar- A month earlier she had sunk two Egyptian gun boats. She was the first vessel to be sunk by  surface to ship missiles. The wreck has been located in 21mtrs of water14 miles north east of Port Said. Although Israeli she, was in fact a sister ship of the Al Qaher!

In MAY 1970 a wing of  French built Dassault Mirage fighters, in direct retaliation for the sinking of the Eilath, attacked the Al Quaher while it was  at anchor. Bristling with anti aircraft guns and a new firing tracking  system, the crew of the Al Qaher held off several attacks despite being hit by sidewinder missiles and countless rounds from the planes in wing cannons. Effective against WW2 enemy aircraft,these a/a guns were no match for more modern rocket/ missile warfare.  With a range of 800 miles the aircraft could sustain a prolonged attack over the target. With a still decimated  Egyptian air force the Israelis carried on the relentless attack un-hindered from the air .Fires spread throughout the vessel and internal explosions raked the ship. Her bridge, mast and several gun emplacements were blown clear of the ship. Eventually the 300 ft destroyer settled by the stern, her entire superstructure ablaze.

As she sank she swung round on her anchor and grounded on a coral shelf ripping her bow plates open-her draught  was only 3 mtrs. Thus leaving her fore- section and devastated superstructure above water.


elqaher 170


The Moma (Project 861) was and is a costal survey ship. They are also used as buoy tenders. The converted Moma (Project 861M) is an Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) gathering ship converted from Moma class survey ship/buoy tenders. These ships carry SSV (Communications Vessel) numbers on the bow


Russian Designation:  SSV (Communications Ship)

Builder:  Stocznia Polnocna,     Gdansk (Poland)


Year adopted: 1967

Number in Class: 28 ships total (production from 1968 – 1974)

Operational Status: Russia:  Still in active service

Displacement: 1,580 tons full load

Length: 73.3 meters. Draught: 3.8 meters.Beam:10.8 meters

Crew: 41 – 120 Officers and Sailors (depending on the mission)

Engine: 2 x Zgoda/sulzer 6TD48 diesel engines delivering 3,600 hp

Max Speed: 17 Knots    Range:  8,700 Nautical miles at 11 knots

Sensor Suite: 2 x Don-2 navigational radars

Sonar: Bronza arrays

Electronic Warfare: Intercept and DF arrays

map area 1


The wreck lies upright in 24 mtrs in the western bay of Zabagad Island. Her bow and small hold have broken off and lie over to port, full of the obligatory glassfish. There is no evidence of any cargo. She is otherwise intact, with a stern superstructure and engine room.  Access to her bridge, complete with instruments, engine room and galley along with companionway swim-throughs is easy and exciting.

Her instrument panel and helm are located in the bridge behind which is a navigation room and stairs down into the accommodation and galley areas. Evidence of beds, tool boxes and every day items are scattered throughout the interior. Large diameter corrugated hoses lie in her stern and her single forward  hold. All her deck fittings are visible, and intact including the empty lifeboat davits, stern winch, cable drums for the towed arrays and “toadstool” ventilator tops. Her  central comms  mast almost breaks the surface. Compass posts sit at each side of the flying bridge.  Access to the engine room and her accommodation area can be gained from doors situated on the rear deck. The rear section of the ship can also be explored from the large holes in her hull. It is possible with care to enter the engine room this way and then exit via the rear doorways or her skylights. In front of the wheelhouse is a control room for what appears to be piping and valves for liquid fuel. The lack of depth (max 24 mtrs) means the wreck is usually bathed in strong sunlight, the clearer water being the upper levels as the sandy bed often becomes cloudy if a swell is present. The stern sitting bolt upright is an impressive sight and is very photogenic.

The bow section lies over to starboard,   the bow itself hard into the reef, and the central raised walkway having broken of from the main section by the deckhouse. Near the winch is an upright structure possibly a crane of some kind and access to the hold is open or though one of two service hatches on the deck or for the less adventurous through a he gash in her starboard side. From the walkway a  forward comms mast runs out almost horizontal and is home to many small reef fishes and soft corals.


It is clear form all of the evidence that this vessel was used as an “intelligence gatherer”, but what was she doing tucked away in a bay in a quite corner of Egypt near the Sudanese border? Some time between 1974 and 1985 –the cold war period

Had she simply put in for repairs and the ensueing explosion sunk her? If so why had all the watertight doors been cut at the hinges, preventing them from being refitted

Why the HT a cables and fuel pipes running ashore?

The Russians were operating out of the Dallak Islands (Eritria) during the cold war. She may be one such vessel. They also had strong connections with the Egyptians and there are several Russian built Egyptian shipwrecks from the Arab conflicts. However there is nothing on the ship to suggest she was an Egyptian vessel or indeed have an Egyptian crew.

Was she watching shipping for both Russia and Egypt?

Perhaps the clouded past of the cold war will keep her full story a secret.

One final enigma is this sign-the only one found in English


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The sandy Island of Mikalawa or Saranaka as it is sometimes known lies to the south of Ras Banas and is and ideal  overnight stop over. It also provides us with a sheltered deep dive close to shore. The island also has an interesting selection of birds.

When first dived a few years ago this small wreck of a fishing trawler was perched in 30 mtrs, now she is slowly sliding down the slope into deeper water, with her bow now in 55 mtrs. Little is known about the wreck, local information tells that she had engine trouble, put into the lagoon for repairs, struck the reef and sank. although it is clear that an aborted salvage operation took place. She lies very close to the reef, down a steep slope with her stern in 30 mtrs. Nets festoon the prop and rudder, and the keel has now dug into the seabed with the bow her deepest point.. The bow is quite dramatic and the clear water allows for a great view of the trawler towering above. Although the wheelhouse is starting to collapse, it is possible to explore the engine room and her holds, as well as companionways and accommodation areas.  The wood is now beginning to deteriorate and holes are appearing in the decking and superstructure. The deck fittings are still in place and a resident family of batfish patrol the vessels gantries. By taking advantage of the wrecks attitude, divers can enjoy a deep dive with a slow ascent up the slope to the reef.Most if not all of the captains I work with have fishing backgrounds and the name ABU SAIMMA has been offered but so far is unconfirmed

The reef base starts at 15 mtrs and offers an ideal off gas after exploring the wreck. Sometimes called the Saranaka wreck

The reef base starts at 15 mtrs and offers an ideal off gas after exploring the wreck. Sometimes called the Saranaka wreck




Built at Sunderland in 1912 by J.D.LAING for the Anglo Saxon Petroleum Co. the 4900 ton, 374 ft “contempary plated, fitted for carrying liquid fuel in bulk, machinery aft”. The records also show her engine specification, built by DICKINSONS at the Deptford Yard as “3 cylinder triple expansion engine”,with cylinder dimensions of 26”,44”,72” and out-fittings by R. CRAGGS of HARTLEPOOL.

THE Turbo had survived the attack, at slow speed they continued the voyage, and the captain found that by increasing her speed to 6 knots she stopped rocking, and they safely arrived at Port Said on the 21st August. Here part of her cargo was discharged and she continued through the Canal to discharge her remaining cargo.

Her armament was removed and she left Suez on April 1st 1942 for Karachi 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 because of  heavy weather.  forepart  sunk as it was  a danger to navigation. Afterpart  is presumed to have foundered”  Lloyds war losses

“While proceeding towards Aden, as a hulk,  SS TURBO broke her back in a heavy sea Gladys Moller stood by, stern could not be boarded during the night of the 5th all contact with the stern was lost and the bow section sunk by gunfire on the night of the 5th by an unknown vessel under instruction form the Admiralty at Port Sudan”BT381/1919

Credit for the discovery of this wreck goes to the Skipper of Lady M. 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.

The hull now lies on a sandy Bed in 28 mtrs very close to the reef face on its Port side. The starboard side is in about 18 mtrs 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 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

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  storerooms off to the sides with tools and other equipment, much of which is concreted into place. and a workshop complete with lathe, even oilcans and watering cans! The engine room is very atmospheric with good light filtering through the skylights, although the angle at which she lies can be somewhat dis-orientating. Her repeater telegraph still hangs waiting for the next command.

Forward of the engine room is her boiler room and the funnel casing, again all her fittings, gauges and valves

are in situ. The stern area under the weather deck is an area of great interest with more store rooms, wheel barrows, spare ventilation cowls and some great swim throughs. A raised walkway supporting the vessels piping is home to a multitude of life forms from sponges to lionfish and the cross bracings make a great swim through and photo backdrop. The deck is an intricate latticework of pipes valves and fittings, used to transfer the bulk liquid fuel to her tanks in a delicate balancing act.

Lifeboat davits, handrails and stairwells provide alternative  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 nonce. Sadly the aft mast which used to reach up close to the surface has been snapped in two


Abu Galawa ( Father of the pools) is a series of several reef patches, lying within the FURY SHOALS, a vast expanse of reef systems just to the north of Ras Banas. There are several picturesque wrecks within the area, and although not deep each of the wrecks has a special quality- and all are surrounded by stunning hard coral formations, and the wrecks themselves are in sheltered positions.

Attention in this area has always centred on reefs and not wrecks, and to this day many operators still claim “the south has no wrecks”. With the recent explosion in hotel development in the south there are now day boats operating the area, so as the coastline becomes more familiar perhaps some new discoveries will be made. For instance

THE CHARICIA A. Built in 1944 this 199ton vessel sank in the Fury Shoals on the 3rd Feb 1954.She has not, to date been located.


She ran aground on  the north side  of Gotta Abu Galawa on 25th January 1958 while in ballast from Port Sudan to Piraeus.  He bottom ripped out she quickly filled with water and was deemed a total constructive loss. Over the years she has broken up and is now well dispersed into the surrounding reefs.

The bow lies hanging over the reef flat, where her anchor chain can still be found. The foc’s’le is home to a school of sweepers. From here what was once  the forward holds is merely flattened plates, on top of which is her boilers and then the single triple expansion engine standing proud to within a few meters of the surface. The anatomy of which is easy to see. The prop shaft can be traced aft to the  stern where the steering quadrant, rudder and prop are be found. Masts and fitting spill off from the shallows into the sandy amphitheatre below.

Portholes still remain covered in a thick coating of coral and steam gauges can still be seen in the stern. Although not a substantial wreck, she is a great rummage dive and the surrounding seascape, with its miniature anemone city. The remains of the wreck have become a playground for all types of Red Sea fishes, and given the shallow depths ( max 12 mtrs) and clear water it is an ideal photographic site.


About I mile to the north of the tugboat is the wreck of a small sailing yacht, lying on its starboard side in 18 mtrs of water, in a sandy channel between the reefs of Abu Galawa North. The history of the vessel is as yet not known, but the coral growth would indicate she is only a few years old. Given that the wreck is only 30 mtrs long it does not take very long to explore. The hull is intact and the wreck at the base of a reef over to starboard. Coral is beginning to colonise the wreck the interior is full of sweepers and hatchets, with the obligatory red mouthed groupers patrolling the shoal. The wreck can be fully explored in 10 minutes, however her elegant lines and attitude do provide the photographer with some great material.

What makes this a special dive is the scenery lying behind the wreck. By  entering a canyon 50 mtrs from the bow flanked on either side by huge hard corals, and following the natural course  the diver is  lead to a huge sandy bowl where white tips rest. The surrounding scenery is of huge hard coral formations-some of the best in the Red Sea. The scenery is quite staggering and several routes through valleys can be taken, returning back to the yacht with a maximum depth of 18 mtrs.

Back on the coast we find evidence of two more modern shipwrecks.

The Hamada was a small cargo ship of 654 GRT built at John Lewis & Sons Ltd.(Yard No. 347), Aberdeen, UK for the P & O subsidiary company General Steam Navigation Co., Ltd. The ship was launched on 15 March 1965 as the Avocet (Registry No. 651078) and was completed on 12 June of that same year with a length of 65.10 meters, beam of 11.07 meters, and draught of 4.05 meters. Propulsion was provided by a single 1,470 bhp MN17 type diesel manufactured by British Polar Engine Ltd., Glasgow, Scotland, and a single propeller for a speed of 12.5 knots.

From the time of her launching in 1965 until late 1971, the Avocet was operated in the coastal waters of the UK by the General Steam Navigation Co. On 01 October 1971 management and operation of the ship was transferred to another P & O subsidiary company call P & O Short Sea Shipping Ltd. Then, on 01 December 1972, ownership of the ship was transferred to General Steam Navigation (Trading) Ltd. Management and operation were transferred once again on 31 March 1975 to the P & O Ferry Line until 16 June 1976 when ownership was transferred to P & O Ferry’s General European Ltd.

On 22 June of that same year the ship was sold to Stavros Elias Liakos Maritime Ltd., Cyprus, and renamed the Afroditi H, and then was resold to the Euromaster Navigation Co. Ltd., Cyprus.

In 1982 the ship was renamed Samarah and then was sold to Leghorn Shipping Co. Ltd., Cyprus in 1983 where she operated for nearly two years before being sold yet again.

In 1985, the ship was sold to the Chaldean Shipping Co. Ltd., Cyprus and renamed Hamada. A year later, in 1986, the Hamada was sold to the Phemios Shipping Co., Valetta, Malta.

There are different versions of the Hamada’s loss. One report indicates that she caught fire and sank in deep water. The P & O file states that the ship struck an “submerged object” in heavy weather at position 24.42N/35.25E off of Ras Banas while enroute on 28 June 1993 from Jeddah to Suez and subsequently foundered


The Hamada was a small coastal general cargo vessel, built in 1965 of 499 tons nett 989 tons gross, which was carrying a cargo of plastic graduals, out of Yambo Saudi Arabia. The official report stated that she caught fire and sank in deep water. However another report states “No.2 hold was flooded as bottom shell plating came into contact with submerged object.”- So why the charred mattress?. Her cargo doors were wide open and all personal effects and tools had gone………………………….


Lying in only 12 mtrs of water half a mile south of the phosphate terminal of Abu Gosoon,t he wreck is  now broken in two with her holds facing the reef a few meters away. The holds are beginning to collapse The stern section, complete with superstructure has slipped further away from the reef. The interior can be penetrated and it is possible to explore the mess room, accommodation and the engine room, although the latter needs great care. Over the years soft corals have taken hold and the   port companionway is smothered in lush soft corals of purple, red and orange. These in turn support a healthy mixture of reef fishes and invertebrates- seven specie of nudibranchs were noted by one bug hunter.

Her port side is awash at low tide and the water can be as much as 31degrees above her hull in summer.. Some of her  cargo,  bagged polythene granules, a by product of the petro-chemical industry, remains in the hold, in an eternal struggle to reach the surface.

The bow is quite impressive complete with anchors and the fo’csle contains a forklift truck as well as the anchor windlass and winches. Another wheeled but tyre-less vehicle lies upside down in the sand, between the wreck and the reef. The masts lie resting in the reef slope complete with cables and pulleys Marine life is slowly moving into the wreck, hard corals having established themselves in the hull, masts and deck, visibility can be down after strong winds, due to the sandy, shallow bottom and the site is subject to swell. It is how ever an excellent dive when the right conditions apply..

So now you know the truth don’t tell! that way when you join our safari we will have all these non existant wrecks all to ourselves……………………

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before the secret gets out………………………………..

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