There are a huge number of sunken ships in the seas and oceans. Each one of them has its own story and destiny. Zenobia is one of the top 10 recreational wrecks in the world. When you dive into it, you realize that this is more than justified.
Zenobia is a Challenger Ro-Ro ferry boat made in 1979 in the Swedish shipyard Kockums Varv AB. Its first trip was going to be to Tartous, Syria. It sailed from Malmo on May 4th 1980, carrying 104 trucks especially made for the Middle East. It passed through Gibraltar on May 22nd to make its first stop in Crete at the port of Heraklion. From there it continued to Athens when the first problems started to occur. The captain noticed that the ship was taking on water in the ballast tanks and leaning over to the port side. In Larnaca, Cyprus, the ship landed at the port where they attempted to pump the water out. However, engineers found that the ship was still taking on water due to a software bug. It soon became clear to everyone that the sinking of a ship was a very real possibility. To prevent the port from being blocked, Zenobia was moved 1.5 miles away from Larnaca, where it was awaiting further developments at anchor. Attempts by engineers to solve the problem failed. The situation was getting worse and on June 5th the ship tilted 45 degrees. It was the point of no return and the captain issued an order for Zenobia to be evacuated. At around 2.30am on 7th June 1980 the ship sank, carrying a cargo worth £200 million to the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. Fortunately, the sinking happened without any human casualties.
The sinking of the Zenobia is shrouded in mystery. The Discovery Channel has filmed a documentary regarding a possible sabotage as the cause of the sinking by the secret services of Mossad and MI6. None of this has been proven. There was no military material on the cargo list, but in conversations with divers who have been inside the wreck, we heard that they had encountered pieces of military equipment. This information reinforces the mysterious circumstances under which Zenobia sank.
She's really big
During the pre-dive briefing, we found out that the wreck is 172 meters long. It lies on its side, at a maximum depth of 42 meters, therefore one dive is not enough to get around the outside. The interior is a whole story of its own. We decided to dive at the stern of the ship because there are trucks, trailers and cargo spaces for a big, heavy load. Zenobia becomes visible at about ten meters deep. It is so large that it looks as if it is on the sea bottom itself. Trucks and trailers can be seen at depth, while passing over a fully vertical deck. Due to the overturning of the ship, most fell to the bottom, while only a few remained in the ship. Considering the time under water, the cargo and the ship itself are very overgrown and calcified. This gives the dive site extra beauty. Behind the cargo area is a huge rear loading door. It is partially open, so you can go through to the stern of the ship. Upon reaching the propeller, one can truly understand the size of this ship.
Given the depth and length of the Zenobia, it is very easy to enter decompression dive mode hence you should be very careful when planning the dive, because this site is among the more demanding ones. There are lots of interesting things underwater and the depth is respectable, so the time flies by. The fact that since its sinking, as many as eight divers have died in Zenobia, reminds us that these dives must be taken very seriously. Penetration into the ship is only possible with local guides and appropriate certificates. Imagine a maze of corridors at 90 degrees, with a twisted load ... In addition, the weather and the sea have taken their toll on this ship, so in some places there is danger of collapse.
Despite all these negative facts, Zenobia attracts many divers. It is a great treat for all wreck lovers for whom this is a great playground for many to enjoy.
Written by Janez Kranjc
Photos by Ivana OK and Janez Kranjc