Sha’ab Abu Nuhas Reef has claimed countless ships over the years, but the other four are a magnet for avid wreck divers.. Photography by Mark Evans and Stuart Philpott
Egypt’s northern Red Sea is a hotspot for fascinating shipwrecks, home to the likes of the legendary Thistlegormthe Dunraventhe a million hope and the Rosalie Mollerbut there’s a place that’s a magnet for the serious wreck divers – Sha’ab Abu Nuhas.
Sha’ab Abu Nuhas is an unassuming reef that probably wouldn’t even deserve a mention on the diver’s list if it weren’t for the fact that it’s close to the main shipping route to the Suez Canal, and it has therefore claimed more than its fair share of “victims” over the years.
Surrounded by relatively shallow water and reasonably sheltered from the weather, it is a regular on most northern cruise routes and can also be reached by day boats.
The wrecks that have fallen prey to its coral reef are all in good condition, especially the ‘newer’ ships, and so this, combined with the depths and sheltered location, means they are perfect for all skill levels. diver, and the ideal “classroom” for wreck diving course in a real environment to obtain wreck diving certification.
Wrecks to explore
The Giannis D
Of all the wrecks of Abu Nuhas, the Japanese-built Greek freighter Giannis D is by far the most popular, and for good reason – it is without a doubt one of the best wreck dives in the entire Red Sea.
The ship was carrying a cargo of timber and hit the reef in 1983 at full speed – a fact made evident when you see the bent propeller, which crippled itself as it crashed into the coral – and now it’s split into three separate sections.
The midships are shattered beyond recognition, with lengths of wood, steel plates and metal panels strewn across the seabed. There is abundant coral growth and a plethora of marine life, but this is the least interesting area of the wreck site, and is usually just overtaken by wreck divers transition between bow and stern sections more intact.
The bow rests on its port side and is still in one piece, making it an interesting place to explore. Opportunities for penetration are limited, but the bow itself is impressively large and the bow mast is always surrounded by reef fish.
However, it’s the tail section that really makes this wreck special. The stern is fully intact just before the aft superstructure meaning that if properly trained you can get deep into the engine room, crew quarters and bridge.
The deepest part of the stern is only 24m, and it is possible to enter the ship here, then work your way through her engine room, then climb several floors to finally exit through the bridge.
A torch is useful so you can spot details, but there’s so much ambient light from open doors, windows, and hatch covers that it’s not strictly necessary. For photographers, the stern is a great photo prop, as is the twist propeller, which will outshine a well-placed model.
While the other three wrecks all collapsed in the 1970s or 1980s, the carnatic is much, much older. She was an elegant 90m steam- and sail-powered passenger and mail vessel and struck the reef in 1869. She did not sink immediately, but lay aground for a few days.
The captain mistakenly assumed the ship was sound and the pumps were handling any incoming water, but the constant rocking motion on the sharp coral took its toll and the ship split in two and sank, taking with it approximately five passengers and 26 crew members. .
The survivors managed to make it to Abu Nuhas itself, then in lifeboats to the nearby island of Shadwan, where they were picked up soon after by passing ss. Sumatra.
The carnatic now sits on her port side in 26m, rising 12m forward, and you can dive with the right destroy–diving certificate. The coral growth is abundant because the wreck has been down for nearly 150 years and is almost part of the reef now.
Much of the wooden decking has collapsed, revealing the holds and four-cylinder steam engine and boilers, and penetration is straightforward due to all entry/exit points through the iron framework.
Inside you can find the shattered remains of hundreds of wine bottles, and there are often teeming schools of glassfish that will “swallow” a diver who carefully swims through them.
The Chrisoula K/Marcus
The third most visited wreck of Sha’ab Abu Nuhas is the Markbut the reason why he is so well known in wreck diving circles is probably more the result of the ongoing saga of whether it’s really the Markor the Chrisoula K. There are arguments for both identities, and while it’s now considered a pretty safe bet that it’s the Markthere are still those seasoned divers who remain convinced that this is the Chrisoula K.
Regardless of its real name, what is known without a doubt is that it was another Greek-owned freighter, and that it ran aground and sank in 1981.
She was carrying a vast cargo of Italian floor tiles, giving the wreck its nickname Tile Wreck, and stacks and stacks of them can be seen in the hold.
The vessel is mostly intact, with the midships straight and seated at 26m-28m, and the aft section twisted to starboard. The holds are quite open, with lots of ambient light and entry/exit points across the deck.
Full penetration is possible in some areas for experienced wreck divers, but be warned – the engine room is a tight space to enter compared to the cavernous void of the Giannis D, and I would recommend a main torch, a backup and a third backup, as it is extremely dark once inside. You will learn all the necessary techniques of a wreck diving course.
The Kimon M
The fourth Abu Nuhas wreck is probably the least visited, which is a shame, as it’s still a great dive, even if not quite in the same league as its neighbours.
This German-built freighter was carrying 4,500 tonnes of lentils – hence its nickname, the Lentil Wreck – when it slammed into the reef at full speed in 1978, destroying the forward section.
She remained on the reef, before the weather took its toll and she slid off the reef in 30-32m of water, coming to rest on the starboard side.
Due to subsequent salvage efforts, which saw a hole drilled in the port side and the engine and other machinery removed, it is relatively easy to get into the engineering department, and from there into the holds. There is decent ambient light, but a torch is a good idea for some of the tighter sections. The marine life is not as abundant as on the other wrecks, but the Kimon M always worth a page in your logbook.
The Sha’ab Abu Nuhas wrecks hold a siren call for divers, with many having numerous logbook entries for the four sunken vessels. Being located where they can be reached by both day boats and liveaboards, they are visited by hundreds of divers every year, and if you haven’t dived in the cemetery of Egyptian wrecks yet, I suggest you add it to your dive list.
Unbelievably Divers:- Unbelievably, divers had been diving the freighters either side of the Carnatic for many years before accidentally discovering the much-older vessel on a drift dive
Also on Divernet: The dawn of Red Sea dive tourism, The Red Sea through a new lens, The Red Sea Explorer, Best Red Sea dive sites