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مُساهمة من طرف ود فـــــراج في الإثنين 03 أكتوبر 2011, 02:58

Country SUDAN
Rating 5 out of 10
Constructed Rieherst Schiffswerks of Hamburg, Germany.
Launched 30 December 1911 as Bahia Blanca.
Type Twin screw Passenger Steamer.
Displacement 10,076 grt.
Dimensions 154.95m x 18.06m (widest point) with a draught of 8.41m.
Machinery Two triple expansion 6 cylinder compound steam-engines.
Output 848 nhp and a top speed of 14 knots (unladen).
Owners Lloyd Triestino Navigation Company of Genoa.
Depth 0 - 32m
Full review
The Umbria had 3 steel decks and possessed 5 cargo holds (3 forward and 2 aft of the bridge deck) each with 2 tween decks. Large deck winches are found at each end of the holds. Below decks the ship was sub-divided by seven bulkheads.
In 1912, the Bahia Blanca went into service with the Hamburg-Amerika Line and plied the routes between Europe and Argentina, until the outbreak of WW1. When war was declared the ship was interned in Buenos Aries. In 1918 she was purchased by the Argentinean Government who used the vessel until 1935 - retaining the same name.
The ship was then sold to the Italian government, given a complete refit as a troopship and renamed Umbria. In 1937 she was finally sold to the Lloyd Triestino Navigation Company of Genoa and used throughout the Mediterranean and Red Sea to carry passengers and freight. When War broke out, however, Italy was initially a neutral country with her own military bases in foreign lands. It was inevitable that the Umbria would be pressed into serving her country.
The Loss of the Umbria
By May 1940 the Master of the Umbria was Captain Lorenzo Muiesan - a very experienced Master Mariner. It was Muiesan who personally supervised the loading of every item during a lengthy process in which the ship visited the ports of Genoa, Leghorn and Naples as she collected a variety of stores destined for the forthcoming Italian war effort. With no secrecy, the Umbria was finally loaded with 5,510 tons of explosives and 2,910 tons of general freight destined for Massawa, Assab, Karachi, Bombay, Madras, Calcutta and Rangoon.
The explosives was scheduled to be offloaded at Massawa and Assab and comprised no fewer than 360,000 individual aircraft bombs ranging in size from 15, 50 and 100 kg. The vessel also carried a large quantity of fuses, ammunition and detonators. The general freight element was largely building materials, bagged cement and 3 Fiat Lunga motorcars.
The Umbria called at Messina on 28 May 1940 for coal and water before finally sailing for Massawa. On 3 June she arrived at Port Said where she took on another 1,000 tons of coal and water. By this time, however, it was a well known fact that Italy was about to enter the War. The British knew this and were also fully aware of this ship's deadly cargo and how it could be used to devastating effect against them. Nevertheless, Italy was still a neutral country and had every right to move warlike stores to the outposts of her small Empire.
The British took every opportunity to delay the Umbria whenever they could. Royal Navy officers boarded the vessel and, in collusion with harbour officials and ships' pilots, used every delaying tactic at their disposal in the hope that they would learn of Italy's entry into the War and be in a position to seize both ship and cargo - legally.
Eventually allowed to proceed, the Umbria finally cleared Suez on 6 June and was immediately followed by HMS Grimsby. On 9 June the Umbria entered Sudanese waters and HMS Grimsby ordered her inshore - under the pretext of searching for contraband. The ship was escorted to Wingate Reef where she anchored.
Then the HMS Leander arrived and a party of 20 seaman boarded the Umbria. Having searched the vessel thoroughly for contraband and found nothing, the boarding party remained on board and spent the night on her decks. At one point, Muiesan went to his cabin and turned on his small radio - just in time to hear the long-awaited declaration of Italy joining forces with Hitler and waging war against the Allies. The broadcast said that War would be declared at 7 pm that day - 10 June 1940, and that hostilities would commence at midnight.
Muiesan, however, was very patriotic and realised he was the only person in Port Sudan who had heard this news. He was also well aware of how his cargo might now be used against his country. Recognising that both the Umbria and the cargo she carried were now lost to the Italian cause, his only remaining option was to deny his new-found enemy the use of both.
Right under the noses of the British boarding party, Muiesan arranged for the sea-cocks to be opened and then destroyed. Then he arranged for his entire crew to undertake a very realistic lifeboat drill. Believing this would only assist their own delaying tactics the British watched as the crew took to their lifeboats and pulled away. Then Muiesan asked for his men to be taken on board the Grimsby. Only now did they realise the abandon ship exercise was for real and that the Umbria was sinking right under their feet.
A word of warning
No amateur scuba diver is likely to try and recover a 15, 50 or 100 kg bomb but when it comes to the fuses, ammunition and detonators can we ever be quite as certain? Sadly, there already exists evidence of tampering with the ammunition in the holds of the Umbria... Please look - and there really is plenty to look at, and explore but please do NOT touch!
Emperor Divers - Port Sudan
I was visiting Port Sudan as a guest of Emperor Divers who, at that time, had a new diving facility in the grounds of the Hilton Hotel which is only a few minutes stroll from the quayside where their day-boat Empress Isa was moored. I visit a number of diving facilities every year and just occasionally one sticks out from the crowd as a really excellent operation and this was one of those. Run by two very experienced and extremely amiable people - Steve and Miranda, Emperor Divers of Port Sudan was the only shore-based diving and training facility in the entire country and had already been awarded the PADI Gold Palm 5 Star IDC certificate - so, even PADI said they were the best!
Unfortunately, I have to use the past tense after Emperor Divers were forced to pull out of The Sudan because of the recent civil unrest in that country. That unrest, however, has now ended and I do believe we are likely to see this company return in the near future. I do hope so - because they left all their competitors in the shade.

Diving the Umbria

The Umbria came to rest on an uneven coral seabed approximately 32m deep. The uneven nature of the seabed allowed the ship to roll over onto her port side at an angle of approx. 60º from vertical. Some of the cargo then shifted but nothing has since moved for many years.
The ship itself remains largely intact. At the bows, both anchors are deployed with the chains disappearing over the seabed and out of sight. The foc'sle is very long. This is a very busy place with coral encrusted windlasses and all the usual bollards all surrounded by handrails. Dropping down to the foredeck, the first 3 holds are open and with the cargo having shifted downwards, the diver is able to swim into each hold easily. No 3 hold contains row upon row of bombs which look like huge wine bottles. By coincidence, there are also several empty wine bottles nearby. No 3 tween decks is where the Fiat Cars are found. Back on deck, the huge mainmast remained relatively intact for many years but, lying at an angle of 60° it finally succumbed to the ravages of time and deterioration and is now bent over near the base with the top resting along the seabed. An number of cargo booms have fallen in much the same way.
Immediately behind No 3 Hold is the magnificent raised central bridge deck. Along the uppermost starboard side, three heavy lifeboat davits just break the surface. Below these are the starboard promenade deck, various open skylights above the main galley and engine room and the lower port promenade deck at 28-30m. The ship's funnel has also fallen over and points down towards the seabed. Immediately below the funnel is a single lifeboat on the seabed.
The central bridge deck holds the greatest opportunity for exploration. Some of the guided tours led by Steve were nothing short of outstanding and provided the diver with the greatest levels of excitement. On one occasion we approached the rear of the bridge deck and swam through the upper doorway, along a passageway - where we passed one of the massive spare propeller blades shackled to the bulkhead, turned left and then right before entering the second galley. Here we found two large Pizza ovens and a machine for kneading dough! A short distance further along until we came to the restaurant. What used to be a series of wooden tables and chairs - all bolted to the floor, was now reduced to uniform piles of rotten wood dotted around the room. On our second dive we entered the main galley through those open skylights.
Our next tour commenced through the lower doorway at the rear of the bridge deck. Once again we swam along a short passageway and passed a second spare propeller blade, before turning right and swimming upwards along another narrow passageway into the Machine Shop. Lathes, drills workbenches and much more besides were all here and there was much we must have missed as we pressed on. At the end of the machine room we entered the enormous shaft which stretches all the way down from the engine room below to the top of the bridge deck above. Below that open shaft was an amazing sight.
A standard triple-expansion steam engine comprises three cylinders of different sizes - large, medium and small, in which the compressed steam is collected at three ever-increasing pressure levels before being used as power. Variations of this type of engine might include one with 4 cylinders - where there are two of the larger low pressure cylinders, or even 6 cylinders where there are 2 of each. On top of that, the bigger the ship, the bigger the engine and the bigger the cylinders. Inside the Umbria those cylinders are not only BIG, there are two separate engines (one for each propeller) each comprising 6 cylinders - i.e. 12 altogether.
All the metal ladders hang at the wrong angle - but they are all still in place. Deep exploration is, therefore, quite possible for those with the requisite experience. Heading down beyond the two rows of cylinders we found a variety of gauges and something that looked remarkably like the engine room telegraph. Out of film in both cameras, I was extremely satisfied with that particular dive - only to discover there was yet another level where the ship's huge generators lie almost undiscovered. In almost 30 years of diving, I had never seen an engine room like this before and any trip to The Sudan was worth the price just for this single experience.
Above the bridge deck the diver will find a variety of fittings, winches, vents and, of course handrails and lifeboat davits on both sides. The bridge itself is a well lit with easy access from both sides. Of course, the Wheel, Telegraphs and Compass Binnacle are all long gone. The afterdeck is very similar to the foredeck except that there are only two open hatches. Here we found open boxes of ammunition with the occasional single round plainly visible. To the left is a wall created by solidified sacks of cement and elsewhere yet more bombs of a different size to those found in No 3 Hold. One again, both mast and cargo booms have fallen over and rest on the seabed.
The poop deck is probably the most beautiful part of the whole ship. The teak decking has, of course, rotted away but only to reveal a most interesting and complex system of steering gear. As with the rest of the ship's exterior, this entire area is covered in hard and soft corals with many which are brightly coloured. An incredible assortment of fishes have claimed this wreck as their own with Turtle, Manta and even the occasional Shark cruising along it's length.
Finally we arrive right at the stern where we find the ship's massive rudder and starboard propeller lying on the seabed at a little over 18m. The port propeller is also there - but that is buried. A combination of the ship's attitude and the uneven seabed have combined to provide the diver with the most incredible and very exciting swim-through. Swimming underneath the rudder the diver is able proceed below the ship and then drop down through one of the many gullies in order to exit below the ship's keel some distance on.
In short, this shipwreck is able to satisfy every level of experience and every different demand from snorkelling to scuba diving - except for deep diving. In my view, the modern scuba diver should seriously consider doing it NOW - or forever wish they had.
The Umbria is a "BIG" ship, an exciting shipwreck and, in my opinion, easily one of the world's top ten shipwrecks for scuba divers. Personally, I would seriously suggest that if you do want to see this wreck, you should consider an early visit where possible. How often have we all heard divers telling tales of what Egypt was like 12-15 years ago - before the Thistlegorm was discovered, before the Million Hope was even sunk and before the hordes arrived. It would have been nice to have seen Egypt then - but I didn't. In a few years from now, however, I will be able to say I saw Sudan before....

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