The bow of Giannis D, huge. (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
The bow of Giannis D, huge. (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)

Four spectacular shipwrecks in the Red Sea

#Egypt

  Egypt: Red Sea - October 2016

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation of an article originally written in French. I apologise for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have resulted. If you read French, click on the French flag below to access the original, correct text: 


This is my latest wonderment as an underwater photographer: sunken ships, in the Red Sea, colonized by coral and fish. Spectacular wreck dives in Egypt!

Diving on wrecks

They are called Thistlegorm, Giannis D, Carnatic, Numidia. These are four imposing wrecks, that I was able to photograph in october 2016 in Egyptian waters, in the Red Sea.

The stern of the immense Giannis D, about twenty meters deep. (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
The stern of the huge Giannis D, at a depth of about 20 meters. (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)

Some are quite old: the sinking of the Carnatic dates back to 1869 and that of Numidia à 1901. The most recent of the four is the Giannis D, a Greek bulk carrier that sank in 1983. The most historical is that of the Thistlegorm...sunk in 1941 by German bombers.

These are not my first wrecks, in my diving life, but they impressed me a lot, because of their size (all of them around a hundred meters) and their beautiful state of conservation.

What level ? These four wrecks in the Red Sea are accessible by recreational diving, from level 2 (N2) or theAdvanced Open Water (AOW)with a minimum of 50 dives experience. It is also ideal to have a certification Nitrox (air enriched with oxygen) to maximize the time spent at the bottom.

How? I discovered these wrecks in diving cruise in october 2016on board theExocet. I really appreciated the organization, the comfort and the atmosphere on this boat. The cruise mixed photographers and snorkelers. These four wrecks are "classics", in the program of most of the diving cruises organized in the Red Sea. Some of them can also be done as day trips, like the Thistlegorm from Hurghada or Sharm el-Sheikh.

Learn more. If you read English, you will find a lot of information about the wrecks of the Red Sea and their history on this site: The Red Sea Wreck Project.

Wrecks are really not like other dives. During the descent, the heart beats a little harder, the eyes widen, the excitement grows. And even if these are well known sites, many dives, already explored, the atmosphere is always shrouded in mystery, when the darker mass of a huge ship lying on the bottom becomes clearer, little by little, in the bluish mist of the water...

The Thistlegorm was bombed in 1941. (Shaab Ali, Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
The Thistlegorm was bombed in 1941. (Shaab Ali, Red Sea, Egypt)
The oldest Carnatic wreck lies at the foot of the Abu Nuhas Reef since 1901. (Red Sea, Egypt)
The wreck of the Carnatic, the oldest one, lies at the foot of the Abu Nuhas reef since 1901 (Red Sea, Egypt)
Here too, we feel very small against the huge Giannis D. (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
We feel very small in front of the huge Giannis D. (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
This part of the hull of the Giannis D is nothing more than a pile of scrap metal. (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
At this point, the hull of the Giannis D is just a pile of scrap metal (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt).

There is beauty and emotion in the spectacle offered by these immense structures abandoned at the bottom of the water, which have become artificial reefs that are appropriated by fish and coral. But even when time has passed, the feeling of being on the scene of a drama is still somewhat present.

"There are wrecks that make you uncomfortable", recognize Jenny and Niko, our guides on theExocet. They are thinking in particular of the Salem Express (where we did not go), which became a controversial diving site. This passenger ship sank in 1991 on a reef off the coast of Safaga, with hundreds of Egyptian pilgrims returning from Mecca on board. There were officially less than 700 passengers and crew on board, unofficially many more. Reports indicate that about 470 people died, but the death toll is likely to be much higher. Many bodies are still believed to be at the bottom of the wreckage, which is considered a shrine.

With regard to the four wrecks that I present below, the wreck of the Carnatic (1869) killed about thirty people and that of the Thistlegorm (1941) nine dead, but those of the Numidia (1901) and the Giannis D (1983) did not cause any casualties.

Thistlegorm

Type of vessel : cargo ship of the British Merchant Marine. Length : 131 m. Construction : 1940, in Sunderland (United Kingdom). Shipwreck: 6 October 1941, off the Sinai near Ras Mohamed. The ship, despite its anti-aircraft gun, was sunk by two German bombers. En route to the Suez Canal and Alexandria, Egypt, the Thistlegorm was transporting military equipment for the British troops in Africa: Bedford trucks, caterpillars, motorcycles, machine guns, ammunition, two locomotives... Depth: 30 m at sand level, 15 m for the highest structures.

The Thistlegorm was a British freighter. He was sunk on his fourth trip while on his way to Alexandria. (Photo: DR)
The Thistlegorm was a British cargo ship. It was sunk on its fourth voyage, while en route to Alexandria (Photo: DR)

Of the four, this is probably my favorite wreck! It was Jacques-Yves Cousteau who first discovered and explored the Thistlegormin the 1950s. It is today the most famous wreck of the Red Sea. You can enter and explore the holds, which are a real underwater museum of the Second World War...

Update - July 2017: Thanks to this wreck, I found myself in the newspaper The Parisian, Who asked me to testify for a summer series! A copy of the page can be seen here → Treasures of the abyss: touched, sunk. The internet version of the article is here → Diving: the wreck of the SS Thistlegorm, ship sunk in the Red Sea in 1941

We made two dives there, but I would have done one or two more, as the wreck is so vast, and there is so much to see, inside and outside... To visit it without getting wet, I invite you to go and see this awesome 3D presentationwhich I found on my return, while researching the Thistlegorm.

Below, some of the pictures I took during these really spectacular dives...

Above the upper deck of the Thistlegorm, photographers are at the party. (Shaab Ali, Red Sea, Egypt)
Above the upper deck of the Thistlegorm, photographers are at the party. (Shaab Ali, Red Sea, Egypt)
The Thistlegorm is a spectacular wreck that fascinates divers. (Shaab Ali, Red Sea, Egypt)
The Thistlegorm fascinates divers. (Thistlegorm, Shaab Ali, Red Sea, Egypt)
The wreck of the Thistlegorm is easily penetrable. (Shaab Ali, Red Sea, Egypt)
The wreck is easily penetrable. (Thistlegorm, Shaab Ali, Red Sea, Egypt)
In the Thistlegorm holds, fish have evolved around sunken motorcycles since 1941. (Shaab Ali, Red Sea, Egypt)
In the Thistlegorm holds, fish have been evolving around sunken motorcycles since 1941. (Shaab Ali, Red Sea, Egypt)
The Thistlegorm was carrying military equipment for British troops in Africa. (Shaab Ali, Red Sea, Egypt)
The Thistlegorm was carrying military equipment for British troops in Africa. (Shaab Ali, Red Sea, Egypt)
Everything remained there, almost intact. The wreck of the Thistlegorm is a real submarine museum of the Second World War ... (Shaab Ali, Red Sea, Egypt)
Everything is still there, almost intact. The wreck is a real underwater museum of the Second World War... (Thistlegorm, Shaab Ali, Red Sea, Egypt)
On the upper deck of the Thistlegorm, a ladder seems to lead to the surface ... (Shaab Ali, Red Sea, Egypt)
On the upper deck of the Thistlegorm, a ladder seems to lead to the surface ... (Shaab Ali, Red Sea, Egypt)
The wreck of the Thistlegorm, huge, has become the refuge of the fish. (Shaab Ali, Red Sea, Egypt)
The wreck of the Thistlegorm, huge, has become a refuge for fish (Shaab Ali, Red Sea, Egypt)

Giannis D

Type of vessel : cargo bulk carrier Greek. Length : 99 m. Construction : 1969, in Imabari, Japan. Launched as Shoyo Maruhe took the one from Markus in 1975, then from Giannis D in 1980 when it was sold to the Greek shipping company Dumarc Shipping & Trading of Piraeus. Shipwreck: April 19, 1983. The ship had left Rijeka in Yugoslavia (in present-day Croatia) and after passing through the Suez Canal was bound for Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, with a load of wood. Depth: 25 to 27 m at the bottom, 5 m at the top of the gantry.

The Giannis D, before and after the sinking ... (Photo and illustrations: DR)
The Giannis D, before and after the shipwreck... (Photo and illustrations: DR)

There are four wrecks on the Abu Nuhas reef (including the CarnaticI will introduce you below). The wreck of the Giannis DThe boat, broken in two (the stern slid along the reef years after the bow), is particularly "photogenic" from the outside, and during my visit, the visibility was excellent. I would have liked, once again, to spend more time there and to make some more dives...

I was thrilled with the exterior, but the interior left a more unpleasant impression. Nothing difficult in the penetration, but everything is tilted at 45 degrees, so that I almost felt dizzy at the limit of nausea, at times, with the desire to get out of it as soon as possible... These tilted corridors are really disturbing for the brain! It is a rather unpleasant feeling, which many divers feel in this wreck. But the places are really extraordinary, with a lot of details to observe, and I focused on the light effects.

The enormous wreck of the Giannis D lies at a depth of twenty meters, inclined at 45 °. (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
The huge wreck of the Giannis D lies at a depth of about 20 meters, inclined at 45° (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
The imposing mass of the Giannis D, against the light, is really impressive. (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
The imposing mass of the Giannis D, against the light, is really impressive (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
In the sand, lie fallen debris from the Giannis D. bridge (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
In the sand lie fallen debris from the bridge. (Giannis D, Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
On the Giannis D. Bridge (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
On the Giannis D. Bridge (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
The Giannis D is perfect for a game of underwater hide-and-seek ... (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
The Giannis D is perfect for a game of underwater hide-and-seek ... (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
The fish are now the masters of the Giannis D.'s gangways, holds and engine rooms (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
The fish are now masters of the passageways, holds and engine rooms. (Giannis D, Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
Oh, there, it leans ... I almost feel nauseated. (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
Oh my, it's leaning... I'm almost nauseous. (Giannis D, Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
A scale of Giannis D, delicately adorned with pink soft corals. (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
A scale delicately adorned with soft pink corals. (Giannis D, Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
This part of the hull of the Giannis D is nothing more than a pile of scrap metal. (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
This part of the Giannis D's hull is now a pile of scrap metal (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
On the Giannis D. Bridge (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
On the Giannis D. Bridge (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
Yellow and red soft corals have settled on the structures of Giannis D. (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
Yellow and red soft corals are attached to the structures. (Giannis D, Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
The security stop is on the upper part of the immense GIannis D. (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
The safety landing is on the upper part of the huge portico (Giannis D, Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
View of the Giannis D wheelhouse from the top of the portico. (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
View of the Giannis D wheelhouse from the top of the portico. (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
The bow of Giannis D, huge. (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
The bow of Giannis D, huge. (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)

Carnatic

Type of vessel : British mixed transport vessel (goods and passengers), both steam and sail. Length : 90 m. Construction : 1862, Cubitt Town, near London. It was armed in 1863 by the company Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation. Shipwreck: September 13, 1869. It left from Suez (the Suez Canal will be inaugurated only the following month), and was heading for Bombay, India, with a cargo of 230 passengers and crew members. It too crashed on the reef... (It is right next to the Giannis D and there are two other wrecks in the vicinity of Abu Nuhas, that is to say if the place is dangerous for navigation). Depth: 27 m at the bottom, 17 m on the highest part.

The Carnatic was used by the British on the route of the Indies for the postal service, the transport of passengers and goods. (Illustrations: public domain & DR)
The Carnatic was used by the British on the route to India for postal service, passenger and freight transport. (Illustrations: public domain & DR)

The wreck of the CarnaticAt first glance, it doesn't impress like the others. However, I found it particularly beautiful and moving. After all, it has been there for almost a century and a half...

The interior, with the blue light filtering through the metallic skeleton of the concretion-covered hull and the thousands of ever-moving glass fish, is magnificent!

The metallic grid of the Carnatic Bridge is a strange underwater checkerboard. (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
The metal grid of the bridge is a strange underwater checkerboard. (Carnatic, Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
The anthias play above the coral that colonized the Carnatic's concrete bridge. (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
The anthias play above the coral that colonized the Carnatic's concrete bridge. (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
Strange shapes seem to emerge from what remains of the Carnatic's hull. (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
Strange shapes seem to emerge from what remains of the hull (Carnatic, Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
In the Carnatic, glass fish are everywhere. (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
Glass fish are everywhere. (Carnatic, Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
Fascinating light games inside the Carnatic. (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
Fascinating play of light inside the Carnatic (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
Profusion of soft corals on this broken part of the Carnatic shell. (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
Profusion of soft corals on this part of the Carnatic hull. (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
I never tire of admiring the shoals of glass fish that are made and disintegrate tirelessly in the bowels of the Carnatic. (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
I never tire of admiring the schools of glass fish that tirelessly make and break in the bowels of the Carnatic (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
The Carnatic is a glass fish building! (Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)
This old ship is a glass fish building! (Carnatic, Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt)

Numidia

Type of vessel : British cargo. Length : 137 m. Construction : 1901, Glasgow, Scotland, for the shipping company Anchor Line. Shipwreck: on the night of July 19-20, 1901, on the reef of Big Brother Island, even though it was marked by a lighthouse, during its maiden voyage between Liverpool and Calcutta, India. It was carrying railway equipment. Depth: 15 m for the debris of the front part closest to the surface and up to 80 m for the stern, inaccessible for recreational diving.

On the left, the only ship identical to Numidia, the Assyria, photographed here around 1905. (Photo: Scottish Maritime Museum) On the right, the wreck of Numidia, which sits almost upright on the sloping reef of Big Brother, at about 80m depth.
On the left, the only ship identical to the Numidia, the Assyria, photographed here around 1905 (Photo: Scottish Maritime Museum). On the right, the wreck of the Numidia, which lies almost vertically on its stern against the sloping reef of Big Brother, to a depth of about 80m.

The interesting part really starts only from 30-40 meters, so we enjoy it less than the other wrecks (for non-divers: the deeper we go, the more air we consume and therefore the faster we empty our tank). The Numidia has a massive, ghostly look, quite impressive. To think that it has been there for more than a century...

I did not take the time to sneak inside with Jenny, our guide, and my partner Françoise, fascinated as I was by the profusion of corals outside! Fairy-like.

But I am still a bit disappointed not to have been able to stay there longer. We chose to go back up along the Big Brother reef, to make the dive last a little longer, hoping to meet, on the way back, some long-legged sharks. Teak divers, equipped to explore deeper into the stern, love the Numidia.

The wreck of Numidia emerges from the blue, like a mysterious ghost ship. (Big Brother, Red Sea, Egypt)
The wreck of the Numidia emerges from the blue, like a mysterious ghost ship (Big Brother, Red Sea, Egypt)
Only the high structures of Numidia, at about thirty meters deep, are accessible in recreational diving. (Big Brother, Red Sea, Egypt)
Only the high structures of Numidia, at about thirty meters deep, are accessible in recreational diving. (Big Brother, Red Sea, Egypt)
The Numidia, like the other wrecks, has become a gigantic reef conducive to coral life. (Big Brother, Red Sea, Egypt)
The Numidia, like the other wrecks, has become a gigantic reef conducive to coral life. (Big Brother, Red Sea, Egypt)
Corals settled on the upper deck. Numidia (Big Brother, Red Sea, Egypt)
Corals proliferate on the upper deck. (Numidia, Big Brother, Red Sea, Egypt)
The light of the flash reveals the colors of which the Numidia has adorned itself. (Big Brother, Red Sea, Egypt)
The light of the flash reveals the colors with which the Numidia was adorned. (Big Brother, Red Sea, Egypt)
This Numidia chimney is covered with orange-colored corals. (Big Brother, Red Sea, Egypt)
The exterior of the Numidia is sumptuous (Big Brother, Red Sea, Egypt)
The wreck of Numidia stands against the reef. (Big Brother, Red Sea, Egypt)
The wreck stands against the light on the reef (Numidia, Big Brother, Red Sea, Egypt)

These famous wrecks of the Red Sea were all new to me, as I am more used to drag my fins in the waters of the Indo-Pacific area. And there are many others, which we passed by, and where we did not dive...

The often excellent visibility of the Red Sea adds to the pleasure of the discovery and of the underwater photography: you can really look at the wrecks, try to reproduce their atmosphere. I keep a wonderful memory of these four wrecks!

Other wrecks, in Indonesia and in Brittany... The wreck of the Liberty in Bali (Indonesia) remains one of my favorite wrecks, on which I always have great pleasure to dive, year after year. Recently, in 2015, I also dived on the wreckage of a small plane shot down during the Pacific War, in Raja Ampat (Indonesia) and, a long time ago, in 2003, I even dived on l'Amoco Cadizin Brittany. And I also had the opportunity to explore many other wrecks, small and large, more or less spectacular, during my travels, in Thailand, Malaysia, the Maldives...

  Egypt: Red Sea - October 2016

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  1. Wow, your article is taking me "back" two years... 🙂
    Thistlegorm was a revelation for me, first wreck of all my life, my level 2 just got ...
    Wonderful. And your photos are superb!

    Have you been back to Egypt recently to dive? I have the impression that it's more and more complicated to get there by plane (but it's getting back to normal little by little, isn't it?)

    Voyageusement,
    Marie / The Old Sole

    1. @ Marie / The Old Sole: Yes, the Thistlegorm is really an exceptional wreck... I can imagine the strong impression it made on you at the time.
      I was in Egypt for this cruise, as I said in the article, in October 2016. Nothing complicated to get there, "just" book a plane ticket... 😉 Nothing special to report about the trip, just very serious and thorough security checks at Cairo airport, between the international and domestic flight.
      Tourism in Egypt has obviously suffered a lot. The "good" side of things is that there is no rush on the diving sites, even the most famous ones like the Thistlegorm...

  2. The pictures are beautiful! It feels like another world!... And the rusty vehicles are impressive! The schools of fish swirling around you are magical... 😉 Thank you Corinne!

    1. Yohan : thank you! Yes, under the surface it really is "another world"... 🙂

  3. Hi Corinne 😉
    Great article! Now that you have tasted the Exocet, beware you can't do without it!
    I had the opportunity to visit many wrecks in the Red Sea... The Thistlegorm several times, always exceptional, full of history... And to think that before the revolution it was the 2nd most dived wreck in the world! a real Jacuzzi... I think I never had more than 4 boats on the surface, happiness.
    I have a crush on the Ghiannis D... always full of life... And the interior is quite destabilizing. Once I saw bubbles going down... the surface seemed to be at 45° outside... in short, I didn't know where I was anymore !

    1. @Anthony: thank you!!! Yes, the Exocet is really top notch. I decided to go on this cruise at the last minute, when I saw a FB post from Phil Simha saying that there was one place left and reminding me that my friends Audrey and Rémy from Blue Addiction were on board...

      For me, diver mostly in Asia, the wrecks of the Red Sea are a novelty, a discovery... I am conquered. Especially since there is no rush, because of the low tourism, on the sites. In any case, I would do all these wrecks again with pleasure. Reassured to see that I am not the only one to feel strange sensations inside the Giannis D... 😉 Really "disorienting", yes...

  4. Hi Corinne,
    Nice memories for me (Thistelgorm and Numidia)
    Also the Liberty in Bali, but still in love with Raja Ampat and Indonesia in general!
    Kisses to you
    Christian

    1. @Christian: Nice discoveries for me, these wrecks. It was only my 2nd time in the Red Sea... But like you, I am absolutely crazy about Indonesia and Raja Ampat (I will probably go back in a few months)... Kisses
      🙂

  5. Hello Corinne,
    I've been following your blog for a few years now, and wanted to leave you this little note, because I'm finally going to discover the beautiful wrecks (among others) of the Red Sea this summer, and I'm going to dive back into your magnificent photos.
    Thanks for sharing and good diving.
    Gilles

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