GREECE

One rarely gets the op­por­tu­nity to dive a rel­a­tively un­known wreck, es­pe­cially in the Mediter­ranean. UDO AND ROSE KE­FRIG were for­tu­nate to be among the first dive teams to visit the Zakyn­thos

Sport Diver - - Contents - Photographs by UDO KE­FRIG / TEAM OCEANPICS.DE

Rose and Udo Ke­frig jump at the chance to dive the rel­a­tively un­known wreck of the Zakyn­thos.

Thurs­day 28 De­cem­ber 1989, 3.30pm - the har­bour of Kyllini. A high, south-east­erly wind bat­tered the coast­line, and large waves pushed against the har­bour wall. The sea looked grey and men­ac­ing. Black storm clouds under which a grey sheet of rain was fall­ing were ob­struct­ing the view over the tiny har­bour. Under rapidly chang­ing light­ning con­di­tions, the first trucks rolled into the park­ing bay - the tanker trucks on a mis­sion to sup­ply the is­lands with fuel - and wait to board the ferry back to Zakyn­thos. Fi­nally, Sab­bas Xeno­fos, the Cap­tain of the MV Zakyn­thos, gave the or­der to open the huge tail door. It was a daily rou­tine for him and his team, and soon the trucks were on­board, com­plete with 250,000 litres of fuel.

At 4.15pm, the ferry left punc­tu­ally. The wind had fresh­ened to 50kph. While the crew was busy with their rou­tine, the lorry driv­ers headed to the cafe­te­ria - due to the amount of fuel car­ried, there were no other pas­sen­gers or tourists on board. Out­side the storm was rag­ing and rain was bat­ter­ing the ferry. Within a few min­utes, the wind had gath­ered speed and en­ergy.

By 4.45pm, the white-capped waves keep rolling in, tak­ing the men on a roller­coaster ride. A sud­den, north-east­erly gust of wind tossed the Zakyn­thos like a ball and sud­denly ev­ery­thing seemed to turn. In the hold, the lor­ries started to shift on the oil-slicked floor. Full of fright, the driv­ers headed out­side, cling­ing to the port­side rail­ing. The list of the ship was pre­vent­ing them mov­ing for­ward, so the Cap­tain tried to head to­ward main­land Kafkalithra.

By 5.05pm, the Cap­tain no­ticed that dam­age had been done to the hy­draulic rud­der, and that the manual rud­der was not re­spond­ing any­more. Im­me­di­ately he placed a dis­tress call. With the help of his sec­ond ofi­cer Spiro Gi­ak­oumelou, they man­aged to hold course to­ward land. Mean­while, the May­day call had reached the Di­los, hur­ry­ing from Kyllini. Under the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the Wa­ter Pro­tec­tion Com­man­dant Jan­nis Gi-

“The first 15m we saw noth­ing, only blue wa­ter, then sud­denly, at 28m, a dark shape loomed out of the deep”

ot­giakos, the Protheus on the is­land of Zakyn­thos left the har­bour. Back on the ferry, the driv­ers and crew no­ticed a strong smell of petrol - the lor­ries had started to lose huge amounts of their dan­ger­ous load. Out of fear that a spark may ig­nite and cause a fire, a crewmem­ber rushed to the bridge to in­form the cap­tain. He stopped the en­gine.

At 5.15pm, the or­der to aban­don ship was given, but un­for­tu­nately, due to the badly list­ing ship, the lifeboats were ren­dered use­less. Fear, panic and des­per­a­tion were spread­ing. One lorry driver tried to leap into the sea, others used ropes to scram­ble into the dinghies.

Be­tween 5.40pm and 6pm, a series of loud boom­ing sounds came from within the ship’s belly, fol­lowed by three ex­plo­sions. The force blew the door off, and the cargo area be­gan to flood. Cap­tain Xeno­fos and his first ma­chin­ist Psavro­ma­tis Dion­i­sis con­tin­ued to send their co-or­di­nates with a walkie-talkie, jump­ing into the icy wa­ter as the ship sank be­neath them.

Around 7pm, rain, heavy swell and high wind speeds of over 70mph forced the Protheus to turn around, but the Di­los re­fused to give up and main­tained course to the scene of the ac­ci­dent and last-given lo­ca­tion. Strong, gleam­ing light beams searched the dark night and roar­ing sea and fi­nally, the light caught the rafts. Not a minute too soon, the ex­hausted crew and lorry driv­ers were re­cued, but trag­i­cally the cap­tain, the ma­chin­ist and the lorry driver who jumped over the rail­ing were miss­ing.

At 8pm, flares shot into the pitch-black sky and eerily lit up the area. The churning waves turned min­utes into hours. Fi­nally, good news for fam­ily and col­leagues - the cap­tain and ma­chin­ist had been found safe. Sadly, it was too late for the driver; his body was found the next day, with fa­tal in­juries sus­tained in the des­per­ate jump.

26 years later…

Off the coast of Kyllini, the wreck of the ferry Zakyn­thos lies for­got­ten on the seabed. How­ever, the Nero-sport Dive Cen­tre (www.nero-sport.de), man­aged by Den­nis and Peter Mohr, wouldn’t let go of the idea to dive the 87-me­tre-long, 1,600-tonne wreck. Af­ter care­ful plan­ning, re­search and to ob­tain per­mits, they fi­nally headed out to search for the ferry, but to no avail. Af­ter yet an­other fruit­less search, a ran­dom chat with an old fish­er­man pointed them in the right di­rec­tion - it tran­spired that all

“As we ven­tured fur­ther into the belly of the stricken ferry, we could see how the ex­plo­sion had torn a huge hole into the mid­sec­tion of the ferry, through which a diver can eas­ily reach the out­side again”

given co-or­di­nates had been wrong!

On 24 July 2015, we re­ceived a call in our Ger­man of­fice from Peter in Greece. “Hey you, shut­ter­bug, fancy com­ing down to Zakyn­thos? I found this wreck, are you in­ter­ested?” You don’t pose this ques­tion to un­der­wa­ter pho­tog­ra­pher Udo Ke­frig twice. Two hours later, the flights were booked, the ever-ready packed suit­cases were hoisted into the car and we sped off to the air­port. That same even­ing the trailer was packed at the Nero-sport Dive Cen­tre and fi­nal prepa­ra­tions were made.

Zakyn­thos Har­bour on 25 July was busy, but even­tu­ally the hun­dreds of tourists and long lines of cars and lor­ries were safely on­board. All of a sud­den the wind started blow­ing, the sky dark­ened and rain­drops fell – it was like 1989 all over again. Was this a bad omen? Thank­fully, the rest of the trip turned out to be calm and the rain turned to driz­zle.

From the har­bour of Kyllini, we were sup­posed to head to the wreck. We had al­ways looked long­ingly at the beau­ti­ful yachts lay­ing in the har­bour, won­der­ing who they may be be­long to, but the small rub­ber dinghy Peter was sit­ting in did not quite fit our de­scrip­tion of com­fort! There was no time for any doubts, as Peter hur­ried us along, say­ing the har­bour po­lice had is­sued a warn­ing of bad weather. Fif­teen min­utes later we headed out to sea as the first fish­ing boats turned back to the safety of the har­bour. Over the slap­ping waves I watched as Udo fished his bounc­ing equip­ment to safety as we con­tin­ued to head to­ward the wreck. It wasn’t long be­fore Peter throt­tled back the en­gines and gave the or­der to get ready. Af­ter the fi­nal buddy check and safety in­struc­tions, we made an ele­gant back­ward roll into the wa­ter.

We dived down into the crys­tal-clear wa­ter of the Mediter­ranean. The first 15m we saw noth­ing, only blue wa­ter, then sud­denly, at 28m, a dark shape loomed out of the deep. As dis­cussed, we headed to­ward the stern of the ship. She now lies on her star­board side rest­ing on a sandy seabed. The tail­gate is torn off and lays along­side the ship. Cau­tiously we glided for­ward. For divers who do not suf­fer from claus­tro­pho­bia and pos­sess good buoy­ancy con­trol, the in­side of the ferry of­fers a fas­ci­nat­ing view of the lor­ries. The trucks have pushed to­gether and lie on their sides. A few of them have been twisted into bizarre forms of rusted me­tal. Care­ful not to stir up the sed­i­ment, I took a closer look. The win­dows are smashed; there are tins and mat­tresses strewn around. It is a thrill to dive through this wreck. Nat­u­ral day­light falls through the port­holes, leav­ing the in­side frozen in an eerie light.

Udo was busy try­ing to take as many pho­tos as pos­si­ble, the flash from his cam­era dis­turb­ing small fish. As we ven­tured fur­ther into the belly of the stricken ferry, we could see how the ex­plo­sion had torn a huge hole into the mid­sec­tion of the ferry, through which a diver can eas­ily reach the out­side again. The bright lights of our dive bud­dies shone to­ward us; they were sur­fac­ing. Fur­ther high­lights were the pro­pel­lers, chimneys, the rud­ders and lifeboats. The wreck is over­grown with al­gae and sponges. It was fan­tas­tic how ‘vir­gin’ it felt. Slowly we sur­faced. The wind had stopped, and the sea was as smooth as glass. Peter was right! It was an in­cred­i­ble feel­ing to dive an al­most-un­ex­plored wreck. And for all wreck fans this will be made much eas­ier. In fu­ture, the com­fort­able, 12-me­tre-long mo­tor cata­ma­ran Cat-cat will take divers to the site. For us, this can only mean ‘We will be back!’ Soon, very soon…

Rose and Udo (right) pre­par­ing to de­part

The huge rud­ders and props

Rose takes a closer look at one of the props

Safety stop at the end end of an­other dive

Al­gae cov­ers this seat on the deck

The prop blades are im­mense

A truck in­side the ferry

Ex­plor­ing along the deck level

Ma­rine growth cov­ers the wreck­age

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