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Egypt Red Sea Shipwrecks - The Dunraven


 

The Dunraven By Ned Middleton Note: Ned Middleton is a professional Underwater Photo-Journalist who has published a number of articles in recent years about Red Sea Wrecks. Please send corrections to Ned Middleton here.
Day Boat Safari Boat Shore Dive Snorkelling Diving Grade
Yes Yes No No All
Location: 27 42' 22" N, 34 07' 02"E. South of Beacon Rock light on Shaab Mahmud
Access: Day or Safari boat normally from Sharm El Sheikh, occasionally from Hurghada
Minimum Depth to Wreck 17m (upturned Bows)
Maximum Depth to Seabed: 32m (at Stern)
Average Visibility: 25-30m

Who was First?


Curiously, the Dunraven is not marked on any of the Admiralty charts for the area, so her discovery was never one of "let's go and check this out!" One published account of the Dunraven states that, in 1977, a German Geologist came across the wreck whilst undertaking survey work for an oil company and, although he passed on what little information he had collected to the owner of a local Diving facility, his co-ordinates were so vague that the vessel remained unexplored for at least another 2 years. Another account, however, states that the Geologist in question was an Israeli - but that man turned out to be a local diver who never found the wreck. Yet another version suggests that this whole "geologist" story was deliberately created to lessen the achievement of those who claimed to have discovered the wreck.

What is fact, is that in the early 1970's, Howard Rosenstein formed Red Sea Divers and chose Na'ama Bay on the Sinai Peninsular for his base. In 1977 he decided on a course of action that would attract visitors away from more popular destinations towards his corner of the Red Sea. His plan was embellish history by deliberately inventing fictional connections with "Lawrence of Arabia" and his fabled treasure ships. Howard had been influenced by the newly released movie "The Deep" in which the wreck of the Rhone in the British Virgin Islands is featured. Having started on this course of action - all he needed now was a suitable shipwreck.

Later that same year, he began to investigate some information given to him by local Bedouin fishermen - after all, their directions were very easy to follow; "There is a place out in the Gulf in the direction of the setting sun, far from land and at least 3 cigarettes from Ras Mohammed. Here there is a reef which comes out from the sea to break the surface at low tide. Go the end of this reef coming from the south east." In Howard's own words; "We broke out the charts and tried to sort this out - and from the various hints and markings, we just guessed at the final spot. Jumping into the water right on top of it (the wreck) was just a matter of luck. I had a group of American divers led by Carl Roessler of Sea and Sea fame as witnesses. I took a risk and it paid off."

The shipwreck they had discovered was the Dunraven and whilst two more years would pass before she was correctly identified, she was of a type of ship that entirely suited his purposes, thus allowing him to elaborate on his Lawrence of Arabia connection. Which was just great - because the next development came from the BBC who wanted to make a programme about the wreck. Naturally, whilst working on various theories about the ship's true identity, Howard deliberately stepped up his campaign about the connection with the legendary Lawrence of Arabia. It seems that "El Lawrence" used a number of different vessels to move valuable treasures from Suez to Aqaba in order to finance the Arab rebellion against the Turks. These ships were, apparently, the Dufferin, Harding, M-31 and Suva - some of which were of a very similar design to the Dunraven. It was not long, therefore, before rumours began to circulate about the possibility of Divers having found one of Lawrence's lost treasure ships!

Now, almost 25 years later, Howard Rosenstein is happy to admit that he deliberately planted this notion of a connection with history - adding that, whilst he was unaware of the true identity of his shipwreck, he also knew that each of Lawrence's ships were accounted for and that there had never been any "lost treasure." His inventiveness, however, was a vital tool in getting the required recognition for his corner of the Red Sea - and, not only did it work, but the rest, as they say, is history.

Eventually, of course, everyone became aware that all the treasure ships in question had been accounted for and any connection with Lawrence came to an end. Even so, one fanciful rumour was quickly replaced by another when it was suggested that the vessel might be a mysterious "Q" ship that had been sent to the Middle East during WW1 on a secret mission - during which the vessel is alleged to have disappeared! More great fiction and doubtless enjoyed as the story ran.

It was not until November 1979, however, that the name "Dunraven" was found engraved on some fine porcelain and, whilst this initially led researchers in several directions as they tried to determine precisely which Dunraven it was, it was not long before the ship was finally - and correctly, identified. Further confirmation was also obtained when Howard and his divers cleaned off the lettering on the stern of the vessel using a pneumatic wire brush. This operation can be seen in the resultant BBC film "Mystery of the Red Sea Wreck" which was screened in late 1979 as part of the series "The World About Us" BBC researchers also later confirmed the name.

And as if this discovery was not enough in terms of a drama being played out on the seabed, all this was going on at the same time as the Camp David Peace Process. Having, therefore, invented a false but nevertheless intriguing connection with one era of Arabian history, suddenly the shipwreck actually became a small part of the regions modern history. This came about when the U.S. Ambassador to Israel - Samuel Lewis, returned from the Camp David talks and decided to participate in the film. It was in this way that Howard Rosenstein was told - on film!, of the decision to return the Sinai Peninsular to Egypt . Just as Howard was to achieve the ultimate success and international media coverage for his great discovery, he was being told he was about to lose his life's dreams and achievements.

The Ship

Built by Mitchell & Company of Newcastle, the Dunraven was officially described as an "Iron Screw Steamer - Planked" and launched in December 1873. She was one of those relatively new breed of vessel - capable of being powered by either sail or steam. A relatively large boat for her day, she displaced 1,613 GRT and had a coal fired two cylinder compound inverted engine - also built in Newcastle, by Messrs Humphrys and Tennant. Capable of producing 140 nhp, the Dunraven had a top speed of 8 knots (unladen). She was 79.6m long, 9.8m wide and had a draught of 7.3m. The Dunraven was owned and operated by W. Milburn of London and, after successful sea trials, was used on the Bombay run.

The Loss of the Dunraven

In January 1876, 27 year old Captain Edward Richards Care supervised the loading of his ship in Liverpool. It was a general cargo which included timber and steel for India's fledgling heavy industrial ambitions. The trip out to Bombay was without incident and by the end of March they were loading the Dunraven for the return leg. Eventually, the Dunraven left Bombay on 6th April 1876 loaded with what was later described as a "valuable general cargo bound for Liverpool." The ship had a compliment of 25.

She made good time across the Indian Ocean. After a brief stop at Aden for coal, she continued on and up through the Red Sea. On the 24th April, the ship's log records "weather fine and clear, wind light, water smooth, no sail set, vessel proceeding at full speed of 6½ knots." At 1am the next morning the Second Mate saw high land right ahead and took this to be Shadwan Island. Fifty minutes later he then saw a light which he took to be Ashrafi Light - up in the Straits of Gobal, the Master was on the Bridge throughout this time and did not question either the sightings or their identification. The Second Mate described the light as a "bright fixed light" although he later changed this. Curiously, although the Master also saw the light, the man at the wheel did not.

At 2.15am, the Master went below leaving orders to be called in one hour but at 2.40am the light was lost to view - as though it had simply gone out. Once again the later evidence of the Second Mate becomes confusing as he gives his evidence to the Enquiry. Firstly, he stated that he called the Master as soon as he lost sight of the light but later changed this to having called the Master sometime between 3.30 and 3.40 am - thus admitting he had failed to follow orders.

When Captain Care did arrive on deck, however, land was plain to see some 6 or 7 miles off the starboard side - in a northerly direction. It was now 3.40am and he immediately altered course 2 points to starboard and curiously, therefore, closer to that land. Ten minutes later the look-out saw a large dark object in the water which he thought to be a buoy and called this out to the Bridge - but got no reply. At same instant, however, the Second Mate also saw the object but, thinking it was a boat, only casually reported this to the Master. Care immediately ordered the engines be stopped but before this could happen the Dunraven struck hard and the rocks immediately penetrated the fore compartment.

The steam pumps were immediately set to work and a fruitless attempt was made to heave her off by means of a kedge anchor. By 7am, the water reached the engine room and put out the fires. By midday the starboard side of the upper deck was under water and the Master and crew took to the lifeboats. They remained with their doomed vessel and at 4pm an Arab Dhow came alongside and took the shipwrecked mariners on board. It was only at this time that the Master of the Dunraven was made aware if his actual position - off the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsular.

At 5 pm, the Dunraven slipped off the reef and sank in 15 fathoms (27m) of water. For three days the Dhow lay at anchor over the Dunraven until Captain Care and his crew were transferred to the passing Italian steamer "Arabia" which conveyed them to Suez. The Peninsular and Orient steamer "Malwa" later transported them all back to England.

The resultant Board of Trade Enquiry heard conflicting evidence from both Captain Care and the Second Mate with the Master attributing the loss of his vessel to a combination of the Ashrafi Light going out and a stronger current than normal - setting his vessel towards the reef.

Nevertheless, the ship's log - always taken as an accurate record of events and in which all seemingly minor occurrences (bearings, sightings etc) are all recorded as a matter of routine, made no mention of these factors even though it had been written up some 14 days after the sinking - when considerable thought would have been given to what was to be included.

In giving his judgement, Stipendiary Magistrate J. A Yorke stated that "the facts proved that the Master had made no real efforts to ascertain by observation or otherwise the real position of the Dunraven after midday on 24th April and before striking at 3.50am on the 25th. The neglect of this most necessary precaution seems to have mainly caused the loss in question. Furthermore, it seems plain from careful examination of the chart produced that the land seen by the Second Mate could not have been Shadwan Island nor could the light have been from Ashrafi as asserted. In all probability it was merely the light of a passing vessel."

Consequently, the Court found the loss of the Dunraven was caused by the default and negligence of the Captain and subsequently revoked his Master's certificate for a period of 12 months with immediate effect - though allowing him a First Mate's ticket during the time of suspension.

Na'ama Bay

I was visiting Sharm El Sheikh as a guest of Scubaway and accommodated in the Sonesta Club close to Na'ama Bay. My diving had been placed in the very capable hands of Paolo Guiotto of TGI Sinai. I meet an awful lot of Dive Guides and, just occasionally one sticks out from the crowd. During a period of 3 weeks of fairly intensive diving, I watched Paolo in action in a variety of situations and I have to say that I have come to regard him as one of the very best in the business... On top of that he is also one of the most experienced in this corner of the world - where he has averaged 700 dives per year for the past 7 years.

I took an instant liking to Na'ama Bay - it has a holiday atmosphere that allows tourists from all the different hotels, to mingle. There is a pedestrian main street lined with open-air Bars, Cafes and Restaurants in addition to all the usual, shops, which cater for just about everything the visitors needs. Nearby is a long beach of golden sand with a public promenade. Here are even more open-air restaurants, with menus to suit every taste - Chinese, Japanese, Italian, British, Greek and, of course Egyptian.

At one restaurant a classical guitarist entertained the diners while, elsewhere it was a Spanish Dancer or perhaps something very similar to a "Whirling Dervish" creating his own kaleidoscope of colour as he made viewers dizzy with an incredible routine. For days when there is no diving or, for the Diver who has a non-diving family to think about, Na'ama Bay certainly has a great deal to offer.

Diving the Dunraven The Dunraven is almost completely upside down. She lies with her port side resting along an adjacent reef - with a slight "list" towards that reef. At a depth of 17m, the upside down bows are the shallowest part of the dive, with the stern resting on the seabed at 30m.

Upturned stern of the Dunraven

The leading edge of the bows are broken and slightly separated - with the whole structure leaning backwards and resting against the reef. From the port hawse pipe - almost completely hidden between ship and reef, the anchor chain runs down to the seabed and disappears under the ship. From the starboard hawse pipe is a short piece of anchor chain on which there is considerable coral growth. There is sufficient damage to the hull to allow the diver to enter the foc'sle.

From the Bows, it is a swim along the upturned keel to a point approximately amidships where the hull is broken and the remains of the funnel are seen on the seabed nearby. There are also a large pair of resident Red Scorpionfish occupying this "break."

Propellor shaft of the Dunraven

Looking backwards, it is tempting to try and enter the front section - but this is not recommended. At the break, the keel of the fore section is much lower than that of the aft - revealing a state of slow collapse. This break in the Hull is at a point immediately in front of the Engine Room, and just inside the aft section, the ship's two huge boilers support the hull at this point - allowing it to retain its original shape. This is where the best part of the overall dive begins.

Surrounding the boilers are thousands of Glassfish (Vanikoro Sweepers) - a species which always prefer the shade and, on entering the hull, these move lazily aside to allow the diver safe passage. The boilers are side by side and, although they occupy a large amount of space, there is plenty of room for "single file" swimming between boiler and starboard side right through to the stern. On the other side of the boilers, are all the pipes taps and valves and then the engine itself - with large connecting rods and pistons all still in place. Above head height is a large gear wheel and even more valves.

Dunraven's funnel squashed by the upturned hull

From this point, the view towards the stern is quite breath-taking. This is a large, empty space with plenty of natural light provided by rows of portholes illuminating what was the Starboard Quarter. Altogether, allowing considerable scope for available light photography. With the deck having become the ceiling, the propeller shaft runs along that "ceiling." Incredibly after so long underwater, wooden panels still line this part of the steel hull. Sadly, however, all the ship's brass fittings - including the many portholes that once lined both sides of the ship at this point, were removed long ago. Such greed does, of course, lessen the overall effect for those of us who can only follow those who were amongst the first to visit this wreck - and thought only of themselves and their wretched trophy hunting!

Deep inside the engine room of the Dunraven

The exit from the stern is well lit. This is 30m and the deepest part of the Dive. On top of the hull, the rudder and propeller are still in place - although one of the four blades is missing. There is plenty of coral growth on the upturned hull - although not as prolific as one might expect on a vessel that has been underwater for such a length of time.

Swimming back along the starboard side, the diver will find some remains of the aft mast. Most of the structure has, however, now disappeared altogether - leaving little more than a metre of mast pointing to the cross-trees some distance away on the seabed.

Overall, the Dunraven provides the diver with a thoroughly enjoyable series of dives on what is, after all, one of Egypt's most famous shipwrecks.

Postscript (1)

Edward Richards Care was born in St. Ives in 1849 and gained his Master's Certificate (No 88,154) in London in 1872 at the very early age of 23 years. He was immediately assigned Command of the Etna and later the Alveaga before taking over the Dunraven in August 1874. After the loss of the Dunraven, it was not until 1877 that he returned to sea as a Captain - once again in command of the Etna. He then went on to complete a full career as a Master Mariner.

Postscript (2)

After the Sinai withdrawal Howard Rosenstein had to pack up his life's work and move on. Although the Egyptian authorities did actually ask him to stay (and even gave him a contract which he still has to this day), he realised his position would eventually become untenable. Initially, Howard purchased a 26 meter live-aboard dive boat which he named Fantasea 1 and continued work the local waters. Later, this was swapped for the 35 meter Fantasea 2 but, eventually he had no option but to pack it in and sell the business. Fantasea 2 is now working very successfully in Thailand and Bali under the name Pelagian and Howard is now manufacturing diving masks which protect the diver's ears and small underwater cameras.

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