Discovery of the Dunraven
by Ned (Mr. Wreck) Middleton
Curiously, the Dunraven is not marked on any of the Admiralty charts for the area, so her discovery was never one of "lets 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 1970s, Howard Rosenstein formed Red Sea Divers and chose Naama 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 to 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 Howards 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 ships 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 Lawrences 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 Lawrences 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, the game was over.
For considerably more information on the Dunraven, including technical dive data, visit our Virtual Diving Center's resource on the Dunraven.