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Egypt Red Sea Shipwrecks - the Million Hope Shipwreck


The Million Hope

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

No

Yes

Yes

All

Location:

28 03' 42" N, 34 26' 40"E. Southern Gulf of Aqaba on east coast of Sinai Peninsular

Access:

Day boat from Sharm El Sheikh

Minimum Depth to Wreck

0m (Superstructure above water level)

Maximum Depth to Seabed:

22m (at stern)

Average Visibility:

20-25m

The Ship

Built in Japan, as a Bulk Carrier with additional facilities for transporting vehicles, the Million Hope was launched as the "Ryusei Maru" in 1972. She was a very large ship - displacing 26,181 grt and measuring 174.6m x 24.8m with a draught of 10m. Her bridge castle is located at the stern behind 5 cargo holds - in between which are four massive cranes towering high above the decks. The ship was powered by two 6 Cylinder diesel engines capable of producing 11,600 bhp and a top speed of 17 knots.

The ship had several names during her lifetime before being purchased by the Aksonas Shipping Co Ltd of Limassol, Cyprus for 136 million in 1996. It was at this time she was finally renamed "Million Hope" and promptly insured for 41 Million. Only six weeks later, she became a constructive total loss.

The Loss of the Million Hope

Loaded with a 26,000 ton cargo of Potash and Phosphates, the Million Hope sailed from Jordan's only port of Aqaba on 19 June 1996 - destination Taiwan. Visibility, however, quickly deteriorated and early on 20 June the vessel struck the inshore Reef near Nabq - on the western shores of the Gulf of Aqaba, approx. 3 miles north of Sharm El Sheikh.

Lloyds List dated 24 June 1996 carried the following item under "Casualty Report:"

"MILLION HOPE "(Cyprus)

Jun 21: Egyptian Maritime Officials said yesterday they were concerned about possible leakage of about 23,000 tons of phosphate and potassium plus 700 tons of fuel from the bulk carrier Million Hope which sank off Egypts Sinai Peninsular, Cairo radio reported. All 25 members of the crew ere rescued by Egyptian naval vessels and other vessels in an operation that lasted more than 20 hours. The vessel, on voyage from Jordan to Taiwan, was ripped open by coral reefs near Egypts Sharm El-Sheikh resort. The vessels mainly Filipino crew huddled in the stern and refused to abandon ship until it became clear the vessel would sink, Cairo radio said. Some of the crew accused the vessels master of failing to follow the areas prescribed navigation routes and of maintaining speed despite poor visibility."

The cargo actually comprised 15,000 tons of Potash and 11,000 tons of phosphate rock and the big concern was that this would slowly dissolve in seawater - producing an algae-like film that would blot out essential sunlight from all adjacent reefs. Major Salvage companies were, therefore, invited to tender for the salvage of this cargo which was separately valued at 1.3 million. This operation was successfully carried out.

The keel of the Million Hope is found at a depth of 20m

Diving the Million Hope

Paolo Guiotto inspects the ship's huge hull

With much of her superstructure still out of the water, the Million Hope can be seen from several miles away. She is basically upright but with a pronounced list to port - i.e. away from the Reef. Her entire starboard side rests against the reef on which she foundered and her keel lies along the seabed at the base of that reef at between 19 - 24m. Her decks are underwater but not the focsle. Apart from fairly superficial damage, the vessel is completely intact - with no evidence of salvage. All the cargo holds are entirely open with no residue of cargo at all.

Following the Bows down to the seabed at 19m, the Diver will find clear evidence of the ship's impact with the reef. Where one would normally expect to find a bulbous nose on a vessel of this size, here is the very opposite - a large dent cutting back into the ship several feet. On the starboard side - which is hidden against the reef, is further evidence of damage with bent and buckled plates stretching some distance back. If you look carefully, there is also some evidence of another ship squashed underneath. This is the Hey Daroma.

The Hey Daroma

Built by Ardrossan Dockyards Ltd, the General Cargo Vessel "Hey Daroma" was launched in August 1940. She displaced 1,736 grt and had a single action 8 Cylinder Oil-fired engine capable of producing 2,500 BHP and a top speed of 14 Knots. She was 83.8m long, 12.5mwide and had a draught of 3.6m. The Hey Daroma was owned and operated by Sefinot Ltd of Eilat at the time of her loss.

On the night of 3rd September 1970, the Hey Daroma sailed from Eilat with a cargo of water and some time later struck this same inshore Reef. All the crew were safely rescued before several attempts were made to refloat the vessel including one where they tried to "push" the wreck off the reef by means of large tractors. Eventually, however, the Hey Daroma was abandoned as a constructive total loss.

Over successive winters and storms the Hey Daroma eventually made her own way back to the sea and for many years was to be found in two halves. Her bows had come to rest on the very edge of the reef top - resting on the port side and facing south. The remainder of the hull was a reported as being upside down at the base of the reef in 18-20m of water - barely a few metres north of the bows.

In 1996, however, it seems that the Million Hope came to rest on top of the hull of the Hey Daroma - leaving no trace of the small vessel - except for her bows which are still found a few metres in front of those of the much, much larger, Million Hope.

Back to the Million Hope

Along the port side of the Million Hope, the diver is able to follows the hull all the way back from bows to stern. This is a long swim and provided an excellent opportunity for me to try out my brand new Scubapro "Twin Jet Fins." As much as I may try and keep myself fit, at the age of 50 my days of winning the Regimental Mile are a very distant memory and I have to say that this new design of fin with the "split" down the middle really did work and proved to be a great energy saver and well worth the additional outlay.

The railings at the stern of the Million Hope

It is fair to say that this part of the dive was somewhat repetitive but we did find evidence of the ship having buckled on impact and, in places, we could see right through the damaged hull and into the empty cargo holds beyond. We also came across the gantry from No 4 Crane which has fallen to the seabed and rests against the hull with it's wire hawsers stretching up to the crane high above.

At the stern, the huge single propeller rests on the seabed at 24m with the ends of each of it's four blades bent hard over - a clear indication that the propeller was still turning when the vessel came into contact with the reef. Another victim of that enormous impact was the massive Rudder - which broke clean away and is missing altogether. Curiously, the absence of that rudder creates a great deal of space below the after-deck and this is now occupied by some very large shoals of various fish which seem to have found adopted this area as their new home. Nearby, we even caught a brief glimpse of a Guitar Fish!

The gantry from No. 3  crane attracts a lot of fish

From here, of course, the only direction to take is "up" and we were soon standing on the after-deck in 4-5m of water. All the usual fittings such as bollards, vents, railings and even ladders leading up out of the water remain intact. Right in the middle, however, is a big deck-winch onto which are coiled large-diameter rope hawsers - it would seem that a ship of this size needed a little more than ordinary manpower when it came to mooring.

Tucked away behind the winch is a large open deck hatch - approx. 2m x 2m which allows easy entrance for internal exploration. Down past the ladder, which was now redundant, we turned left - only to find an empty room with no exits. Retracing our steps, we then headed in the other direction. This revealed a series of rooms - all well lit by rows of brass portholes along the starboard bulkhead. With the sun shining directly onto that side of the ship, each porthole provided a sharp beam of light - like a row of large torches all pointing in the same direction.

Inside the engine room  of the Million Hope

We did not have time for a thorough exploration of every room and we were quickly distracted when we found a route through to the Engine Room. Here, however, there is further evidence of damage. Very few people are expert on such matters and I can only surmise that this may have been caused by the engines turning at full speed at the time of impact between propeller and reef. Nevertheless, the engines are all still there and will take many hours of diving to thoroughly explore. Exit to the surface was well lit and easy to follow.

Back at the surface, I swapped cameras and headed all the way back to the bows at deck level. A very interesting journey which can only be undertaken when sea conditions are calm enough to permit. Generally speaking, we maintained at an average depth of 5-8m as we inspected one deck feature after another - although we did begin with a very thorough inspection of No 5 Hold where we dropped down to the floor at 18m.

Paolo Guiotto inspects the ship's massive propellor

Each hold is wide open and cavernous, containing nothing more than one or two of the heavy metal hatch covers. It is fair to say, having seen one hold you have certainly seen them all, but the cranes are especially fascinating - with each one clearly weighing several hundred tons. All four are identical and comprise an upright crane with enclosed cockpit and a heavy gantry - all fitted with wire hawsers.

Numbered from the bows, the gantry of No 1 Crane has swung around and now faces aft. No 2 is lowered and resting over the ship's port side - at the very end of which is a small colony of Anthias. No 3 is half raised and faces starboard and, as already encountered, No 4 has broken away and fallen to the seabed below where it rests against the ships hull.

Finally, we reached the foc'sle and whilst the approach is a particularly interesting feature, unfortunately, at least as far as diving is concerned, the top of the focsle remains out of the water.


Postscript

At over 26,000 gross registered tonnes, the Million Hope is easily one of the largest shipwrecks any Scuba Diver is ever likely to visit underwater. Had she come to rest in, say, 40-45m, she would undoubtedly have become one of the world's most outstanding shipwrecks. Of course, she did not - but, having carefully inspected and considered her condition and overall attitude, I think the best is yet to come from this shipwreck.

Altogether, this is a very big ship sitting upright - but with a significant list to port. Her entire starboard side is resting against a reef - all the way up to deck level and above those decks are 4 massive cranes sitting in front of an equally massive bridge castle. Collectively, these structures weigh many hundreds of tons and are evenly spaced along the entire length of the ship. Below the surface there are tears in the port side hull - all the way through to the cargo holds.

I do believe, therefore, there will come a time in the not-so-distant future when this vessel will simply fall over onto her port side and become completely enveloped by the sea. Should this happen - and sooner rather than later, the Million Hope will then provide a much better attraction for the visiting Scuba Diver.

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