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Egypt Red Sea Shipwrecks - The Agia Varvara


The Agia Varvara 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
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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 6m (at Bows)
Maximum Depth to Seabed: 22m (at stern)
Average Visibility: 20-25m


The Ship

Built by Ch & At Aug-Normand of France, the Agia Varvara was launched as the "Nina" in 1950. Officially described as a General Cargo Vessel, she was later called Athenia and then Petros before being finally re-named Agia Varvara in 1974. A relatively small ship for one with 3 cargo holds, she displaced 985 grt and had a 5 Cylinder Oil-fired engine capable of producing 750 bhp and a top speed of 10 Knots. She was 73.2m x 9.33m - with a draught of 4m.

The Agia Varvara was owned and operated by the Gestar Shipping Company of Famagusta, Cyprus at the time of her loss.

Agia Varvara wreckage

The Loss of the Agia Varvara

On 27 June 1976, the Agia Varvara sailed in ballast from the Jordanian port of Aqaba destined for Port Said. The ship was only 90 miles further south when, in the early hours of the following morning, she drove hard onto the inshore Reef near Nabq - a few miles north of Sharm El Sheikh. The crew were subsequently rescued by the Israeli Navy.

Getting the right Name!

The word "Agia" is pronounced with a silent "g" and this has led to several wrongly spelled versions of the name. One of the leading authorities on shipwrecks includes details of this vessels loss under the misnomer "Ayia Varvara." Even Lloyds List of 29 June 1976, describes the vessel as the "Aghia Barbara!"

Agia Varvara wreckage

Diving the Agia Varvara

We departed from Naama Bay heading in a northerly direction and it was not long before we were passing close to the four Reefs which mark the centre of the narrow interface between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba. Here the rule of the road is keep right with "up" traffic taking the eastern route between the reefs and Tiran Island and "down" traffic keeping to the west. Jackson Reef is the most northerly of the four reefs and Gordon Reef the most southerly. Ominously, they are both marked by the prominent shipwrecks "Lara" and "Loullia" respectively - a clear warning for all vessels entering and leaving the Gulf of Aqaba to exercise extreme care.

From some distance away we could see the superstructure of the Million Hope - one of the largest ships ever to have been lost in the Red Sea and one which acts as a marker for the Agia Varvara. In no time at all we were passing alongside this massive ship - the keel of which rests on the seabed 20m below. Two hundred metres further on we saw some remnants of wreckage on the reef top. These were once the Bows of the Agia Varvara and almost immediately we could see the rest of this vessel underwater. It was time to get wet.

Agia Varvara wreckage

A combination of a relatively shallow attitude and an exposed position mean that after 25 years the vessel is now rather broken up - although there are some very large sections for those who enjoy exploring the "big" bits. The stern is found resting on the seabed at 20m and pointing up the reef. All the portholes are still in place and the very bent propeller is still attached. The rudder, however, is not and is found a short distance away. Above the stern, the diver is able to investigate inside the lower part of the bridge castle which allows access down to the engine room. Curiously, a large portion of the engines lie exposed on the reef at 6-8m.

A few metres to the north is another large section of superstructure. This is the upper part of the bridge castle which has become entirely separated and now rests on the seabed at 20m. Trapped underneath is the ships funnel - on its side of which is an open access door. The Coral Reef towers over the wreckage here large pieces of steel plating and iron cross-members are also found - and yet more a short distance even further to the north.

The focsle and bows appear to have remained on the surface of the reef and, over a period of 25 years, have been reduced to a few remnants of scrap metal and the occasional bollard.

Agia Varvara wreckage

Postscript

It must be said that the Agia Varvara is not one of Egypts greatest shipwrecks. Had she been wrecked elsewhere, I am sure that would have been very different. Of course, she is where she is, and being largely overlooked she provides a refreshing alternative to those shipwrecks which have been systematically looted by those who think only of themselves. It was interesting to discover that Paolo Guiotto (an excellent Dive Guide by any standards) was not the only local Dive Guide who had never dived this wreck before.

The Agia Varvara is, nevertheless, a very interesting dive. When viewed alongside the Dunraven, Million Hope and Zingara, she is one of only four diveable wrecks within easy reach of Sharm El Sheikh and could, therefore, play a more important role for those divers wishing to experience something new in this corner of the Egyptian Red Sea.

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Last Updated: May 29th, 2011

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