Red Sea - The Blue Bell

The Blue Belt
Sudan 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 Advanced
Location: 37 17' 54" N, 20 13' 19"E. Shab Saudi Reef.
Access: Diving Boat out of Port Sudan.
Minimum Depth to Wreck 21m ( to upturned Bows)
Maximum Depth to Seabed: 83m (At Stern)
Average Visibility: 25-30m
The Ship Often wrongly described as the Blue Bell, this Saudi Arabian general cargo vessel was built by Howaldts-werke A. G. of Hamburg and launched in 1950. She displaced 2,399 gross registered tonnes and her dimensions were 103.82m x 14.3m with a draught of 9m.. The Blue Belt was owned and operated by Ahmed Mohamed Baaboud and Ahmed Mohamed Baghlaf at the time of her loss. The Loss of the Blue Belt The Blue Belt sailed from Jeddah for Port Sudan on December 1st 1977 with a cargo of 181 cars, 6 trucks and various trailers and spares. The following day the vessel struck Shab Suadi Reef which is 50 miles north of Port Sudan. All the Crew were safely rescued. For three days frantic efforts were made to refloat the ship and these included lightening her load by jettisoning a number of vehicles overboard. All to no avail, however, and on 5 December she slipped off the Reef and sank. Why this ship came to be lost where she was is not known. It was, however, winter and the weather had been very poor. A serious error of navigation in poor visibility is, therefore, the most likely cause although some people have seen fit to speculate that the vessel was attempting to smuggle vehicles ashore illegally. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of the area, however, would know that no ship of 2,399 grt could possibly hope to pass safely over or through Shab Suadi Reef for such a purpose - and the one thing that all Smugglers have in common is an intimate knowledge of that part of the coastline in which they operate. Diving the Blue Belt The Blue Belt came to rest upside down pointing up a steep slope. The Bows of the ship are at 21m and the stern at 83m with some scattered cargo - mainly jettisoned vehicles, even deeper. The Bows tend to be the limit of this particular dive for most people. 20-25m allows the diver to inspect the upturned hull, gain a few glimpses of the focsle - from the outside and swim from jettisoned one vehicle to another as they litter the seabed. With upturned hulls being relatively featureless, there are those who will also wish to take a look at the rudder and propeller. Provided they have the necessary training, equipment and experience for such a very deep dive, I am reliably informed that those particular features are still intact. As for the remainder of this ship - i.e. penetration diving, make no mistake, this shipwreck has the potential to be one of the most dangerous wrecks a diver can encounter. This is brought about because of the presence of a number of distinct factors. Firstly, the Blue Belt is upside down and, as with all wrecks with a similar attitude, divers tend to want to get underneath so that they can get inside and start to explore the ships internal features - in spite of all the attendant problems of disorientation that any upturned vessel can present. With the Bows resting on the slope at 21m, the diver will, therefore, have to descend to over 40m before there is sufficient space below the ship to allow entry. Here the diver is already within the realms of very deep diving and will be confronted by the crushed and broken superstructure and a cargo of vehicles that are no longer uniformly stacked in the holds but are lying on top of each other. Their combined weight and the forces of natural gravity dictates that they will fall down just as soon as something weakens. That coupled with the ever-present process of natural deterioration - especially after more than 23 years underwater, would suggest that this is one internal exploration that should be left well alone. In short, it may be easier to get inside this particular shipwreck than it is to get out! Please be warned. Postscript A most incredible shipwreck with an equally fascinating cargo. Had she landed "right way up" the Blue Belt and her cargo might easily have been a rival to the Thistlegorm. But, she did not and one must accept the limitations and the dangers imposed by her condition and attitude underwater. As for smuggling, in the absence of any proof that such activities were taking place it really is most unkind to make such comments - especially as the owners of the vessel are well respected local businessmen who, perhaps, are wholly unaware of such allegations.