S.S Turkia

  • S.S Turkia
  • The TURKIA has the potential for being the new Thistlegorm. A very similar vessel to the Thistlegorm, she was also sunk by the explosion and was also carrying war materials. The wreck is diveable all year round and attracts an amazing amount of marine life. Currently well out of the range of most safari boats, she is, without doubt, one of the very best wrecks found in sport diving depths in Egyptian waters.
  • The Ship
  • Built-in Hull (England) in 1909 as the LIVORNO (2), she was a schooner-rigged steam cargo ship of 1671 tonnes gross, 300ft long and a 42 ft beam. Clinker built by Earles Shipbuilding and Engineering Co. (yard no. 562), she was fitted with a reciprocating, triple-expansion steam engine and able to make 9.5 knots. She has 4 bulkheads and a cruiser stern, single shaft and propeller. She was built for Thomas Wilson Sons & Co, again of Hull.
  • Upon completion in 1910, she was deployed in a variety of trades, serving between Hull, London and the Adriatic in her first year. In 1911 between Hull, Constantinople, Novorossick and Odessa and between St Petersburg and Cronstadt. In 1916 she was employed in the Hull–Trieste run. On the eve of the start of WW1, she was engaged in the Manchester-Liverpool to St Petersburg, Revel/Riga trade, making 6 voyages in all. After the war, she was involved in a variety of routes carrying perishable fruits and bulk cargos such as coal.
  • Constructed: 1909-1910 (Hull, England)
  • Wrecked: 1941
  • Length of ship: 91m (300ft)
  • Wreck location: near Zafarana Lighthouse, Gulf of Suez, Egypt.
  • Depth range of wreck: 10m to 24m
  • Right image: The Turkia wreck is located a long way up the Gulf of Suez, well out of range of most Red Sea safari boats from Sharm El Sheikh or Hurghada.
  • Final Voyage
  • The Turkia’s final voyage began in New York in May 1941, where she was loaded with a full cargo of ‘government stores’ – she was bound for Piraeus (Greece). The cargo included explosives, tyres, coils of wire, ingots, vehicles and firearms.
  • There are two conflicting reports of her sinking:
  • i) “Bombed off Zafarana Light 2 miles S.E. May 14th 1941″…”Destroyed by fire and explosion near Zafarana Light Gulf of Suez, after being abandoned by her crew when on passage from New York to Piraeus with general cargo and explosives.”
  • ii) “17/May/1941 she had a fire in no. 3 hold where explosives were stored (she was carrying explosives and general cargo) and the fire was beyond control so the vessel was abandoned. 10 minutes later there was a large explosion and the vessel sank in 12 fathoms. Nothing was being done to salvage as no competent salvage service was available at Port Said.” Source: Anne Crowe, Lloyds.
  • This would explain why she is not in Lloyds War Losses records as it sounds like an accident rather than enemy action. Indeed the hull would appear to be intact and she looks as if she has settled slowly and upright.
  • Due to the Straits of Gibraltar being closed off by enemy forces, her journey entailed entering the Red Sea at its southern end. She entered the Gulf of Suez and was proceeding north when, just off the lighthouse at Zafarana, a fire broke out in number 3 hold and due to the nature of her cargo she was abandoned. 10 minutes later she was rocked by an explosion and settled upright in 12 fathoms. Due to the lack of facilities at Suez no salvage was attempted. Due to the nature of her sinking, she does not appear as a casualty of war, merely a wartime loss.
  • The Discovery
  • November 2006: I travelled to the area to seek local knowledge in order to establish a more precise location of the wreck. A fisherman claimed to know her position. I decided to enlist the help of me and put together a road trip from Sharm. At Zafrana the only means of putting to sea available was a disused glass-bottom boat, lying on the beach at the Zafarana Hotel. A 10-minute journey took us to the target area, and with the shallow seabed of sand (24 metres depth) the shadow of the wreck was eventually located, rising up to within 10 metres of the surface.”

The Wreck Today

  • The wreck sits upright on the sand in 24 metres depth, with the bow facing towards the shore. The hull is intact, although some areas have holes appearing in the upper sections. Both masts have been cut below the water line and lay off to the side of the wreck. The surrounding seabed is littered with debris from the wreck and is patrolled by Jacks and Travellers.
  • The bow sits proud, bathed in sunlight and is straightly raked – the same vintage as the Rosalie Moller. Clouds of Fairley basslets swarm over the fo’c’lse head with its access hatches, hawse pipes, Panama eye, triple cleats and windlass. Three deck houses sit at the aft section of the fo’c’sle, and there are coils of wire and vehicle tyres littered around. Mussels encrust most of the raised structures.
  • Entry into the fo’c’sle head can also be accessed from the main deck and leads to the sea mans quarters – where bed frames can still be found.
  • Holds 1 and 2 have two ‘tween decks with large numbers of tyres on the upper shelves. The deeper section of the holds contain wooden crates, some containing hundreds of brass detonator caps. There are also hundreds of heavy rubber bases, their purpose as yet not known. Winches flank the holds, and in the second hold there are several vehicles, heavily encrusted, but appear to be cabs with extended chassis, possibly tank transporters.
  • The superstructure has external companionways, all the wood has long since gone, the rooms are easily entered. The saloon sits below the chat room, with a corridor running port to starboard. Flanking the engine house, running aft on the starboard side is the 1st mate’s room, bathroom, 2nd & 3rd mates accommodation, chief engineers quarters and finally the cooks quarters.
  • On the port side are the stewards quarters followed by the pantry, galley, and 2nd & 3rd engineers quarters. All are easy to enter and explore. The accommodation areas are littered with crockery and bottles; various inscriptions help to confirm her last port of call; “FLORIDA WATER, MURRAY & LANMAN, DRUGISTS, NEW YORK” and
  • The engine room, located amidships, is easy to access through several openings. The skylights above allow natural light to filter down into the interior. Experienced divers can descend two flights of stairs, passed the triple expansion steam cylinder heads. In the deepest part of the engine room (24m) are the repeater telegraphs and gauges, their dials obscured by years of concretion. Silt is slowly building up covering the floor in a layer over a foot thick. A platform of grating walkways forms a gallery around the cylinder head, with an auxiliary boiler aft. The gallery around the engine room offers some great photographic subjects bathed in strong natural light-here the depth is only 12 meters, and there is very little silt.
  • Behind the engine house, there is access to the no. 3 cargo hold, again with 2 ‘tween decks with more of her general cargo in view. Number 4 hold is totally full of mortar shells, which have totally concreted into the hold, still in their cases, the outlines of which can still be made out. Behind this hold is a narrow hold giving access to the stern storerooms, and steering house. The steering quadrant is located on the poop deck and nearby a coral-encrusted compass binnacle stands proud.
  • The cruiser/ fan-tailed stern leads down to her rudder and prop – shrouded with a fishing net at the time of writing – the prop blades are covered with soft corals.
  • The wreck is covered in a unique ecosystem of soft fan corals, nudibranchs and schooling reef fishes. Large schools of juvenile yellow-tailed barracuda swarm over the wreck, cascading in an endless waterfall over the sides of the ship, down to the sea bed and back over the deck, often blotting out the sunlight.