(for very advanced divers) - darkometer rating: 2
to 6 -
The wreck of the “Zenobia” has given us one of the most acclaimed wreck-diving opportunities in the world. It’s usually put in the top 5 of that league table by those in the know. And it’s located not far off the shore from Larnaca, southern Cyprus
, hence fairly easy to reach, and lies at a relatively convenient depth of between 15 and 42m. It’s also regarded as one of the most penetrable wrecks in the world – meaning you can explore the interior (though going right to the bottom is for very advanced divers only). Thus it is a much visited wreck as well. Each year, something like 20,000 divers explore the “Zen”, as she’s affectionately known in scuba-diving circles.
Now, wreck-diving is a dark-tourism activity that is under-represented on this website. That’s simply because I’m not a diver myself. And I doubt I’d be able to learn to scuba-dive this late in life. So, as exciting as it sounds and looks, I will in all likelihood never be able to experience such a thrill myself.
However, I indirectly know somebody who does have lots of experience in this elite dark-tourism subcategory of wreck-diving and that includes the “Zenobia”, which he spent five days exploring on several dives. He’s the author of this fabulous book
, which contains a whole chapter on wreck-diving – and I must say I found that one of the most engrossing chapters of the whole book. In it he does not shy away from elaborating on the hazards
involved in wreck-diving. And indeed there have been many cases of divers perishing on such dives, including, apparently, also at the “Zenobia”. After I’d read in my Cyprus guidebook’s Larnaca chapter that “Zenobia” dives are actually offered routinely by several diving-tour outfits in that harbour city, I contacted the author of the book again and enquired. And I’m grateful that he let me have three photos from his dives with the permission to reproduce them here – see the short gallery below
You can also watch a video about the “Zenobia” with plenty of awesome diving footage here
(external link – opens in a new window – you have to do some fast-forwarding to get to the really good bits).
As for background info, here are just the most basic elements: the “Zenobia” was a Swedish-built roll-on-roll-off cargo ship launched in 1979. With a length of 565 feet (172m) and a beam of 92 feet (28m) she was certainly not small. She arrived in Larnaca in June 1980 en route to Syria, allegedly on her maiden voyage, although that statement (also found on Wikipedia) is contested. Other sources claim it was her second voyage, yet others say that she had done several before that fateful one in June 1980.
Whatever, shortly before arriving at Larnaca on 2 June, the crew already noticed the vessel was listing somewhat. This was later exacerbated by an error in the ballast tank pumping system (so it’s said). On 4 June the “Zenobia” was thus ordered out of the harbour (for fear she might obstruct access to it) and was anchored just a mile or so offshore. The list got progressively worse and on 5 June the crew abandoned ship. She capsized and sank two days later, together with her cargo of about a hundred trucks worth an estimated 200 million USD or more. At least there were no casualties.
There are various theories in circulation that allege that the sinking may not have been an accident. Suggestions range from an “insurance job” to the possible involvement of the Israeli secret service Mossad and/or the British counterpart MI6 (maybe because they suspected military equipment for the PLO on board). I’ll leave those questions open.
The wreck lies on its port side and some of the cargo of trucks have been scattered over the surrounding seabed, while others are still stuck on the ship’s two car decks. The top of the wreck at 15m depth is suitable for novice PADI certificate holders, while exploring the inside, especially the lower decks and the engine room must only be undertaken by highly experienced advanced divers following a stringent safety regime.
I’ve meanwhile read that there is even a chance for non-divers to get at least a glimpse of the wreck, namely on excursions with glass-bottom boats. Had I known about that before my Cyprus
trip in January 2023 maybe I would have adapted my itinerary to include such a boat trip. Although, a mere glimpse from the surface could in no way compensate for a proper dive. It would just have been a case of better than nothing … Maybe one day.
- Zenobia 1 - wreck-diving - photo by HE Sawyer
- Zenobia 2 - toppled cargo - photo by HE Sawyer
- Zenobia 3 - exploring - photo by HE Sawyer