Sha'ab Abu Nuhas
“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” Jacques Yves Cousteau
The reef of Abu Nuhas, meaning ‘Father of Copper’ in Arabic, was named by the local fisherman who used to find many copper parts in their nets: they belonged to the Carnatic and to other vessals wrecked in this area.
The reef is situated in the middle of the Strait of Gubal directly north of Shadwan Island which is about 3 miles away. This is a fairly sensitive position with its proximity to the major shipping lanes of the Gulf of Suez.
Numerous ships were wrecked on this half-submerged reef that previously had no lighthouse, four of which are still visible today and in good condition: they transformed the coral reef of Abu Nuhas into one of the most appreciated sites amongst scuba divers in the Red Sea. All wrecks lie on the northern side of the reef exposed to prevailing winds and waves, and extending from west to east.
The oldest one is the wreck of the Carnatic that goes back to 1869, the youngest of the still visible wrecks is the Ghiannis D., shipwrecked in 1983. The remaining two wrecks are, respectively, the Kimon M. and the Marcus.
The Olden, transporting lentils, sank in 1987 and has vanished, probably resting in deep waters still to be found. On the southern side of the reef, in front of a shallow lagoon that has no access, there is the only fixed mooring offering sufficient protection for boats.
Further to the south, between Abu Nuhas and Shadwan, there are three small reefs called Yellowfish Reefs due to the presense of numerous yellow fish: butterflyfish, grunts and goatfish that come up from a sandy seabed at a depth of 15 meters. They can be an object of an alternative dive when weather conditions do not allow wreck diving. The wrecks should be explored when there is a calm sea and preferably by zodiac.
The wreck of the Carnatic is situated immediately to the east of the Ghiannis D. and lies almost parallel to the Greek cargo vessel.
The Carnatic was an elegant british vessal, built in 1862 by the London shipyard Samuda Bros, she measured 89.9 meters long and 11.6 meters wide with a tonnage of 1,776 and belonged to the first generation of those ‘steamers’ with mixed propulsion, i.e. sail and steam.
The engine was fuelled by a boiler in the center of the hull, with a 4-cylinder engine that supplied the vessal with a power of 2,422 HP. TheCarnatic, operated by P&O (Peninsular and Orient), serviced the Suez-Bombay route and sometimes went as far as China.
Weighing anchor in Suez on the 12th September 1869 on her way to Bombay, the Carnatic ran aground on the reef of Abu Nuhas in the night of the 12th-13th September despite good weather conditions: the inquiry of the Board of Trade in London revealed that a strong current caused the ship to deviate from her route.
Apart from 34 passengers and 176 crew members on board, the Carnatic was transporting cotton bales, the mail destined for British troops in India, and a cargo of the finest bottles of wine and soda water, still visible until a few years ago.
One of the holds also contained 40,000 sterling in gold that was retrieved at the beginning of November 1869: but the legend lives on that some of the bullion still remains inside the hold … Despite the impact, Captain Philip Buton Jones did not deem the situation to be dangerous for the passengers and crew, so all stayed on board waiting for assistance from another P&O liner called Sumatra that was operating the same route.
Unfortunately, on the 14th September the water level inside the hull rose suddenly and the situation became worse in the following hours as the wind rose and the waves grew. At 11am, the captain gave the order to abandon ship but the Carnaticsuddenly snapped into two sections, taking with her 31 lives. Parts of the hull were left on the reef for a couple of months until after a strong storm it glided to the seabed at a depth of 27 meters and shattered into a third section.
The Greek cargo ship Ghiannis D. that had set sail from the Croatian harbour of Rijeka bound for Jeddah in Saudi Arabia and Hodeida in Yemen, carrying a cargo of timber crashed against the north-western corner of the reef of Abu Nuhas on the 19th April 1983 as the captain of the ship was probably distracted for a moment.
The Ghiannis D.did not sink immediately and all her crew members were rescued as the Egyptian shipSanta Fe intervened, yet there was nothing they could do to safeguard her hull.
TheGhiannis D. had been built and launched in 1969 in japan under the name of ‘Shoyo Maru’, measured 99.5 meters long, 16 meters wide, with a capacity of 2,932 registered tons and a draught of 6.35 meters. The vessal was driven by a 6-cylinder engine producing 3,000 HP that gave the ship a speed of 12 knots.
In 1975 the ship was sold and renamed ‘Markos’, then in 1980 the Greek company Dumarc Shipping and Trading Corporation bought her and renamed her the ‘Ghiannis D.’. The new owner added the big ‘D’ – the initial of its name – on the funnel which is still visible today. This is why earlier many had mistakenly thought the name of the ship was ‘Dana’.
The so called ‘wreck of lentils’ is situated around 250 meters to the east of the ‘wreck of the tiles’, at the north-eastern point of Abu Nuhas.
Its name is based on the cargo of the ship wrecked here, comprising 4,500 tonnes of these pulses.
The wreck was falsely identified as the ‘Seastar’ or the ‘Olden’, but is in reality theKimon M., a cargo ship coming from Suez, which was stranded on the reef in 1978. The vessal was built in Germany in 1952 at the Stuicken & Sohn shipyards and was originally named ‘Brunsbuttel’ and then ‘Ciudad de Cucuta’, followed by ‘Angela’.
It was 106.4 meters long and 6.8 meters wide with a tonnage of 3,714 and equipped with an 8-cylinder diesel engine. At the time of the shipwreck, the vessel – renamed Kimon M. – belonged to the Greek-Panama company Janissios Shipping.
The Kimon M. had left the Turkish harbour of Iskandarun where she had loaded her cargo of lentils bound for Bombay. She hit the north-eastern point of the reef at Abu Nuhas on the 12th December 1978 whilst navigating at full speed. The crew were rescued thanks to the intervention of the vessel Interasia cruising nearby.
For a long time the bow of the Kimon M. was visible on the reef and was a precious warning signal for vessels passing by.
The remainder of the hull sank slowly down the plateau and now rests on its starboard side with the stern on the sandy bottom at a depth of 32 meters.
The third wreck of Abu Nuhas – also known as ‘wreck of the tiles’ – is situated to the east of the Carnatic, separated by a small reef ridge.
What is the true identity of this ship? According to general opinion we deal with the Chrisoula K. The Chrisoula K. was built in the harbour of Lubecca in 1954 with a tonnage of 3,720, a length of 98 meters, a width of 14.8 meters and a 9-cylinder engine supplying 2,700 HP.
The ship was launched with the name ‘Dora Oldendorf’, renamed ‘Anna B’ in 1970, and then given the name ‘Chrisoula K.’ when the GreekClarion Marine Company bought her in 1979. The vessel was on her way to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia with her cargo of 3,700 tonnes of Italian tiles.
She ran aground on the north-eastern side of Abu Nuhas on 31st August 1981 whilst navigating at maximum speed and during a time when the captain had handed command to one of his officers and withdrawn to his cabin.
A picture taken shortly after the shipwreck shows the bow of the Chrisoula K. smashed by the violent impact and stranded on the reef. An examination of the ‘wreck of the tiles’ reveals however, that the bow is still intact and the anchor chain comes out of the starboard hawse hole, whereas on the photo showing the bow of the Chrisoula K. the anchor chain is on the port side. Additionally, the serial number of the engine corresponds to that of the cargo ship Marcus that was shipwrecked some years earlier than the Chrisoula K.
In May 1978, ‘Marcus’ came from Suez and was on her way to Saudi Arabia with a cargo of tiles produced in Italy, just like the Chrisoula K., when she had some problems with her rudder during a storm and ran aground on the reef of Abu Nuhas.
The violence of the impact caused the torsion of the quarterdeck now resting on the right side with the propellor at a depth of 27 meters, whereas the rest of the ship, intact, lies on the sandy seabed with the bow just below the surface at a depth of 4 meters.
Buoyed by water, he can fly in any direction-up, down, sideways-by merely flipping his hand. Under water, man becomes an archangel.
Jacques Yves Cousteau Oceanographer