The Moma

elqaher-170

There can be no more an evocative dive than a tour of a British  war ship-especially  when it has seen action. In many cases this kind of shipwreck is often off limits to divers. The ensuing conflict usually creates casualties, often fatal, and the wrecks receive war grave status. The vision of armament  and the evidence of damage is  a strong  reminder of a conflict which took place many years ago-a violent struggle which ended in defeat and often death.

Egyptian waters are littered with British warships, mainly from the second  world war, Barham, Coventry, Calcutta, Defender, Heythrop and Zulu are just a few, and these vessels rest along the Mediterranean coast. The Egyptian Red Sea is the resting place of two British warships (and one American lend lease )-but neither are a result of the Second World War. The Thistlegorm has often been wrongly labeled a warship, even HMS-she was a defensively armed merchant ship-her guns could only train (I resist the term fire) her guns in the aft quadrant

In the southern waters of Egypt, a classic world war two destroyer, still boasting her WW2 armament sleeps quietly in rarely dived waters. PETER COLLINGS takes us on a guided tour of this  maritime museum, a window into our naval warfare past..

In 1955 the Royal Navy decommissioned several of its “Z”(ZAMBESI) class destroyers. These were fast (35knot) vessels, sleek and manoeuvrable and designed primarily as sub chasers. While many of the vessels were scrapped 4 were sold on-Two to Egypt-HMS MYNGS (to become the AL QAHER), H.M.S.ZENITH (to become the   AL FATHA ) and two to ISRAEL, HMS ZEALOUS and HMS ZODIAC( to be renamed ELATH and YAFFA respectively) .

On October 21st 1967 during the Six Day War the ELATH, was 14 miles off Port Said, when she was sunk with  4 “ Styx” miles from the Egyptian-Komar class  missile carrying gun ship ASSUIT.47 of her crew died with many of the 151 survivors injured. She had been zig- zagging in the bay of Romani-in and out of territorial waters, taunting Egyptian radar- A month earlier she had sunk two Egyptian gun boats. She was the first vessel to be sunk by  surface to ship missiles. The wreck has been located in 21mtrs of water14 miles north east of Port Said. Although Israeli she, was in fact a sister ship of the Al Qaher!

In MAY 1970 a wing of  French built Dassault Mirage fighters, in direct retaliation for the sinking of the Eilath, attacked the Al Quaher while it was  at anchor. Bristling with anti aircraft guns and a new firing tracking  system, the crew of the Al Qaher held off several attacks despite being hit by sidewinder missiles and countless rounds from the planes in wing cannons. Effective against WW2 enemy aircraft,these a/a guns were no match for more modern rocket/ missile warfare.  With a range of 800 miles the aircraft could sustain a prolonged attack over the target. With a still decimated  Egyptian air force the Israelis carried on the relentless attack un-hindered from the air .Fires spread throughout the vessel and internal explosions raked the ship. Her bridge, mast and several gun emplacements were blown clear of the ship. Eventually the 300 ft destroyer settled by the stern, her entire superstructure ablaze.

As she sank she swung round on her anchor and grounded on a coral shelf ripping her bow plates open-her draught  was only 3 mtrs. Thus leaving her fore- section and devastated superstructure above water.

Engine room

 

 

THE RUSSIAN WRECK

The Moma (Project 861) was and is a costal survey ship. They are also used as buoy tenders. The converted Moma (Project 861M) is an Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) gathering ship converted from Moma class survey ship/buoy tenders. These ships carry SSV (Communications Vessel) numbers on the bow

Specification

Russian Designation:  SSV (Communications Ship)

Builder:  Stocznia Polnocna,     Gdansk (Poland)

Role: ELINT

Year adopted: 1967

Number in Class: 28 ships total (production from 1968 – 1974)

Operational Status: Russia:  Still in active service

Displacement: 1,580 tons full load

Length: 73.3 meters. Draught: 3.8 meters.Beam:10.8 meters

Crew: 41 – 120 Officers and Sailors (depending on the mission)

Engine: 2 x Zgoda/sulzer 6TD48 diesel engines delivering 3,600 hp

Max Speed: 17 Knots    Range:  8,700 Nautical miles at 11 knots

Sensor Suite: 2 x Don-2 navigational radars

Sonar: Bronza arrays

Electronic Warfare: Intercept and DF arrays

 

THE WRECK TODAY

The wreck lies upright in 24 mtrs in the western bay of Zabagad Island. Her bow and small hold have broken off and lie over to port, full of the obligatory glassfish. There is no evidence of any cargo. She is otherwise intact, with a stern superstructure and engine room.  Access to her bridge, complete with instruments, engine room and galley along with companionway swim-throughs is easy and exciting.

Her instrument panel and helm are located in the bridge behind which is a navigation room and stairs down into the accommodation and galley areas. Evidence of beds, tool boxes and every day items are scattered throughout the interior. Large diameter corrugated hoses lie in her stern and her single forward  hold. All her deck fittings are visible, and intact including the empty lifeboat davits, stern winch, cable drums for the towed arrays and “toadstool” ventilator tops. Her  central comms  mast almost breaks the surface. Compass posts sit at each side of the flying bridge.  Access to the engine room and her accommodation area can be gained from doors situated on the rear deck. The rear section of the ship can also be explored from the large holes in her hull. It is possible with care to enter the engine room this way and then exit via the rear doorways or her skylights. In front of the wheelhouse is a control room for what appears to be piping and valves for liquid fuel. The lack of depth (max 24 mtrs) means the wreck is usually bathed in strong sunlight, the clearer water being the upper levels as the sandy bed often becomes cloudy if a swell is present. The stern sitting bolt upright is an impressive sight and is very photogenic.

The bow section lies over to starboard,   the bow itself hard into the reef, and the central raised walkway having broken of from the main section by the deckhouse. Near the winch is an upright structure possibly a crane of some kind and access to the hold is open or though one of two service hatches on the deck or for the less adventurous through a he gash in her starboard side. From the walkway a  forward comms mast runs out almost horizontal and is home to many small reef fishes and soft corals.

THE ENIGMA

It is clear form all of the evidence that this vessel was used as an “intelligence gatherer”, but what was she doing tucked away in a bay in a quite corner of Egypt near the Sudanese border? Some time between 1974 and 1985 –the cold war period

Had she simply put in for repairs and the ensueing explosion sunk her? If so why had all the watertight doors been cut at the hinges, preventing them from being refitted

Why the HT a cables and fuel pipes running ashore?

The Russians were operating out of the Dallak Islands (Eritria) during the cold war. She may be one such vessel. They also had strong connections with the Egyptians and there are several Russian built Egyptian shipwrecks from the Arab conflicts. However there is nothing on the ship to suggest she was an Egyptian vessel or indeed have an Egyptian crew.

Was she watching shipping for both Russia and Egypt?

Perhaps the clouded past of the cold war will keep her full story a secret.

One final enigma is this sign-the only one found in English

”NATURAL VENT OF SOLUTION PREPARETION ROOM?

if the story of this wreck has captured you imagination send for our FREE E BOOK NOW…………

TRAWLER WRECK

The sandy Island of Mikalawa or Saranaka as it is sometimes known lies to the south of Ras Banas and is and ideal  overnight stop over. It also provides us with a sheltered deep dive close to shore. The island also has an interesting selection of birds.

When first dived a few years ago this small wreck of a fishing trawler was perched in 30 mtrs, now she is slowly sliding down the slope into deeper water, with her bow now in 55 mtrs. Little is known about the wreck, local information tells that she had engine trouble, put into the lagoon for repairs, struck the reef and sank. although it is clear that an aborted salvage operation took place. She lies very close to the reef, down a steep slope with her stern in 30 mtrs. Nets festoon the prop and rudder, and the keel has now dug into the seabed with the bow her deepest point.. The bow is quite dramatic and the clear water allows for a great view of the trawler towering above. Although the wheelhouse is starting to collapse, it is possible to explore the engine room and her holds, as well as companionways and accommodation areas.  The wood is now beginning to deteriorate and holes are appearing in the decking and superstructure. The deck fittings are still in place and a resident family of batfish patrol the vessels gantries. By taking advantage of the wrecks attitude, divers can enjoy a deep dive with a slow ascent up the slope to the reef.Most if not all of the captains I work with have fishing backgrounds and the name ABU SAIMMA has been offered but so far is unconfirmed

The reef base starts at 15 mtrs and offers an ideal off gas after exploring the wreck. Sometimes called the Saranaka wreck

The reef base starts at 15 mtrs and offers an ideal off gas after exploring the wreck. Sometimes called the Saranaka wreck

SS TURBO

 

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