Recently returned from a diving cruise in Sudan aboard the NO STRESS, the desire is too strong to make you immediately discover the extraordinary wreck of the Umbria which sank not far from Port Sudan sixteen months before the famous Thistlegorm and that the political situation of the country has helped to preserve.
It is not often that a ship sinks absolutely intact, without explosion or breach, with its full cargo. More than seventy years after the sinking, the damage is still moderate and mainly limited to the central castle. The masts gave way, hitting the bottom with the loading cranes and the chimney, now lying across. The walls of the castle are not intact, but overall we still have a good idea of this section of the wreck, with the four pairs of rowboat davits on either side, and the large cylindrical hole from which emerged the fireplace.
We propose you to explore this gigantic wreck in the company of Steven SURINA who knows it like the back of his hand since he is diving director in Sudanese waters four months a year aboard the NO STRESS.
History of BAHIA BLANCA become UMBRIA
The ship was built by the shipyards Rieherst Schiffswerks in Hamburg and was launched under the name of Bahia Blanca December 30, 1911. Displacing 10.076 gross tons, it was a mixed vessel capable of carrying 2.000 passengers accommodated in two classes and 9.000 tons of cargo. Powered by five boilers that fed two triple expansion reciprocating machines for a total of 4300 horsepower at a top speed of 12 knots, the length of the Bahia Bianca was 153 m for 18 wide and a draft of 10.8 m. In 1912, it entered service on the Hamburg-Americas line. He made several crossings on several routes between Europe and Argentina until the beginning of the First World War, then the ship became the property of the Argentine government.
In 1935, it was bought by the Italian government which disarmed it, renamed it Umbria and re-equipped it as a troop transporter. It made sixteen rotations to the Italian colonies in East Africa for two years and transported thousands of soldiers, before being finally sold to the company. Lloyd Triestino in 1937. The Umbria was then used
between Italy and the various ports of the Mediterranean basin.
For his last trip, the captain Lorenzo Muiesan personally led the loading of military supplies into the ports of Genoa, Livorno and Naples. The cargo was impressive: 360.000 bombs, equivalent to 6000 tons, 60 detonator boxes, cement bags, miscellaneous construction materials and other goods for a total of 8.600 tons. After a final refueling in Messina, the boat took the route for Massawa and Aden, the two ports of the Red Sea for which the bulk of the cargo was destined, before continuing on to Calcutta, the final destination of the voyage.
On June 3, 1940, 1000 tons of coal and 130 tons of water were still loaded on board. Twenty-three sailors embarked the next day ... and the crossing of the Suez Canal was exasperatingly slow ...
Although entry into the war was imminent, Italy was still neutral. On June 9, HMS Grimsby forced the Umbria to drop anchor in the shelter of Wingate Reef. The New Zealand cruiser HMS Leander then arrived in Port Sudan. Lieutenant Stevens and twenty-two men boarded the ship and checked all night. The fateful date of June 10, 1940 arrived. The first hours passed without any significant events. We were only killing time. The Captain then gave the order to wash the deck of the Umbria soiled with coal. Back in his cabin, he listened to the radio channel “Radio-Addis-Abeba”: At 19 pm, war was going to be declared and hostilities would begin at midnight! Muiesan was stunned. The only man on board to know the truth, he ordered all secret documents to be burnt to his order and summoned the first officers Zarli and Costa as well as the person in charge of the machines, ordering them to scuttle the ship. However Muiesan had to find a ploy to spare his men. He asked Stevens for permission to conduct a rescue drill which was granted to him. Using a sledgehammer, two saboteurs broke the two cast iron plates blocking the seawater intakes, as well as the auxiliary plate and the watertight door of the propeller shaft holder compartment, creating pathways. water about 50 cm in diameter.
Umbria wreck: Geographical situation
There you have it, that was the story of Umbria… We will present diving in Sudan to you in more detail in a future Mag, but we cannot help saying to you right now: “Go for it! Go for it ! Go ahead! ”, It's an exceptional experience.