Words & photos by Paul Vinten
Back in August of 2004, the Red Sea Association for Diving & Watersports managed a project to remove and re-sink the wreck of the Hebat Allah which had been sitting on the reef outside Hurghada for a number of years.
The idea was to create a new artificial wreck reef at depths suitable to all levels of divers to both alleviate the pressure which is steadily increasing around the sites of Hurghada and also to provide a new attraction to both marine life and divers alike. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances the wreck was sunk at a location other to that which had been surveyed and planned, and as a result it ended up at a depth which is unsuitable for normal recreational dive limits.
HOWEVER, what has been created is a new attraction to visiting technical divers which will hopefully increase the number of visiting ‘tekkies’, and the wreck also provides a perfect training site for any number of technical courses which are on offer at a growing number of the Hurghada dive centres.
The Hebat Allah is a 51m long, 300 ton freighter now lying at a maximum depth of 46 metres, and with the top of the masts reaching up to a minimum depth on the wreck of 27 metres It offers a superb new dive site to those with the correct qualifications or under training.
Penetration through the superstructure is possible with the intact nature of the wreck providing a very safe environment, also helped by the fact that the interior was laid out with line and exit arrows prior to it’s sinking. It provides a great exploration dive, and a good opportunity to practice those advanced wreck skills & drills.
Doorways are present at the rear of the stern superstructure and also in the front of the bridge at the mid level of the aft hold. Once inside, all the levels can be accessed via stairways inside, so eliminating the need to make multiple entries and exits.
A single door in the forecastle at the bow gives divers another point of easy penetration.
A fine layer of algae has covered the wreck both inside and out, and diver’s bubbles rapidly dislodge rust from the ceiling inside, therefore care must be taken with the fin kicks and buoyancy to minimise the reduction in visibility which will inevitably occur inside the wreck.
One part of the project did go exactly according to plan – that of providing a new artificial home to the numerous varieties of Red Sea marine life, much of which is endemic to the region. Already, large hard corals have taken up residence on some of the railings of the wreck, while encrusting corals are slowly covering other parts of the wreck. Coral grouper can be found lurking around inside the superstructure and under the bow, lionfish are sitting on the deck and masts and big shoals of fusiliers are often hanging around either the bow mast or along side the stern section. A giant moray has also taken up residence in the top of the funnel! In less than a year it has changed from a lump of metal into a very dynamic marine ecosystem which will continue to grow and develop.
Due to its relatively shallow depths (in technical diving terms!), it is possible to take a very leisurely tour of the wreck and really appreciate the ability of nature to adapt and prosper in almost any environment.
It is now the responsibility of visiting technical divers to maintain and protect this site in order to allow the life to prosper and give us what will certainly become one of the best sites in the daily diving region of Hurghada. Due to the comparatively low number of deeper divers in the area, no damage should result from the infrequent visits to the site, and a true survey of ecosystem development can be undertaken and witnessed by all those lucky enough to dive this site.
In order to dive the wreck safely, a shot line has been fixed to the stern of the wreck to which one boat at a time may tie on to and more permanent moorings are being planned for the future. In addition to this, diver descent lines on a thinner rope have been placed at both the stern and bow of the wreck giving divers an option for a safe ascent reference should they be unable to return to the anchor line. A decompression trapeze is an added comfort to divers which should be provided by the boat as they come back up due to the current which is usually present near the surface in this open location.
The RSDASS has worked hard to provide this new attraction to Hurghada, and it is now up to the local dive centres and divers to act responsibly in order to maintain strict safety standards for the divers, and also to protect a brand new ecosystem which will flourish in the years to come.