On 7th June 1980. MS Zenobia, 178 meter long ship started it decent to the bottom of Mediterranean sea
Now it lays on the bottom on 42 meters, around 1.5 kilometers off shore from Larnaca, Cyprus. Zenobia is consistently ranked as one of the top 10 recreational dive sites worldwide by various portals and magazines. It was build by Sweedish company and she sank on her maiden voyage from Malmo, Sweeden to Syrian town Taurus. She arrived at Larnaca with a ballast problem just to be dragged out of harbor. Boat capsized five days later and 200 millions worth of cargo sank with it. No one was hurt as all the crew aborted the ship hours before the worst.
There are a lot of myths and controversies about it, one of the stories is that it smuggled weapons from Yugoslavia to the middle east. In any case its a very big wreck that offers different types of dive and is considered biggest underwater truck graveyard. It offers diving on upper levels for intermediate level divers down to engine room for very experienced technical diving.
I wanted to visit Zenobia for years now and had several failed attempts to go and check it out, one in 2011. when I decided to go work as an instructor in Greece instead in Cyprus and second time in 2014. when I actually bought the tickets but couldn’t go because my cat got very sick. This time I was determent to do it at all cost because it is ranked as my many as the best wreck to dive in whole Europe. I wanted to check if its really that exceptional or is it just a nus product of commercialization of dive industry.
Zenobia is the name that bares many tragedies in ancient and modern history
Original of the name comes from a queen of the ancient Palmyrene empire. She was a warrior queen of Aramean origin and she ruled famous empire with center in today’s Syria. Her empire grow strong out of collecting taxes to the passing caravans and she built impressive metropolis out in the desert. She was a major pain in the butt for the Romans and managed to conquer Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine. Her court gathered finest philosophers and scientists of the time. In time Romans managed to beat down the Palmyrene empire and bring Zenobia back to Rome in chains for amusement and public humiliation.
I has a chance to visit remains of Palmyra in 2010. just before the war in Syria. Like most people that visited Palmyra didn’t expect much as it was never advertised as an attraction. Generally most of the great world heritage that exists or better say existed ill 2011. is. I was amazed how preserved it was and how great it must have been. Honestly Athenian Zeus Temple and Acropolis looked like a joke to this. It had (maybe still has not sure) a large avenue of colonnade that stretches over 1.1 kilometer. It survived all sorts of natural disasters centuries through the centuries but sadly not the ISIS. Greatest modern evil tore down the remains of Zenobia and her empire to the dust. Its strange how some names just carry evil omens among them, isn’t it?
Even that ship sank with no fatalities, allegedly eight divers died on it in the past 30 years.
This is one of the things I wanted to write about in my blog as not all the information about the wreck is nice and shiny and of course dive centers nor the brochures will ever tell you about it. It was actually banned by Cyprus authorities for a while in 2012. but reopened soon since it brings 14 million Euros a year. There is no official information if number eight is correct as information before internet era is very scarce. But I have been able to track three cases:
- In 2003. 31-year-old Dean Hearne from UK died in the engine-room.
- In October 2010. Catherine Vicar age 33 from Farnborough, UK was found unconscious in the engine room of the Zenobia. She had separated from her group and ran out of air while underwater.
- In Match 2014 Unknown diver 57 years of age British national lost consciousness and later pronounced dead in Larnaca hospital
Aside from that there are numerous cases of DCS happening on Zenobia as it can be a very demanding dive. I would personally never dive there if I wasn’t physically fit, hydrated and well rested. Lot of accidents happen while people are “in the limits” of safe diving. Even with a lot of bad stories behind it Zenobia attracted me for years, might even intrigued me more and I was super excited to get a chance to dive there.
I was planning at first to book a dive online but later decided to haggleat dive shops on-spot and probably made a good decision.
Since I purchased my ticket with WizzAir I had limited amount of baggage to bring. I had to compare how much would it cost to add one more full bag and how much would a center discounted me. It came that I would save 30eur with my own gear, but would have to pay 60eur for additional baggage. Plus I would have to drag around Cyprus one more bag with me. Even that I love my gear, we were traveling with a baby so there was no way I would carry more load. Also 30euros is 30euros hey, its half of my airfare, I always travel on a budget 🙂 So I just brought my mask and my dive computer. It was late in the season (end of October) so I expected low prices or at least some end season discount. I was surprised that Cypriots take last day of October as an end of high end season. The initial quote I’ve got was 135 euros for a double dive, which is by my standards a lot of money. I wandered around and managed to get 110e at a shop that I chose and it seemed that its the best price one can get. If someone knows more please let me know so I can update my blog.
October is very warm, its 27c air temperature and water 25c, around 30 meters its 24c, visibility is around 30m
But as far as I heard from local divers the very best time to go dive on Zenobia is early September. At that time water is 27 degrees and visibility is stunning 50 meters on a good day. I’ve booked from Aiya Napa instead from Larnaca as I was staying there. The way that each dive shop organizes this trip is that they give you equipment to try and a divemaster/instructor picks you up on a dive day. They all drive to Larnaca Port where a boat is waiting, there are no boats from Ayia Napa to Zenobia. Apparently multiple dive schools use same boat on a dive day, and a boat is company by it self. There is a quick ride to the Zenobia that lasts maybe 5-10 minutes. You will be briefed and have enough time to set the equipment and get dressed. My tank was filled to 240bars which is good as one might need extra air to decompress. Instructor briefed us that we should expect strong current before we get to 20 meters. Now, when you tell me something like that I expect Neptune’s rage 😀 Current is at best case mild. If you don’t hold the rope on your way down you’re probably not gonna drift a lot. Generally conditions for diving are very nice.
The first impression when you submerge and take a look down you think:”Damn, that’s one big-ass boat!”
They say you need around 20 dives to have a complete tour, but basic two dives tours include one dive around the boat and one penetrating shallower parts. Engine room is only for tech divers. It lays on its port side and the first dive starts from the astern. You can see enormous propeller and the back of the ship as you start the dive, propeller is so big that it actually looks like a submarine type of vessel. There are hundreds of trucks and cars there, allegedly there are Russian Lada sedans with Yugoslavian plates there but I failed to see that unfortunately. Marine life is very rich and I saw a lion fish, fist time outside of tropical waters. It looks that rising temperatures and Suez Canal opened a way for them into the Med. There are rescue boats around as they were not removed prior to sinking. On the first dive you also enter accommodation deck.
Watch your dive computer on both dives
The second dive was about penetrating one of cargo area of the boat. It was very cool, saw the toilets and carpets of the rooms. Everyone was given a flash lights which was very helpful. Both dives are very close to no-decompression limits and on the second one I went into deco. I was aware that it will happen lot before than it did. We were in the middle of the cargo room and I was maybe 4 minutes away from deco. I couldn’t reduce my depth as I was already as high as possible and I couldn’t rush through the exit in front of instructor obviously. Instead I decided to not stress much about it as I had a plenty of air and just enjoyed the rest of my dive. In the end I had seven minutes on the rope, and a girl that was in my group got ten, generally half of the group entered deco. I usually try to avoid going into deco, not because I am afraid of DCS but from my diving experience people that do it regularly over he years can pay the toll once they get to the certain age. I know a lot of examples like those, almost all of them 50 years of age, picking up DCS on a dive where they never ever smelled no-decompression limits. In any case if deco dive has meaning like this one, I don’t have any issues with it. Problem in my opinion is that the boat has low surface time, obviously they want to come back as soon as possible.
Minimum surface time is ok if the second dive is shallow
But in this case both were moderately deep, maybe not as much but bottom times are long.
First dive started 9:40 max depth 30 meters dive time 51 minute
Second dive started 11:55 max depth 26 meters dive time 45 minutes
Which gives surface time less than hour and a half. These guys don’t offer any meal between the dives. Basically for 110e you just get equipment, dive leader and 20 minutes of a boat ride which is a bit expensive for my standards. 2 1/2 surface time and a Cypriot meal would be ideal (hey it rhymes :D)
All in all it was great experience
I think anyone who is passionate about diving and is coming to Cyprus shouldn’t miss Zenobia! Especially if you are into wreck diving. There are just couple of places like this in the world Thistlegorm in Red Sea or Truck Lagoon in Micronesia. This one is most accessible for us Europeans definitely. Would I go there again? Well I am not sure, yes I understand that you need 20 dives to have a complete tour but it also means you need around 1000 euros to do it. Only if I work there one day as in instructor otherwise probably not, mostly because its not cheap. The thing is that once you see decent amount of wrecks you have a feeling you have seen them all. I am just a guy that would prefer a coral wall or a shark dive instead of a sunken ship.
Thanks for reading, to the next dive…