Once discovered by the Austrian Hans Haas in 1950, the wreck of Umbria has become one of the most visited wrecks in Sudan and it is also one of the most famous wreck dives in the world. Its story goes back to the Second World War; it was sunk few hours before midnight of June 9th 1940 when Italy declared war on Britain. Built in Hamburg in 1912, ‘Umbria’ was a large passenger-cargo vessel with name of Bahia Blanca; she was purchased by Compagnia Italia and was renamed “Umbria”. She was refitted as a troopship and ferried thousands of troops to various colonies in East Africa for the following two years, then she was sold to the Triestino Line in 1937. 150 metres long, she was powered by two 6-cylinder compound steam-engines, producing 4,600 horsepower and enabling her to cruise at a top speed of 12 knots. On her last trip she was carrying war-like commodities and materials for the Italian troops in East Africa: 360.00 bombs, bags of cement, cars and vehicles, rolls of electrical cables etc. On June 9th the ship was anchored at Wingate Reef, out of the Sudanese coasts, while the British delayed the departure of the Umbria knowing that Italy's entry into the war was imminent having so the opportunity to acquire the precious cargo. Umbria captain, Lorenzo Muiesan, was listening to his radio when the entry of Italy into the World War II was announced and gave order to his chief engineer to sink the ship. Immediately afterwards he ordered his crew to conduct a rescue simulation, that was more real than the British thought. When the English soldiers discovered that it was too late to safe the ship and her cargo; they decided to abandoned the boat. The precious cargo disappeared under their eyes 2 hours later and it would never be used. The Umbria sunk on the reef on its left hand port side.
The Umbria is almost exactly as it was the day the captain decided to sink it. Her dangerous cargo remained untouched and it’s still inside the stow, which makes the dive a unique one. Because of its shallowness, between few metres and a maximum of 35-40 metres, it is easy enough to cover all the wreck parts in a single dive. The dive starts usually from the central part of the vessel where the davits emerge. Also free diving it is possible to visit the main forward superstructure where the rests of the old funnel are still to be seen. To visit the decks you need to scuba dive in order to appreciate much more the details of the huge structure and to meet some big and less shy trigger fish looking for closer encounters.
At the bottom of the wreck, around 40 metres deep, there are still some untouched lifeboats, a huge wind cone and the funnel.
Astern there are the holds with aereal bombs and the relevant detonators and other war like commodities. The holds are quite big therefore should not create claustrophobia.
Still further aft there is the huge helm and the starboard propeller with the 4 incrusted blades.
Going back to the central area of the vessel, there are the holds at the bow where some Fiat Passo Lungo 1100 with tessellated repetition tread and three rows of seats. The holds at the bow contain a lot of materials: bags of cement, bottles of wine, bulbs, plane tyres, parfums. The dive ends at the bow with the giant anchor disappearing into the blue.
See the video by Carlo Piccinelli: THE SECRETS OF UMBRIA
Sanganeb is the first reef we meet on our way northeast from Port Sudan, leaving Wingate Reef behind us. Sanganeb is quite isolated from the coast as the bottom in between can reach also 800 metres depth. On top of it the famous British-built lighthouse, based south side directly on the madreporic corals, points out the entrance of the channel heading to Port Sudan. The lighthouse is looked after by three guardians, who welcome the tourists coming by and lead the visit inside and on top of the lighthouse itself from where the view is breathtakinly. The lighthouse is connected to the land by a long pier based on the reef, where schools of surgeonfish populate the area, disturbed only by some moray eels and by smart ospreys, which fly on the surface looking for food.
Southbound, the reef DR0Ps vertically into the depth. A forest of multi coloured alcyonaria of the Red Sea covers the external wall. It is the ultimate dream for all photographers. It is so rich in colours and in marine life and unique in its kind that some boats stay in Sanganeb also for the whole week. The wall has many indentations and gullies crowded by all kind of fishes, groupers, and schools of 50-100 croakers. Westbound there is a saddle-shape reef connecting the vertical wall to a 20 metres deep sandy plateau.
This is one of the most amazing dive in Sudan and of the Red Sea. The sandy bottom of coral origin creates special luminescences ideal for videos and pictures. The marine life is really various here; some of the fishes are already used to divers (although less than other parts of the Red Sea) and are not scared. It is very common to spot schools of barracudas and big parrotfish swimming back and forth from the surface to the bottom. Now and then some madreporic pinnacles rise up from the bottom covered by gorgonias, alcyonaria, spunges, black coral, mollusc and all kind of bryozoan and offer protection to crabs, crayfishes, shrimps and small madreporic fishes.
On the north point of Sanganeb, the dive starts on the first plateau situated 25 metres deep covered in hard coral, huge spiral gorgonias and grape corals. At the end of this plateau, a vertical wall DR0Ps down to 40 metres reaching a second plateau northbound for 180 metres. At the base between the first and the second plateau there is a cavern hosting groups of sleeping reef barrier sharks. The current here might be quite strong, especially on the way back to the main reef wall. If the current it is not too strong we will reach the deepest point located 50 metres deep. The bottom is covered in a carpet of white alcyonarias and of spiral gorgonias. Hammerheads are common in this deep blue area. Along the west side of this plateau among the gorgonias there is often a big group of jack fish as well as barracudas. During the dive on the North Point of Sanganeb the chances to make big encounters are high, but unfortunately due to its depth the dive time will be short.
On the way back, going up to reach the surface along the reef wall, there are some green humphead parrotfish, very common in this area.
In the middle of this ‘aquarium’, you can assist to constant passing and crossing of grey sharks. In deeper waters, south/southwestbound, you will meet groups of hammerheads not photo-shy in the least. But also schools of silver jackfishes, bluespotted ribbontail ray (Taeniura lymna) looking for food on the bottom; sometimes may happened to spot mantarays and turtles. Last but not least, on the bottom you can admire beautiful spiral gorgonians appearing at first sight brownish, but in fact bright red and orange if lighted up by the camera flash.
See the REPORTAGE by Carlo Piccinelli: SANGANEB REEF - SUDANESE RED SEA
If we had to choose just one dive site in all Sudan, we would probably choose the South Point of Sha’ab Rumi, which is the most complete and exhaustive dive site among all. The reef is 25 miles from Port Sudan in a well-protected lagoon accessible through a channel along the western side. The South Point is a short cruise by rubber boat. Sha’ab Rumi’s South Point is the last south part of the reef itself, where Jacques-Yves Cousteau established his underwater experiment on Continental Shelf Station II in 1963. Here the current is quite strong drifting mainly southwest.
The dive starts in very shallow waters among madrepores and undisturbed surgeonfishes,which live and mate in hidden gullies.
Further down, the wall DR0Ps to 15-20 metres, it continues in a flat plateau for about 100 metres south, and starts DR0Pping slowly again. On the side the walls are steep and DR0P to unreachable depths. The plateau is the best part of the dive and one of the best in the world. The marine life is very rich with many indentations covered in alcyonarias, small gorgonias and soft corals.
The South Point is peculiar for its platform, which extends to the open sea, almost like a springboard DR0Pping down on three sides at about 700 metres depth. During the entire dive you can meet big pelagic fish not photo-shy in the least; most commonly huge schools of barracudas and different kind of sharks; small reef barrier sharks, like whitetip reef sharks (Triaenodon obesus), grey reef sharks (Carcharhinus wheeleri), but also scalloped hammerhead sharks unique of this area. They stay normally in deeper waters at the border of the platform and can be spotted going out (only in absence of current) into the open sea at about 30 metres. Sometimes they are even deeper; staying motionless for a while improves the chances to see them,as they are quite ‘shy’. It is common to see schools of 20-30 hammerheads, some of them quite big and ‘scary’. The dive on the South Point foresees the tour around the platform, with few deep dives at the beginning and on the way back drifting up the slope, which goes from 20 metres up to the surface, where the most colourful marine life is, along with some lonely grey reef shark swimming up from the deep blue.
Inside the big reef of Sha’ab Rumi there is a nice lagoon, accessible through a narrow channel, where is very common to spot dolphins swimming around the ships cruising closer to the coast. Immediately outside the channel there are still the remainings of the famous expedition done by Cousteau in 1963, the Continental Shelf Station II: it was an attempt at creating an environment in which men could live and work on the sea floor and for this reason a real underwater “village” was created. This dive is an amazing experience full of history and rememberings of an experiment done over fifty years ago, absolutely admirable.
Two structures were planned and built on the French Coast and subsequently brought by sea by the Italian vessel Rosaldo. The main area was built to house the oceanauts, a starfish shaped structure which was unfortunately retrieved at the end of the experiment, with a central part from which four long cylindric shaped arms stretched out. In the main area there was a living room with an electrical console. Two arms were used as bedrooms; in the third one were the toilettes, the showers and the access to the sea through a hatch; in the fourth arm there was a kitchen, the laboratory and a darkroom. The biggest and the most amazing structure still visible at the bottom of the sea, is the porcupine shaped submarine hangar, used for deep explorations. It is a circular structure, empty in the middle, anchored at the bottom of the sea with some round porthole on the sides.
Its original yellow colour is long gone. The structure is encrusted with small madrepore sand with a big umbrella shaped one which hangs on the side hosting some nice groupers. It is possible to swim inside the structure from below. On the very top, there is fresh air created by all the divers coming to visit this amazing historical remaining. On the right hand side of the hangar there is a tool shed and the remainings of the cages used to experiment on some kind of fishes, like shown in the famous documentary the “World without sun”. These remainings are even more interesting from the sealife point of view; colourful sponges, plenty alcyonarias covering the structures, scorpionfishes (Pterois) and some bluespottedribbotail rays (Taeniura lymma) lying at the bottom. Further down there are still the cages used to observe the shark’s behaviour, also covered in beautiful sponges.
40 miles north of Port Sudan there is a shallow and swampy lagoon on the coast of Marsa Arakiyai, where is not uncommon to spot during the night hours some dugongs hanging around looking for algae and waterplants.
A small military base made of 4 wooden shacks with a rooftop and a radio station is situated on the coast in order to check for local smugglers. Not far out of the cost, there is Sha’ab Suedi reef, easily recognisable for the metallic structures emerging at the surface; the remainings of some vehicles DR0Pped on the reef when the Blue bell sunk. It is a big cargo ship sunk in the mid-seventies, after strucking the reef: the impact opened a wide leak on the keel. The cargo ship was carrying all kind of Toyota vehicles: from sedans, to pickups, big and small trucks. The ship lies keel-side up with the prow at 15m DR0Pping down to 80m. The dive is really amazing due to the clear visibility of the water, for the exceptional display of the wreck and relevant cargo, as well as for the multitude of pelagic fish,which swims around. At half the wreck, 50-55 metres deep, a wide opening between the seabottom and the hull is the ideal place for beautiful alcyonaria and for big tropical groupers.
A night dive is recommended to spot big sharks like mako and tiger sharks.
Angarosh, the ‘Mother of Sharks’ in Arabic language, is one of the most famous dive sites in the world for big encounters: grey reef sharks and silvertip sharks (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos and Carcharhinus albimarginatus), ocean whitetip shark (Carcharhinus longimanus) and schools of scalloped hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna lewini) swim up from the blue. The pinnacle of Angarosh, situated close to Abington and Merlo Reef, DR0Ps down 800 metres in the blue; for the deep depth and for the strong currents common in this spot, we recommend this dive only to expert divers.
The dive starts on the east side of the reef DR0Pping down to the first sea-plateau at 25 metres; here, among colourful and big alcyonarias and red spiral coral there is often a big group of barracudas (Sphyraena sp.). Below the first plateau the sea DR0Ps down in the abyss; in these waters it is common to spot big pelagic, especially grey reef sharks(Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos). Westbound, crosswise to the pinnacle and 40 metres deep, there is a second plateau: also covered in beautiful and colourful alcyonarias, but the most amazing highlight of this special dive are the schools of 30-40 hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna lewini) to be found in the area. The dive ends swimming the wall on the west side of the pinnacle up to the surface.