A Special on Numidia Wreck

The ship Numidia in 1901, both the year that it was build and the year that it sank

The ship Numidia in 1901, both the year that it was build and the year that it sank

Numidia in year 2016 at its watery grave at the northern tip of Big Brother island in the middle of the Red Sea

Numidia in year 2016 at its watery grave at the northern tip of Big Brother island in the middle of the Red Sea

The wreck of Numidia, a heavy British freighter from the turn of the century, is both well documented but also still shrouded in mystery.

It is located on the northern tip of Big Brother Island, a remote reef system together with Little Brother Island about 40km from any nearest land. Because of its remoteness, the Brothers are only reachable by liveaboard diving safaris of the most passionate scuba enthusiasts. From the hours spent in the open ocean to get to the location, it seemed very remote indeed. On the island is a lighthouse where four men live on three month stints. The island is completely flat on top and completely barren. Little Brother is even more desolate with nothing on top except some stacks of rocks, which our dive guide told us, “What else would you do if you were positioned on the island except stack rocks?”

Big Brother lighthouse

Big Brother lighthouse

However, in the turn of the century, the lighthouse on Big Brother Island had a very important role for navigation. After passing through the Suez Canal, ships would navigate towards the Brothers and then south out of the Red Sea. The trick was to go into the direction of the Brothers, but not get too close. The story of Numidia is of an experienced captain, John Craig, who had done the trip hundreds of times, who gave the command of the ship over to his second officer after a long 60 hour shift getting through the Suez Canal. Well, apparently, his second in command James Tolloch was also a little sleepy. What exactly happened is unknown, even though crew of 97 and most of its 7,000 tonnes of cargo was safely removed. The lighthouse attendants at the time said that the boat was approaching the island head on so did James Tollach fall asleep at the wheel? Or did it get caught up in the tricky currents around the reef?

The Numidia crashed on July 19, 1901, on its way Calcutta, India, in the first year that it was built. There were attempts to refloat it but it finally broke in half and sank into the watery depths. Today, the Numidia defies gravity. It is basically vertical on the north tip of the island. The broken of bow is up around 8m and then stretches all the way down to 80m depths, far deeper than a recreational diver should reach. At the northern most tip of Big Brother island, there is often a strong current going head-on into the reef or kind of at an angle making this wreck a tricky dive. Current splits at the northern tip of the island and then rushes around the reef or veers out into the open ocean making it challenging for even advanced divers.

 

There is a shallow table reef on top so the swell of waves is also an issue. As the zodiac gets into position, the skipper counts down “3…2….1…GO!” and we fall back into the water and dive straight down towards the wreck. We keep diving straight down through the colourful coral encrusted ship as after a century of being underwater, Numidia has firmly become a part of the reef. At around 40m, there is the stern mast base and we duck into the ship and head up in the dark interior only lit up by our underwater flashlights and the blue light filtered through the portholes and broken skylights.

As my buddy and I dove through the coral encrusted wreckage of the bow, it was a magical experience to come out into the open blue and then dive alonside the beautiful steep wall of Big Brother reef. To top this off, there was a Thresher shark as we came out of the wreck and started to dive along the reef wall. Soon, we also saw a couple Grey sharks as well.

For more info, also check out: http://divemagazine.co.uk/go/5518-insiders-wreck-guide-the-numidia

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