THE WRECK OF THE OCEAN DIVER


The wheelhouse of the Ocean Diver wreck
INTRODUCTION
Of the countless shipwrecks that have occurred around Menorca's coastline over the centuries, many have come to grief in dramatic circumstances, there are stories of terrible storms, of human errors and navigational mistakes, of sailors, passengers and valuable cargo disappearing for ever beneath the steel grey winter waves. Other wrecks have occurred after being intercepted by German submarines and others sunk in order to claim insurance money.
There are other wrecks though, that have had a far less dramatic end, only that they were either abandoned or impounded in the Port of Mahon and after many years sitting there rusting away, were taken out to sea and sunk by the naval authorities.

HISTORY
Although she is believed to have been Dutch registered, nothing is known of the history of the Ocean Diver, research so far through the Lloyds Register of Shipping in London and the Dutch Ministry of Shipping has not revealed anything.

Even meticulous searching through the archives of Menorca's daily newspaper, the 'Diario de Menorca', has only revealed a short report about her sinking, a week or so after the occurrence.
Although nothing is known of her history or how the Ocean Diver, a river barge, was brought to Menorca, the very little information there is about her is that she arrived in Mahon painted blue and was owned or operated by a group of young people who apparently had the intention of using her for scuba diving excursions. In 1987, being unable to pay for the outstanding port fees, her crew disappeared and she lay abandoned in Mahon Harbour.
Later, in 1989 when major modernization work was initiated on the quayside, she was towed across to the naval base where she would stay a further two years. Whilst she slowly rusted away, the Consell de Menorca (Island Council) together with the Port Authority became worried about the consequences if she were to sink in the Port of Mahon. Since she had no value for salvage, it was decided to ask the department of Marine Biology of the University of the Balearic Islands to study the possibility of sinking her to create an artificial reef. They were in favor of this and together with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, it was decided to sink her off Son Bou beach. This position would also create an obstacle for trawlers, who in Spain are not permitted to trawl in less than 50m of water in order to conserve the Neptunegrass beds Posidonia oceanica, although they regularly do so in times of bad weather.
The Neptunegrass, which is commonly seen as brown strands of weed piled up on beaches is biologically very important to the health of the Mediterranean. It is a green flowering plant that has adapted to the sea and not only does it produce oxygen in great abundance but provides a home and feeding ground for countless species of marine life.
The Ocean Diver was finally towed out by the Naval Authorities and sunk off Son Bou beach on the 26th of November 1991.


THE WRECK TODAY
The wreck of the Ocean Diver is located some 1.25 km off the centre of Son Bou beach on the south coast of Menorca and lays at a depth of 27 metres.
Once in the water, the wreck is often visible from the surface, making the descent towards her quite easy and after a few moments her vague outline in the dark blue below soon reveals a ship in the form of a medium sized barge. Measuring 23 metres in length and 5.8 metres in width she sits upright on a flat sandy bottom that is completely covered in Neptunegrass.
Since we made the drawing of this wreck some 10 years ago (1997) she has deteriorated quite significantly. Originally she only had some damage to her starboard hull and the floor of the wheelhouse missing, now however she is slowly beginning to break up and it is possible that in the not too distant future the wheel house may collapse into the hull.
Unlike other deeper wrecks around Menorca, this wreck does not seem to attract the same large numbers of fish, although she is very well colonized with benthic marine life; her hull and wheelhouse being densely covered in algae together with many hydroids. The beautiful translucent sea squirt Clavelina lepadiformis is also well represented here, as are several species of small nudibranch. Within their preferred shaded habitat of the wheelhouse and forward store room, sponges and sea mosses remain very few and have yet to colonize the wreck.
The Cardinal fish Apogon imberbis is commonly seen all around Menorca in shaded areas under rocky outcrops and in caverns, it is however more abundant on the Ocean Diver wreck than anywhere else and at times several hundred may gather in the wheelhouse, with many more in the engine room.
On a recent visit to the wreck, two medium sized Golden Grouper Epinephelus alexandrinus were actively preying on these, dispersing them into every available hiding place. Note that it is not advisable to enter the wheelhouse as there are numerous suspended cables, however these fish may be best observed from a broken window in the rear of the wheelhouse.
By looking carefully, as these are well camouflaged,


Son Bou beach on the south coast of Menorca

Neptunegrass (Posidonia Oceanica) is very widespread in the shallower waters of the Mediterranean sea and plays a vital role as a habitat and feeding ground for countless species. Neptunegrass is to the Mediterranean as coral reefs are to tropical waters. In addition Neptunegrass is very important for the health of the waters in that it produces up to 10 liters of oxygen per day, which is not only diffused into the sea but eventually into the atmosphere. Neptunegrass is not an algea but is a flowering plant, the rarely observed flowers can be seen in this image which was taken off the south coast of menorca in November. Posidonia Oceanica is only found in the Mediterranean and on the south coast of Australia.

General veiw of the Ocean Diver from bow.
Red scorpionfish Scorpaena scrofa may often be seen around the forward winch, aft deck and on the rudder supports and within the piping found in the hold two Conger eels Conger conger often hide.
Being a small wreck it is possible to complete the dive in 30 minutes resulting in only a short 3 minute decompression time.

Scale drawing of the Ocean Diver wreck..........Drawing © Oceanic Research & Publishing Ltd.

 

DIVE CONDITIONS
Situated 1.25 kilometres off the coast this dive site is exposed to the winds and currents making it essential to seek professional assistance. Although for much of the summer the water conditions are relatively calm, wind and sea conditions may vary from hour to hour and moderate currents may occur or disappear quite suddenly. At times there may be a surface current that reduces its velocity with depth, whilst at other times one may descend in clear, calm water, only to find a strong current near the bottom with a markedly colder temperature and a dense green hue. This does occur at other wreck sites but is particularly common to the Son Bou area and can happen at any time of the year. One theory is that when the wind is blowing towards offshore (north sector winds) this results in a current reversal at depth with deep water upwellings from the nearby insular shelf and that the presence of a very deep and narrow canyon just 5 kilometres offshore may accentuate this phenomenon, hence the sudden arrival of nutrient rich green and very cold water at depth on the wreck site.
Having said this, by comparison to other shipwrecks around the coast of Menorca, the Ocean Diver is a relatively small, uncomplicated wreck and with a maximum depth of only 27 meters, with proper supervision, she is ideal for the less experienced divers to explore their first shipwreck.


Interior of the wheelhouse

Red Scorpionfish Scorpaena scrofa

 

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