This 1990s storm victim is easy to find and can be enjoyed by divers of all levels if conditions are right. JOHN LIDDIARD reports on the ship that leaked sunflower oil, with Illustration by MAX ELLIS
SOME WRECKS ARE DIFFICULT TO FIND. You spend the first few minutes of a dive following a shotline down, just hoping there is a wreck at the end of it.
The Kimya is just the opposite. Close in to the sandy bay of Port Twyn-Mawr, at low water the bow just clears the surface. Be careful not to knock your head on the wreck as you roll in.
Given calm sea conditions to the south-west of Anglesey, this is an ideal wreck with which to start the season. It’s one to show the new crop of beginners, but also one to help the old crusty divers get back into things after the winter.
As the bow breaks the surface at low water and even at high water, in good visibility it can be seen simply by looking over the side of the boat, so this is the easiest place to start a dive (1).
What slight current there is will be pushing a little over the bow, so it is best to enter the water on the upcurrent side of the wreck. The bow deck is intact, with the usual collection of bollards, though the anchor-winch itself has been pulled from the deck to leave empty mountings (2).
Marine life consists of fronds of the very green kelp found in shallow water, with mussels and starfish in between. Deeper and shaded parts of the wreck are home to a few plumose anemones.
To the port side of the bow a few deck plates are missing, providing a hole that looks down inside the forecastle. Over the side of the bow, but staying near the front, the anchor hawse-pipes are empty (3).
Further down at the seabed, the Kimya has a very pronounced bow bulge (4), now half-buried in the sand, at 9m on a low tide and a few metres deeper on a high tide.
Just off the port side, the anchor-winch is on one side and half-buried (5). Reports from 1991, when the Kimya was towed here and beached, note that the anchor-winch used to break the surface. Perhaps it was pulled loose by a large dive-boat tying off to it.
Returning to the bow deck, at the rear of the forecastle are rectangular lockers to either side (6). In the centre, a guarded ladder (7) leads down to a catwalk running along and above the main deck (8).
Doorways to either side lead inside the forecastle (9). They are small, however, and the inside is obstructed by silt and cables so this is not the easiest place to enter a wreck, even if it is only 5m deep.
A few metres aft along the deck, steps lead up to the catwalk (10). As on most tankers, the main deck was not really designed for walking on, and the catwalk provided the main method of travelling for and aft. Bare ribs run along and across the deck and must have made it very difficult to stand in a heavy sea.
The hull of the Kimya has split into a grid of tanks for transporting vegetable oils, lined with stainless steel and accessed by tubular hatches that run either side of the catwalk (11). With covers mostly in place, they look like lines of mushrooms.
The Kimya was originally beached here to control the leaking cargo of sunflower oil. The wreck has since been the subject of a number of scientific studies on the effect of sunflower-oil spillage on the marine environment, which turned out to be considerably less than the impact mineral oils would have caused.
After the first two pairs of hatches, the catwalk comes to an abrupt break (12). The deck and tank hatches continue, but the catwalk has been swept clear.
The deck steps down half a metre along each side of the main deck (13). Crossing to the port side and dropping to the seabed, the missing section of catwalk is intact but upside-down, just off the side of the wreck (14). It makes our route a bit of a zig-zag, but it is only 10m deep, so shouldn’t be an issue.
Back on the wreck, the main deck is blocked from side to side by a boxed-in structure about half the height of the catwalk (15). This was the point for pumping the oil cargo on and off the ship, connected to all the tanks by pipes below the deck.
The catwalk now continues aft, with more steps linking it to the main deck (16). Just before the broken superstructure, the aftmost tank on the port side has collapsed inwards (17), making it possible to view the pipework that ran below decks connecting and ventilating the tanks.
The superstructure (18) is mostly broken, leaving just a single level on the starboard side, with a longitudinal bulkhead showing where the port side was broken away. The Kimya originally capsized further offshore, then the salvage crew broke away most of the superstructure so that they could turn the hull upright again and beach it at its current resting-place.
The port side of the engine-room is broken open, where the diesel engine can be seen below the deck (19). The propeller-shaft where it exits the stern has been buried well below the 10m seabed as the hull has settled.
Above the engine-room on the starboard side, blocks at the edge of the main deck (20) were the mounting point for one of the Kimya’s boats. The deck is then featureless until it cleanly breaks away at the stern (21). The Kimya would have had a flat transom stern, so this is the limit of the wreck.
There is nothing on the seabed nearby, so I suspect the missing section of deck and stern was broken off at the same time as the superstructure.
On a dive this shallow, the surface is easily accessible from any point on the wreck. For those wanting to make a safety stop at 3m or so, I suggest the top of the superstructure or returning to the bow. On surfacing without a delayed SMB, be sure to look up and around in case of boats crossing the wreck.
OIL ON TROUBLED WATERS
A ship that sailed under many names – that was the Kimya. When she was built as a steel motor vessel tanker in Germany at the yard of Menzer Ernst Schiffswerft, Geesthacht, she was ice-strengthened to cope with the runs she was expected to make in northern waters. She was also designed to carry chemicals in some of her tanks, as well as vegetable oil and wine in others.
Alchemist Breme was the first name given to this 997-ton, 73m-long tanker, powered by an eight-cylinder diesel engine producing 1500hp to drive her single screw. That was in 1979. The next year she became the Chemariadni, and in 1985 the Aldebaran Chimica.
From her names it was clear that she was used mainly for chemical cargoes. All that changed that same year when she became the Elma Torn, was bought by Fathom Shipping Limited of Valletta, Malta, and sailed under the Maltese flag as Kimya. Her cargoes took on a warmer look too, mostly vegetable oil and wine.
The vessel had survived savage storms and even icebergs and pack-ice in her first years, and coped well with huge seas. But the seas of European waters didn’t reveal their true strength until the Kimya sailed from St Nazaire to Birkenhead in the first week of 1991. As she sailed up the St George’s Channel, a colossal storm swept down on her from the north.
When she was 16 miles south-west of Holyhead, giant waves capsized her and she drifted inshore at 53 08.70N; 04 28.00W. Salvage teams were soon on the spot. They removed part of her superstructure, righted her and towed her inshore. Then, to minimise the effect of future storm waves, they sank her onto a soft-sand seabed and anchored her down.
Despite this, her entire cargo of vegetable oil escaped into the sea, and the wreck of the Kimya was later used for research studies into the effects of pollution from such oil on the
GETTING THERE: Follow the A55 across North Wales to Anglesey. Once over the bridge, take the slip-road and turn right to Menai Bridge (the town, not the bridge itself). Turn towards the waterfront by the newsagent and post office opposite the HSBC. The boat picks up from the pontoon in front of the harbour office.
TIDES: There is little current over the wreck of the Kimya, and it is diveable at all states of the tide.
HOW TO FIND IT: The GPS co-ordinates for the Kimya are 53 09.520 North, 004 26.932 West (degrees, minutes and decimals). The bow points north-west, at an angle to the shore of Porth Twyn-Mawr. A green starboard marker buoy marked “Kimya” is offshore from the wreck.
ACCOMMODATION: Scott Waterman can put you in touch with a whole range of local accommodation, from B&B in the pub by the harbour office to camping outside the town.
QUALIFICATIONS: A nice easy wreck shallow enough for basic training dives.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Admiralty Chart 1970, Caernarvon Bay. Ordnance Survey Map 114, Anglesey. Anglesey Wrecks and Reefs, Andy Shears & Scott Waterman. Underwater Guide to North Wales, Volume 1, Barmouth to South Stack, Chris Holden. Anglesey tourist information, 01407 762622.
PROS: Pretty much intact, except for the superstructure.
CONS: Surge can be a problem, especially with some sharp edges of wreckage.
Thanks to Scott Waterman and Chris Holden.
Appeared in DIVER April 2007