Crew were first off Italian shipwreck

The Taormina today (ANA-MPA)

A ship that sank 131 years ago off mainland Greece has been found at a depth of 107m and identified as the Italian cargo ship Taormina.

The sinking, which resulted in 34 deaths, caused controversy when it occurred in 1891, with Greek press slamming the Italian crew for abandoning ship before helping the passengers, who accounted for two-thirds of the fatalities.

The 70m-long shipwreck was found through scanning and footage obtained by an ROV off Cape Sounion, which lies at the southernmost tip of the Attic peninsula near Lavrio, 70km south-east of Athens. Cape Sounion is best known as the site of ancient Athenian monument the Temple of Poseidon.

“It is one of the rarest of shipwrecks,” researcher Kostas Thoktaridis, who found the Taormina, told the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA-MPA) on 25 March. “It seems almost unbelievable how well the mast has been preserved.” 

Thoktaridis, a professional diver since 1987, has run the Planet Blue Diving Centre in Lavrio for more than 30 years and started another business, ROV Services, in 1999.

He said that the Taormina lay slightly to starboard and was in notably good condition given its long immersion, although the damage caused when it was accidentally breached by another vessel was clearly visible.

Poor handling

The Taormina had been carrying passengers as well as cargo, sailing west of the islet of Patroklos on her way from Istanbul to Piraeus in the early hours of 11 September.

Meanwhile the Greek steamship Thessalia was heading from Piraeus to the island of Syros and, as the result of poor handling, rammed her bow into Taormina’s port side, fatally breaching the hull towards the stern. 

The two ships were in contact for only a matter of minutes, but in that time 32 of Taormina’s crew and 12 passengers managed to jump aboard Thessalia before that vessel’s captain ordered the engines to be put into reverse to break free of Taormina

The Italian vessel quickly filled with water from the stern and sank within 15 minutes of the collision, taking 23 of her passengers, her captain and 11 crew with her.

Clinging to wreckage

Another 16 people who had managed to lower a lifeboat were spotted the following morning by the schooner Ambelos, the captain of which was later awarded a medal for bravery for the rescue. A stoker who had managed to swim clear of the sinking Taormina spent five hours clinging to wreckage before being picked up by the passing steamship Makedonia

The Taormina would constitute a deep technical dive, but since last year scuba divers have been permitted to visit 91 designated ship, submarine and aircraft wrecks that sank in Greek waters between 1860 and 1970, as reported on Divernet. The authorities have promised to make more such sites available for diving without need of permits.



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