To explain the history of the Umbria, considered by many divers as the best wreck of the world, we must go back to the First and Second World War.
Umbria was launched as Bahia Blanca in 1912 in Hamburg (Germany). It was used as a cargo ship during the First World War being finally sold to the Italians in 1935 who used it as cargo ship and troop transport. The ship sailed in 1937 from Italy and arrived in Port Sudan to replenish coal and water, when Italy, which had hitherto remained neutral in the Second World War, decided to declare war. This led to officers at the port of Sudan controlled by the British, to stop the Umbria in order to register its load and stop it, as long as possible because they suspected that the boat would be used again in the war.
The sinking of the Umbria in the waters of the Red Sea trigerred on June 10, 1940 when the captain of the boat, Lorenzo Muiesan, heard on the radio that was in his cabin, as Mussolini announced Italy’s entry into the war. At that time, he gives the order to burn all the incriminating documents and informs Zarli, his first officer, on the need to sink the ship before the Allies can take possession of the cargo. As mentioned before, the Royan Navy controlled the port of Sudan and had retained the Umbria to keep out port.
The captain knew that the burden of the ship would be seized and used by the enemy against his country, for this reason he ordered to sink the boat. In the engine room, the two cast iron wolf form main taps were broken, as the assistant and the watertight tunnel door, causing an immediate flood of water inlet. Now sure of the sinking, the commander Muiesan gives the order to abandon the ship not before warning the English lieutenant to do the same. By doing so, the valuable cargo of Umbria sank in two hours, avoiding the risk of falling into enemy hands, but costing the crew five long years of captivity in a foreign land.
But, what was the precious cargo that makes a Captain to sink his own boat? The Umbria carried 360,000 bombs, as well as a large number of fuses, ammunition and detonators. The bombs were stacked on top of each other in hundreds of rows, which gives you an idea of the explosive power of these devices in case they detonate. Although the bombs do not have their detonators inserted in them, they are said to be potentially lethal. It is saif that, if they ever exploded, they would sweep Port Sudan off from the map. The saying “look but don’t touch” has never been as applicable as when you dive in Umbria.
Diving in the Umbria
We could say that for divers who love wrecks, the Umbria is the dive they are longing for. The perfect one. As mentioned before, the Umbria is a ship from the Second World War with the historical fascination that entails. It is located on the Wingate reef, on the outskirts of Port Sudan in a quiet area that is not affected by currents or tides.
Its 153 meters of length rest lying on its port side in a depth range that, goes from practically the surface to 35 meters. Thanks its accessibility you don’t have to worry about decompression stops, being a wreck suitable for all types of divers.
The hull is almost completely intact, right sidewall just below the surface and almost surfacing four cranes. Going down towards the stern, there is the helm and one of the two gigantic four-bladed propellers, with the ship’s hull missing in the blue to Babor. Continuing the dive you find the wineries that contain a lot of ammunition, bullets scattered everywhere that are a great temptation and it is hard not to take one and putting it in your jacket. There are bombs and projectiles still stored, while in the background are abandoned lifeboats. Following the side of the ship on the right, you reach the winery that contained the various construction materials and the legendary Fiat “Balilla” 1100. Some of the three Fiat still retain the headlights and windows intact: they are really a sight! In the next cellar, there are hundreds of bottles of wine scattered on the bed and other aerial bombs, while in the last one there are tires and large skeins of electric cable. Unlike other similar wrecks such as the famous Thistlegorm, it has barely been “looted”.
Due to the shallow depth of the wreck there is a lot of natural light and visibility is usually excellent. Its length is full of corals, sponges and anemones. Moreover, it is the home of different kinds of fish including some shark hanging around the area. Each point of the ship is an emotion, and the idea that several artifacts have recently been found, such as Ginori porcelain or teapots belonging to the on-board restaurant service, makes everything even more fascinating.
The boat is a great opportunity for photsub lovers, because the image from the stern with the rudder intact and the propellers make it a breathtaking sight. The entrance to the interior and the cellars is relatively easy, in addition the wineries have some natural light that intensifies the contrasts. Another interesting point to photograph are the huge boilers in the kitchen where we can see even the bread maker.
If it is still not enough, we can add that diving in Sudan is still relatively scarce, especially compared to the Egyptian Red Sea, and the diving season is shorter, which makes you have the opportunity to dive at leisure without the crowds from other famous wrecks.
In short, its location, condition, content and history make the Umbria the best wreck where you can dive not only in the Red Sea but worldwide. Are you going to miss the dive of your lifetime?