First World War Shipwreck Discovered by Amateur Scuba Diver to be Preserved
The City of Winchester, the first Merchant Navy vessel to be sunk during the First World War, was identified by British amateur scuba diver Steve Dover in the late 1990s, during a dive near the Hallaniyat Islands off the coast of Oman.
The crew of the 6,608-tonne steamer were allowed to leave the ship after it was captured and sunk in 1914 by the German Navy, sending its cargo of tea and antlers 30m to the sea bed. The wreck lay undisturbed until 1986, when a pair of divers from the only civilian dive club in Oman at the time stumbled across the unidentified vessel. Twelve years later, Dover launched the 'Hallaniyat Expedition,' becoming one of the first divers to properly explore the wreck. He found that the artificial reef created by the ship was 'teeming with life', but also home to gatherings of dolphins and humpback whales
With the help of Glenda Jackson, MP, Steve subsequently negotiated a deal with the Oman government to purchase the wreck for £1, which he paid by cheque. According to an interview with the Leamington Spa Courier in December 2017, Mr Dover said: 'I paid the cheque. It was never actually cashed and I believe it was framed and hangs on a wall in a government office somewhere to this day.'
Since the 1998 expedition, Steve has led two further expeditions to the Hallaniyat Islands on behalf of the Royal Geographical Society, and although the wreck is off-limits to tourist divers, fishing is still permitted in the area. Mr Dover believes this has contributed to a noticeable decrease in the population of marine life that once inhabited the City of Winchester, as he observed during a recent dive.
'It was always my intention to lead an expedition to explore the wreck and to then hand it over to Oman so it could be protected,' said Mr Dover in his December 2017 interview. With that in mind, he hopes to persuade the Oman government to extend a 25-mile 'no take zone' around the wreck, preserving both the ship and its marine inhabitants for the future.
Steve Dover's story about the discovery and preservation of the City of Westminster features in a BBC One documentary broadcast on 'Inside Out West Midlands' on 5 March, after which it will be available on the BBC's iPlayer (where available)