CARNATIC WRECK, RED SEA
More than 100 years on the seabed has turned the Carnatic wreck in the Red Sea into a vibrant coral reef
Sha’ab Abu Nuhas, a submerged reef close to the busy shipping route to the Suez Canal, is a wreck diver’s paradise. Although no single wreck here rivals the relatively nearby Thistlegorm in size, the Abu Nuhas wrecks offer plenty of mystery, with debates over their identities and rumours of unsalvaged gold. They’re also quieter than their busy neighbour.
For sports divers, there are four wreck sites to dive: the Carnatic, the Giannis D, the Kimon M and the ‘tile wreck’. The latter causes the most controversy – debate rages over whether the wreck here is the Chrisoula K or a ship called the Marcus, or indeed if it’s the wreckage of both.
The Carnatic is the oldest of the wrecks. It was a cargo and passenger steamer that sank in 1869, en route from Suez to India. Its precious cargo – which included wine, copper and gold – was salvaged shortly after its sinking but gave the reef its name: Sha’ab Abu Nuhas translates as ‘Copper Reef’.
An old wreck, the Carnatic is covered with spectacular corals and supports a wide range of marine life. It lies on its side and the soft corals on the hull are particularly pretty. The hull of the wreck is almost indistinguishable from a natural coral reef, so dense is the growth of animal life. The wreck lies parallel to the reef on its port side. It’s in two parts – a bow and a stern section – with a debris field in the middle. The maximum depth is 28m at the rudder and prop, so it makes sense to start your dive here.
The wooden decks of the ship have rotted away, but the beams that held up the planks of deck are still in place. Some of these supports still have the remains of the deck boards on them, looking like the teeth of a saw blade. Swimming into and between the forest of these beams, with their colourful soft corals, clouds of glassfish and solitary batfish, was one of my favourite moments on this dive. The Carnatic has its fair share of classic Red Sea marine life – watch out for blue-spotted stingrays, turtles and giant moray eels, particularly around the debris in the mid-section of the wreck. Inside the bow section are the remains of broken wine bottles that were part of the ship’s cargo.
The reef here also makes for a pleasant dive – although there’s so much on the 90m-long Carnatic to hold your interest that you may find you only see the reef during your safety stop.