Kurt Storms explores the gigantic MT Haven, the remnants of a massive 334-metre-long oil tanker that lies in the depths of the Mediterranean off the coast of Italy.
After a long time of not being able to travel because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were finally able to travel back to Italy, and my first days were spent completing my instructor course CCR-OC Trimix Instructor under the supervision of IANTD ITT Paul Lijnen. After a few exciting and heavy days, I can proudly call myself a full-fledged IANTD CCR/OC Trimix Instructor. I owe this title to my good students, and the help and support from two other instructors who also obtained this title.
The course took place on the most-beautiful wreck in the Mediterranean – the MT Haven.
The MT Haven was a VLCC-class oil tanker (Very Large Crude Carrier), build as Amoco Milford Haven in 1973. The Haven was incredibly big – 334 metres long with a beam of 51 metres and a displacement tonnage of 110,000 tons.
In 1987, the MT Haven was hit by a missile in the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq War. Extensively refitted in Singapore, it was then sold to ship brokers, who leased it to Troodos Shipping.
Around 12.30pm on 11 April 1991, the MT Haven was unloading a cargo of 230,000 tons of crude oil on a floating platform, seven miles off the coast of Genoa, Italy. Having transferred 80,000 tons, it disconnected from the platform for a routine internal transfer operation, to allow oil to be pumped from two side-holds into a central one. While still loaded with 144,000 tons of crude oil, the ship exploded and caught fire, killing five crew members. As the fire engulfed the ship, flames rose 100 metres high and, after a series of further explosions occurred, between 30-40,000 tons of oil poured into the sea.
The Italian authorities acted quickly, with hundreds of men fighting a fire which was difficult to access and control. They distributed more than six miles of inflatable barriers, submerged a metre below the surface, around the vessel to control the spillage.
On day two, the MT Haven was to be towed close to the coast, in a bid to reduce the coastal area affected and make intervention easier. As the bow slipped beneath the surface, a steel cable was passed around the rudder and tugs applied towing pressure. On 14 April, the 250-metre-long main body sank a mile and a half from the coast, between Arenzano and Varazze, flooding the Mediterranean with up to 50,000 tons of crude oil.
The MT Haven is the Mediterranean and Europe’s largest shipwreck in the sea and lies at a depth of 33m to 83m off the coast of Arenzano (Genoa). I have been diving on this beautiful and unique wreck for the last three years and I can really say that I am in love with this big baby. But I want to warn every reader before going any further – this ‘baby’ can be a killer and a dangerous monster for untrained or inattentive divers.
Depending on the day, the current can go from nothing to strong, the visibility can change from a perfect 30 metres plus to a very poor five metres, it is a giant labyrinth inside in which one can get lost, like in any cave system, with huge amounts of silt that can turn water milk-like, but with the added threat of sharp metal cutting edges. The wreck is huge and deep, and you can lose your orientation as well as your notion of time and gas consumption. So plan your dive, and dive your plan. No heroes allowed here, you must be humble and patient enough to discover the wreck step by step, piece by piece and according to your own level of training and experience.
“But I want to warn every reader before going any further – this ‘baby’ can be a killer and a dangerous monster for untrained or inattentive divers.”
The 250-metre-long main section of the MT Haven peacefully lies in an upright position. Part of the superstructure which originally reached up to 24m of depth was removed, therefore the shallowest part of the entire wreck, the smokestack, now stands at 33m deep.
On a depth of 40m you find the wheelhouse, from which the captain maneuvered the tanker and which is completely empty. All the instruments and controls were burned away before sinking. On the upper deck you find a memorial plate and statues of the Virgin Mary.
You can easily penetrate the whhelhouse – you can go down or up the inner stairs. It is also very easy to go up or down the main lift opening that goes through the bridge, or just follow the outside walls. The windows on the side are numerous but sometimes quite small and most of the time too small to go through, every room has a door though.
The bridge is about 23 metres high, and here you find bedrooms, the kitchen, workroom and so on. You can penetrate almost everywhere, but its’s a labyrinth, so you should consider it as a cave and use a guideline.
From the bridge, technical divers can descend to the deck at the back of the tanker, past the winches, pipes and valves that are proportional to the size of the ship and free fall down to the propeller at 81m. Here excessiveness still strikes, with a rudder 20 metres high and a propeller more than seven metres in diameter. The dark becomes darker and we lose light from the surface. This place is breathtaking and looking up from this point, the tanker is majestic.
The engine room entrance of the MT Haven is located just under the chimney below 52m and from there you can go deep inside the ship. Here you find a gigantic eight-cylinder diesel engine, and the various panels and counters are still in perfect shape and intact.
Going up on the port side, there is a gigantic opening left by one of the two explosions. The gaping hole is so large that it is difficult to comprehend its dimensions and the plates are twisted like a broken can.
“The engine room entrance is located just under the chimney below 52m and from there you can go deep inside the ship”
For diving the MT Haven you need to be a technical diver, and complete these dives with hypoxic gases. Don’t do this dive without proper training.
There a two dive centres who provide all the facilities for diving the Haven, and both are in the Marina of Arenzano. Organization is perfect and safety non-negotiable. There is a fixed deco station with decompression bars at 6m and 3m with sufficient spare tanks. The descent lines are fixed and lead you down to the quarterback at 33m.
How to get to Arenzano
Arenzano is a municipality in the Italian province of Genoa and has 11,624 inhabitants. The area is 24 km², and the population density is 475 inhabitants per km².
You can get there by road on the mainland – for me, Arenzano is about 1,200km from Brussels. This road is the easiest one to transport all our equipment, rebreathers, bottles, etc.
Those coming from outside Europe can take the plane to Genoa airport. Genoa-Cristoforo Colombo Airport is the airport of the Italian port city of Genoa. The airport has an important function for the port of Genoa – it is the main port of call for cruise passengers embarking in Genoa. If you come by plane, you can also rent the necessary bottles and equipment at one of the two diving centres.
Photo credit: Kurt Storms