Deeper Into Darkness – Deep Inside The MS Zenobia Wreck

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before – Edgar Allan Poe.

“Congratulations, you’ve just killed everyone,” said Chris Demetriou, the Ops Manager at Dive-In Larnaca, based in Cyprus. We had ventured deep inside the MS Zenobia wreck and, sure enough, the dive hadn’t gone as planned, but where had I made such a fatal mistake? This had been my penultimate dive on the TDI Advanced Wreck Diver course. The past three days had been more psychologically demanding than I had ever imagined.

Chris said: “I don’t have to load the course with simulated problems, they just happen in real time.” He was dead right – pitch black, encased in claustrophobia-inducing metal, without any lights or guidelines; situations could get quite interesting, if not extremely tense!   

The Zen is an ideal wreck for technical diver training. On 7 June 1980, the 165-metre-long, 10,000-ton, roll-on, roll-off ferry sank in the middle of Larnaca Bay. She now lies on her port side at a maximum depth of 42m. Her demise has long been steeped in controversy and intrigue. The most-plausible theory is she sank due to a malfunction with the computerised system controlling her ballast tanks. There have never been any salvage operations.

Photographs by Stuart Philpott
Photographs by Stuart Philpott – blacked out mask

A full cargo of 104 articulated lorries and heavy plant machinery still lie chained to the decks and stacked inside her holds. This popular dive site is conveniently located just a few minute’s RIB ride from the harbour.

Chris has spent a number of years developing the course itinerary. Most of the training dives are conducted inside the officer’s day room and the captain’s bedroom. The two rooms are totally enclosed, with some daylight filtering down from a row of rectangular windows above. Chris explained: “You don’t need to go deep inside for the course.” Just to confuse matters, the Zen lies on her port side so doorways, walls, ceilings and windows are not where they are expected to be. Chris said: “When planning any penetration dives, it’s vitally important to consider room orientation and the overall wreck layout.”

Although there are some theory sessions, most of the four-day course focuses on practical exercises. Ex-Londoner Chris said: “This is my favourite TDI course; we’ve already run about ten this year.” He usually limits numbers to two divers per course. Minimum certification requirements are PADI Advanced Open Water Diver with the Wreck Specialty and 50 logged dives, or any certifying agency with a wreck familiarisation certificate and the prescribed number of dives. Divers really have to be in the right mindset for this course. Chris said: “We don’t have to fail anybody, they end up failing themselves.” He continued: “This course is not for ‘badge collectors’. By the end of the second day, I know if they are going to make it or not.”

chris deploying smb
chris deploying smb

My first dive was basically an orientation. This gave me a chance to get familiar with the wreck’s key features and my own equipment configuration. I had been partnered with Scott Ayrey, an experienced trimix diver. All participants have to be geared up with twinsets and a stage cylinder. Chris prefers to keep his kit as streamlined and as basic as possible – “I don’t want to look like a Christmas tree diver,” he says.

There are no cages covering his manifolds, or rubber boots and nets on the cylinders. Chris said: “It all ends up snagging on the wreck.” Chris guided us to the bulkhead door that led into the officers day room. We checked depth, time and cylinder pressures before entering. Our first task was to sketch a map of the entrance and highlight any distinguishing features inside the room. This included piping ducts, windows, carpet, wiring, hatchways, etc. Over the next few dives, Scott and I would become very familiar with the layout.