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February 2023    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 49, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Red Sea Liveaboard Smacks into a Reef at Night

Are liveaboards getting reckless?

from the February, 2023 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

The great circular reef at Sha'ab Abus Nuhas near the entrance to the Gulf of Suez in Egypt's Red Sea has seen many ships come to grief over the centuries One of the oldest wrecks is the SS Carnatic, a steam sailing ship from the 19th Century, the MV Chrisoula K, and one of the more recent, MV Giannis D, a Greek freighter that grounded in the 1980s As such, it is a magnet for dive boats and divers.

Alas, Sha'ab Abu Nuhas still claims victims, the most recent being Seawolf Diving Safari's MY Felo, which ran aground on the reef at 2 a.m. on October 31. The vessel was on a night crossing to an Abu Nuhas dive site with 22 members of two Bremen, Germany, dive clubs and the 10-member crew. The Felo was evacuated, and six guests and three crew members incurred minor injuries. The wooden-hull liveaboard had major damage and was later declared unfit for repair.

MY FeloSeawolf Diving Safari posted details on their Facebook page, which included an accident report created by the German divers. They introduced the report in part by saying "Today, we would like to show you the accident report from the point of view of the victims. Representation and sensations of the guests involved often differ from those of the crew and dive guides. Seawolf takes the representation of guests more seriously because it allows us to learn, recognize our mistakes, change and deepen actions in emergency situations." [Kudos to Seawolf for the effort toward full transparency; however, they have not responded to questions we sent via two emails.]

The report raised several safety concerns, primarily why it was traveling at full speed in an area known for many shallow reefs and what navigational precautions the crew were using. The report questioned the crew's emergency training and emergency plans. They did not use signal flares or other lights. The report claims the evacuation was delayed, and it became an emergency, with the crew telling some guests to jump into the water, which led to injuries. Some passengers' life jackets were not fully functional, and the crew members were not wearing life jackets.

While the Seawolf website states that their vessels have two life rafts, each capable of carrying 24 passengers, the report states that they were not used. Instead, the guests and crew (the captain stayed onboard) climbed into the two inflatables, each designed for eight people but loaded with 15. The boats did not have emergency supplies, communication devices, navigational equipment, or lights. When the inflatables left the Felo, they were just given a general direction to travel and eventually saw the lights of another liveaboard, the MY Aphrodite.

Egyptian-built liveaboards might look sleek in their recent paint jobs, but most are of cheap timber construction. As such, they do not survive contact with a reef. The Red Sea is covered with reefs, most visible just below the surface. Admiralty charts tell mariners to stay in the main shipping lanes. But dive boats want to get close to the reefs. Combine that with the tendency for crews to navigate by eye and rely on "inshallah," and you can understand why every year there are casualties. Bearing that in mind, it does beg the question, what were they doing driving MY Felo at full speed after the midnight hours?

There are so many registered liveaboards in Egypt (around 150) that if a boat has problems, another vessel will likely be close enough to rescue passengers and crew. Because the Egyptian hulls are wood, wrecks tend to sit high and dry (until eventually destroyed by the waves), allowing passengers to collect valuables if they are timely. Bedouin fishermen will strip a wreck bare almost overnight if it is left unguarded.

It's all part of the adventure of Red Sea diving!

- Charles Davis and John Bantin

PS: One of Undercurrent's readers booked a future trip with PADI Travel on the M/Y Seawolf Felo several days after the incident. When he learned of the accident, he contacted PADI travel, which was unaware that the boat was no longer operable. He was not offered a refund but instead was rebooked on another Seawolf Diving Safari vessel, which he accepted.

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