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technical diving
Zenobia Project

The Zenobia Project aimed to access a previously unaccesable area of the wreck. The Zonobia is a 165m long, 10,500ton car/lorry ferry that sank just off Larnaca, Cyprus in 1985.there are over 104 lorries with trailers inside her.

The article below tells some of the story. more progress has been made in the last few weeks and this will be added at a a later date....

to see more pics and videos click below:

pictures of the project

video of the project

video of the spare prop room

Approximately two and half years ago I was sitting with my buddy, Adam Florio, discussing where we should go on our next dive holiday. We wanted somewhere warm (well warmer than the UK, which wasn’t hard) with wrecks and a short travel time from the UK. We only had a week and did not want to spend half of it travelling to and from the destination! It did not take long for both of us to agree on the Zenobia, in Larnaca, Cyprus.
After consulting friends, colleagues and the internet it was clear that the person to contact in Cyprus was Chris Demetriou of Dive In, Larnaca. Chris knows the Zen like the back of his hand and has a library of info including plans. The centre is also ideally located being less than a mile from the wreck!
After an uneventful flight we arrived in Larnaca at Dive In, showed the relevant cert.cards etc, checked in with the centre and set up our twin 12s. The next few days were spent being guided around the wreck by Chris and visiting most of the popular areas, including the engine room and lower cargo deck.
Myself and Adam were surprised at the large size of the wreck (including the 104 lorries with trailers in the cargo decks!) and also how intact she was!
We were also surprised to come across a few closed doors and blocked passages that had not yet been opened or cleared.
After each day’s diving numerous hours were spent with Chris and the ship’s blueprints, attempting to match up the doors and passageways and trying to locate where they would lead to.
Chris also told us of a colleague who had helped him clear some debris from the engine room making areas more accessible for other divers. We liked the idea and
decided that we would “have a go” at opening or clearing a new route.
On previous dives at 20m we had noticed a blocked entrance at the end of a horizontal passage (escape route) leading from the starboard side of the deck, near the stern to the middle cargo deck (she lies on her port side). The entrance was blocked by two bars of 1.5 inch angle iron that had been welded across the middle.
 We both agreed that we wanted to find out where it led to! To find that out the bars had to be removed! But how?

That evening after a long meeting and a few bottles of decompression fluid we eventually reverted back to the original plan that involved a few hacksaws and a lot of elbow grease!
The small area of the entrance (approx 1m x 1m), along with the added resistance of the water made it very difficult to remove the bars. We took turns of between 5-10mins each, one working whilst the other waiting behind watching. The passage being so narrow meant that we both had to leave the passage, reversing out, to swap our positions. We tried not to overexert ourselves, to help conserve gas consumption and reduce the risk of DCI. The bars were also removed as close to the frame as possible to maximise the size of the opening and to avoid causing any sharp edges or points that may have cut or punctured our wings, or us, when squeezing through. By the end of the second dive, approx 100 mins bottom time, two hacksaws and about ten blades later we had succeeded in removing the bars and even filed down the worst of the sharp points and edges!
Unfortunately we had neared our gas turn around point so decided not enter the new area and exited the passage where we gave each other a quick handshake before returning to the deco station. The deco time seemed to take longer to pass by. Maybe it was because I was eager to get out and plan the next days diving!
The next day, having discussed numerous plans etc, we prepared our equipment, adding a few more reels and extra items we thought may be useful. Trying not to overload or make ourselves resemble Christmas trees and create potential entanglement points!
We quickly made our way to the new entrance, tied off a primary reel and slowly, bit by bit squeezed through the new opening, taking extra care not to snag us or our equipment on the newly cut metal. Almost immediately inside the entrance the   passage led directly down, opening into a large room towards the right (towards the stern). The room then dropped to what seemed to be the opposite side (port side) of the ship. The room contained numerous large generator/pump type units and a large white oil/fuel tank. Everything was covered with a two inch layer of red/orange silt layer made up of very fine rust. It reminded me of snow, only red! The slightest movement near this silt caused a red cloud to form, reducing the visibility to practically zero. It had the colour and vis of an orange and tomato juice cocktail! This combined with the percolation caused by our bubbles soon made the visibility v-poor.Half way down the room we noticed a large, hydraulically operated, watertight bulkhead door. The door was approx 2m by 1.5m across and must have weighed well over a ton. Unfortunately the door was in the closed position, with the door closing to port.  With the ship lying on her port side, opening the door seemed impossible! Or was it?
Nearing our turn around point my face started to sting and slightly burn. I signalled this to my buddy Adam who was also feeling the same. I remembered having earlier passed some empty, plastic blue barrels labelled Toxic followed by a ref code “DTE 13”. On our way out we stopped by the blue barrels. I ripped off one of the labels with the ref code and stashed it in my pocket. If we had been contaminated, I wanted to know what by. Deco seemed even longer as we wondered what chemicals we had come into contact with, even though the stinging had now stopped. When climbing back on the boat it was obvious by our odour that we had passed through a pocket of chemicals and/or fuel. Using the recovered label, a quick search on the internet revealed that the blue barrels contained hydraulic fluid, which also confirmed our theory that we had entered the steering room. We were relieved that we had not come into contact with something dangerous.

Further exploration of the room revealed a similar escape passage on the bottom. The floor and passage were covered in about two inches of the same red/orange silt that soon reduced the visibility to zero when disturbed. The passage also contained ropes, cables and other debris that had fallen in or settled over the years. Not a nice place to become entangled in with zero vis! (On a later dive we checked the other entrance to this passage and found it was blocked by a fallen lorry!) 
Unfortunately our holiday had come to an end. We agreed to return the following year to continue. During the year we discussed if and how the bulkhead door could be opened and tried to work out what was behind it.

Several months passed and once again we found ourselves in Larnaca. We had decided to try and remove the bulkhead door! To do this involved removing the frame   of the door and disconnecting the large piston. We also had to take into account the fact that the door weighed at least a ton, not something you would want falling on you!
The first task was to disconnect the piston ram from the door. The end of the ram was connected to the door by pivot pin.
We planned to remove the pin using a hammer and cold chisel. After a few dives of hammering the hell out of the pin, with no progress, we needed an alternative plan. If we could twist the piston, then the end holding the pin may unscrew? The next dive, armed with a large set of waterpump pliers, we managed to eventually loosen the ram and unscrew the end. During these fun and games the pliers were dropped, and became hidden in the deep silt at the bottom. They were eventually located by having to feel around in the silt as carefully as possible without disturbing it to much. The piston ram had been disconnected!!!

Over the last few days when travelling to and from the Zen we had noticed a ship moored a few miles away near to Larnaca Port that looked identical to the Zen. We planned to visit the ship one afternoon to find out if we could go aboard and see if the internal layout was the same. A few days later the ship left and I was disappointed that we had missed the chance to go aboard. However my disappointment didn’t last long.
 We later found out that the boat had been seized by customs on entering Cyprus, for drug smuggling. It had been held and was being moored the whole time by customs officers! Imagine how it would have looked if three dodgy looking individuals had arrived at the ship in a fast rib. That would have taken some explaining to the customs men!
 ”Errrr,… we came to look at the ship, honest!”

The next job was to remove the bolts holding the runners for the door. If these were removed the door should have had nothing holding it and hence fall away.

The next dive, armed with a hammer, cold chisel and large adjustable spanner we set to work on the bolts holding the door runners and door in place. Progress was slow, each of the large 24m bolts had to be fully unscrewed using the adjustable spanner, some in tight spaces. We only managed to remove 5 of them on the first dive! Using sockets and bars on subsequent dives speeded this up to about 9 bolts per dive. Even at this rate it was very laborious removing the 50+ bolts! After removing approx 40 of the bolts we had once again run out of time!!

 The remaining bolts would have to wait until the next trip!

Almost a year had passed before we managed to get back to the Zen.
It didn’t take us long to get back into the swing of things.
By the end of the second dive we had managed to remove 10 bolts, purposefully leaving only one remaining. We did not want the door to fall, make the wreck shudder when it collided with the floor and make any loose objects fall on us!
We had soon cleared the debris from above, including some iron grates, which originally covered the floor.
Whilst moving the grates, I realised how easy it would have been for them to have fallen on us and was thankful for our forethought and plan to clear them before releasing the heavy door!

Not long into the third dive we had managed to remove the final bolt in preparation for removing the door. Even after removing the final bolt the door was still stuck solid. After about 20mins of gentle persuasion (a club hammer and cold chisel) the door was still caught in the right hand runner.
Nearing the end of the dive we had only managed to pull open but not remove the door. We decided to tie the door open. Adam then tied off and entered the newly opened passage. Inside the passage there was an open door hanging from the top (starboard wall). The vis was practically zero due to us working on the door and disturbing the thick red silt. We were also nearing our 1/3rd of gas use, so we called the dive, collected our tools and exited.

That evening we both decided that it would be safer if we could completely remove the door. We also felt that the task we had set ourselves was to remove the door and that by not removing it we had somehow failed.

The next day we felt good, we were the sure this was the day the door would come off. Nearing the end of the first dive, after what seemed likes hours of strenuous pulling and pushing of the door, Adam and I positioned ourselves with our backs to the wall and using our legs, pushed as hard as we could on the door. The door opened that little bit further and the top started to fall away. We both moved away and watched in what seemed like slow motion as the door disappeared into the depths.
We awaited the loud boom sound and shudder that we had anticipated as the door struck the bottom, but were fairly disappointed by the small thud it generated. Big smiles and handshakes all round.
 At last, crack open the champagne, after 32 dives and over 2 ½ years, the door was finally off. But the celebrating would have to wait as we had another dive to do that day.
During the next dive we entered the new passageway. It felt slightly strange, knowing that we were the first people here since she had sunk. We started to lay a white 15mm thick rope as a permanent guideline, but progress was very slow with the severe red mist almost instantly engulfing us. Above us two doors were hanging open (room 606 & 607) causing restrictions in the passageway that had to be manoeuvred around. I very carefully, slowly poked my head up through the open doorways to ensure there was nothing that could have fallen on us or blocked our exit as we proceeded down the passageway.
 In one of the doors there was still a key in the lock with a bunch of keys hanging from it. The keys looked like a combination of house and padlock keys.
One of the keys had a label with 606 printed on it. I wondered if they had been left there in a hurry. This would also explain why the two doors had been left unlocked and open.
We knew there was another bulkhead watertight door, identical to the one we had just removed at the end and presumed it would be shut. If it was shut there was no way we could open this, bar some form of gas/plasma cutter as the frame etc was on the other side. As we thought, the door was shut, but not completely. At the bottom there was a small gap 15cm high. Why had this hydraulic, watertight bulkhead door not shut, there appeared to be nothing blocking the door? Although by this time the red mist had closed in and the vis was practically zero.
The ship was new when she went down, so the door should have closed efficiently. Thoughts of sabotage ran through my head.
Further dives showed that there were fire type hoses running through the door on the bottom right corner. These hoses were probably used to try to hose down the diesel that had leaked out from the lorry’s when the ship first listed to one side.
On further dives we entered the rooms. Room 606 was a small square room that was the electrical store. There were numerous small boxes and many coils of wire, many uncoiled just waiting to wrap around and entrap you! Room 607 was the engineering store and had tool/parts racks inside, one still had a huge ratchet attached and some v-large sockets, surprisingly all were still very clean and shiny. In the passageway we found the engineer’s blackboard with the Zenobia written on top with columns for entering different info.
Room 608 was the workshop, which contained a huge lathe and bench drill. It also contained a large sign at the opposite end to the entrance explaining the safe use and storage of Oxygen and Acetylene gas used for welding/cutting. There was a 1-2m deep layer of silt on the floor. Whilst swimming over it, I thought that there must have been numerous tools and parts hiding within it.
It was easy to imagine the engineer using these rooms as the crew frantically tried to save the Zenobia from sinking in her last few days afloat.

Sadly another trip had come to an end! What next? Who knows… there is another passage that should lead to the control room but that’s blocked by about 1-2 tons of silt,….hmn sounds interesting!

We would like to thank Chris Demetriou and the staff of Dive In, Larnaca for their help in the project.





zenobia project

zen sinking

zen sinking

zen plan

zen control room

control room

zen projec

Watertight door sign

zenobia project

Adam working on the door

zenobia dive project

the disconnected piston end

zenobia article

the watertight door opening


a label from the blue containers

electric store

the elcrtric store door hanging open


sign on engine store door

zen project

the engineers blackboard

zenobia project

engineers blackboard


zenobia article

the bunch of keys that were in the lock of the door