The Wreck of the Zenobia - A Brief History

by B. N. Sullivan

This is the second in a series of articles about diving on the wreck of the Zenobia, a large vessel that sank in the Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of Cyprus, in 1980. In the introduction to this tale, I mentioned that the Zenobia was huge -- more than 172 meters (560 feet) in length, with a beam of about 23 meters (75 feet). We have never dived on a larger wreck, before or since.

When the Zenobia sank, she was a very new ship. In fact, she was not just new, she represented the state of the art for ships of her type at the time, with many modern automated systems. Ironically, it was one of those automated systems that did her in on her maiden voyage.

The Zenobia began her trip in Malmo, Sweden, bound for Syria, with several intermediate stops in the eastern Mediterranean. She was loaded with more than 100 articulated lorries -- trucks with two trailers behind a single cab. The lorries in turn were heavily laden with assorted goods. All told, the combined value of the lorries and their cargo was said to be several hundred million dollars.

ZenobiaSomewhere en route, the ship began to list to port. When she got to the Cypriot port of Larnaca, it was discovered that there was a problem with the computerized pumping system that controlled the amount of sea water taken into the Zenobia's ballast tanks. Attempts to fix the problem failed, and the list became more marked. The vessel was towed out of the harbor and anchored offshore to await further help, but the problem grew worse, ultimately overwhelming the Zenobia. Her crew left the vessel safely, but the Zenobia sank in the early morning hours of June 7, 1980, taking her cargo with her. Never salvaged, the Zenobia lies on her port side, on the sandy bottom of Larnaca Bay to this day.

The photo on this page shows the Zenobia, already listing, hours before she sank in June of 1980. The photo belongs to Ian McMurray, owner of the Octopus Diving Centre in Larnaca, Cyprus. I contacted Ian when I began preparing this series of articles and he graciously gave us permission to use this photo so that our readers would be able to see what the Zenobia looked like, just before her demise. (Thank you Ian!)

Ian was among the first divers ever to see the Zenobia underwater, and over the years, he probably has made more dives on this wreck than anyone else on the planet. He knows the wreck inside and out, quite literally. When we went to Cyprus in 1992 to dive on the Zenobia, Ian was our guide.

These days, dives on the Zenobia can be booked through several dive operators in Cyprus, but when the Zenobia first sank, diving on the wreck was forbidden by the Cypriot government. Ian McMurray was eventually granted permission to take a limited number of divers to the wreck, but arrangements had to be made well ahead of time.

We had been to Cyprus several times, and on some of those trips, we had done some diving. We had heard about the wreck of the Zenobia and decided we would like to see it. Our opportunity came in September of 1992 when Jerry was scheduled to go to Cyprus for a business conference. We contacted Ian and reserved space for seven dives on the Zenobia. We were joined on three of the dives by our friend Joe who flew down from London to share the adventure with us.

Now that I have set the stage, we're ready to begin telling you about our dives on the Zenobia. We saw the entire outside of the vessel, and that alone took several dives to accomplish on such a large ship. We saw the inside of the bridge. We saw several of the lorries that had spilled out of the vessel as she sank, and on our final dives, we entered one of the Zenobia's parking decks, swam through it, and emerged at the other end. Along the way, we saw things we had never seen before, and some we hoped we would never see again among the contents of those lorries.

Tomorrow is Wordless Wednesday, and I will post a photo from one of the Zenobia dives. After that, the stories of the dives on the wreck begin.


  1. This must have been an exciting diving adventure, even for you, Bobbie!

    I visited Ian's website. He has quite a number of other diving sites where he takes divers as a guide. Looking forward to your next posts in this series! Aloha, Pua

  2. Hi Gattina and Pua -

    Thanks to both of you for visiting.

    Pua - Yes, Ian's diving centre in Larnaca is excellent -- and always has been.



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Bobbie & Jerry