Container ship damages Woodhouse Reef in the Tiran Straits

by B. N. Sullivan

Regular readers of The Right Blue surely must know by now that one of our favorite places in the world to dive is the Red Sea.  We lived and worked in the eastern Mediterranean region for many years, and during that time, we went to the Red Sea frequently for dive breaks.  When we had the time to do so, we would spend a week or more on a live-aboard dive safari boat.  More frequently, we stayed at Sharm el-Sheikh and used day-boat charters to dive the reefs of the southern Sinai peninsula and the Straits of Tiran.

During that period of time, we visited the area so frequently that we came to know the South Sinai and Tiran dive sites as well as we know our reefs back at home.  Those reefs are incredibly lush, teeming with life -- and very photogenic.  Some of my best underwater photos were shot in the northern Red Sea.  It's been a few years since our last visit there, but our fond memories of the area have not dimmed.

All of  those reefs happen to be situated in or near very busy commercial shipping lanes.  The Tiran Straits separate the Gulf of Aqaba from the rest of the Red Sea.  All ship traffic heading to or from the busy ports of Eilat, Israel, and Aqaba, Jordan must thread their way around the reefs as they pass through that narrow passage between the coasts of Egypt and Saudi Arabia.  This week we learned that Woodhouse Reef, one of the four spectacular reefs in the Straits of Tiran, was seriously damaged when a 40,000 ton container ship ran aground on it on December 31, 2009.  The news made our hearts ache.

Underwater cameraman Tom Osborn dived at Woodhouse a few days after the ship ran aground there and filmed the damage.  In an article about the accident on the British Web site Dive Magazine, Tom Osborn relates what he saw:
"All of the reef in the area of the collision has been destroyed. It resembles a chalk quarry with fresh white lumps of rock scattered everywhere.

"You can see underwater that large sections of the container's hull has been crushed and sliced open from the force of the impact. As the ship smashed into the reef, she damaged huge chunks of the reef plate near the surface.

"An area approximately 30m wide and 20m long has tumbled away in sections down the steep slope of Woodhouse Reef like an avalanche, destroying any living coral below to a depth of at least 45m. At 35m you can clearly see a large slab of reef plate that used to be near the surface."
Here is a sample of the video shot by Tom Osborn that shows some of the devastating damage to Woodhouse Reef:

If the video does not play or display properly above, click here to view it on YouTube.


  1. Crap. Global warming isn't enough, is it?

  2. I was on Rosetta 2 to dive that site that morning and was totally gobsmacked that in this day and age with GPS etc that they could get it so wrong!! I too have some fantastic picture showing this tragic result of human error.

  3. @ scienceguy - Unfortunately this is not the first ship to run aground on one of the Tiran reefs, but I do believe it is the biggest.

    @ Anonymous

    Are your photos posted online somewhere? We would love to see them.


  4. Considering that one could damage coral by reaching out one gloved hand, well, 40,000 tons... I'm sorry to hear about this tragedy.

  5. can they repair the coral ref?


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Bobbie & Jerry