Million Hope – Sunk for a decade

The Million Hope was a phosphate carrier that sank in 1996 when it stuck the Sinai shore just north of the famous reef system of Gordon, Thomas, Woodhouse & Jackson, in the Straits of Tiran. Shortly after sailing from Aqaba in Jordan, the Million Hope hit the fringing reef plate in the narrow part of the Enterprise Passage, by Nabq, and promptly sank in the shallows, spilling its phosphates. The cause of the accident was an uncontrollable fire that quickly raced through the ship causing it to lose control. The carrier finally came to rest less than 5ms from the shoreline reef and at just 24m deep, leaving a large amount of the ship’s superstructure still visible above the waves.

The ship can easily be seen from the moorings at Jackson reef on a clear day and is often remarked upon by the visiting divers. The wreck itself is not often dived as the area where it rests prohibits it from regular diving. The site is on the point where the straits open up and without the shelter of the coastline it is often the recipient of rough sea, high swells and strong currents. Additionally, its proximity to the shore makes it quite hazardous to dive as the currents can whip along the narrow passageways tossing the unwary diver both against the fragile reef and the razor sharp wreckage.

A few years after sinking, the wreck had begun to settle nicely into one of the most sought after dives in the Red Sea, especially for those who did not want either the expense or the travel involved in a visit to the SS Thistlegorm. The Million Hope was always a special dive that almost guaranteed, by its location and accessibility, virtually no other divers there. In fact, the fire that raged shortly before its sinking and its closeness to the shore meant that the insides had largely been emptied of any obstructions and penetration of the various rooms, including the engine room were both a treat and easily undertaken. As the years progressed the sea had begun to take hold on the wreck and the coral was beginning to grow across the sunken decks, while the numerous fusiliers and lionfish were quickly becoming accustomed to their new habitat. This explosion of life combined with the relatively shallow depth meant this wreck was an absolute gift for underwater photography.

However, many of the dive schools in the area forbade diving to this location under many varied pretexts — mainly one of safety. While the wreck itself was not unsafe, the sea conditions regularly made it undiveable. Although, on such days it was more dangerous for the shallow keeled dive boats to try to make it to the wreck through the waves and the swell.

Diving the Hope was a relaxing affair since it had sunk so quickly it was largely structurally intact. The only real damage, apart from that caused by the fire, was the buckled & ripped hull plating that resulted from hitting the reef at such speed. The rent in the hull plating became the perfect entrance into one of main holds when diving the wreck. Normally, the dive would begin on the seaward side of the wreck near the stern, allowing the divers to drop down the side of the wreck and slowly drift down to the huge propeller at 24m. Then skirting around the stern along the starboard side of the Hope in the narrow channel between the wreck and the reef at about 17m until coming across the massive hole in the buckled hull plating and passing through it into the hold itself. Once in the hold it was a slow ascent up to around 9m to drift along the decking towards the accommodation block. A short swim inside the block passing through three very open cabins allowed the group to exit via a set of stairs on the main causeway and up onto the aft deck. The back deck is probably the most scenic part of the dive with the coral encrusted winches and moorings bathed in direct sunlight only 5m from the surface. With the gentle rocking of the slight swell and the shoals of fusiliers, many photographers have been captivated at this spot.

Sadly, as the Hope approaches its tenth year as a wreck the story is very different. The rough seas that have protected the wreck from over diving have largely destroyed the superstructure. The decking on the seaward side of the buckled hold has begun to collapse in upon itself and one of the cranes that stood majestically above the water has now snapped off and its wreckage is now strewn throughout that hold making it hazardous to dive. Probably the most disappointing damage has occurred to the main accommodation block, which sheared off and collapsed in upon itself. This wreckage has blocked off much of the routes for penetration including those into the engine room.

In less than a decade, one of the Red Sea’s best wrecks has all but been destroyed. The damage caused to the surrounding reef means that without the wreck it is a largely unimpressive dive. In fact, it is now better to dive a nearby wreck on the other side of the Straits that sank under similar circumstances. The Kormoran that lies in about 14m of water on the east side of Jackson Reef has become a much better dive as it combines it’s wreckage amongst some of the most impressive hard corals that the Red Sea has to offer. There’s no doubt that the Kormoran is a great dive and there are no end of divers who continue to claim the Thistlegorm as the most impressive wreck in the Red Sea. Either way, it was a privilege to be able to dive the Million Hope while it was still in its prime and it is a shame that so many other divers didn’t get the chance to do the same, that said, with the record of shipping in the Red Sea, it shouldn’t be too long until the Million Hope is replaced by an equally impressive newer wreck!

The Million Hope Stats:

  • Launched as Ryusei Maru in 1972
  • Displaced 26, 181 grt
  • Measured 174.6m by 24.8m
  • Draught of 10m
  • Bulk Carrier with 5 cargo holds inc. additional vehicles transporting facilities
  • Two 6 cylinder diesel engines 11,600bhp
  • Top speed 17knots.