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SS Ulysses at The Red Sea Wreck Project

Drawing of the SS Ulysses

The Ulysses was listed as an “Iron Screw Steamer, Planked” of 1989 GRT built at R. & W. Hawthorn Leslie and Company, Limited, Hebburn-on-Tyne, England, UK, for the Ocean Steamship Company, London, UK. The ship was launched on 08 November 1870 and joined the Ocean Steamship fleet of other ships which all had Greek mythological names (Hector, Menelaus, and Sarpedon) in 1871. The Ulysses was 95.1 meters in length, 10.2 meters in beam, and 7.7 meters in draught. The ship was rigged for sail, but also had a single double-expansion 2-stroke steam 225 HP engine built by P. Stephenson & Cowhich, Newcastle, which proved to be so efficient that the ships of the Ocean Steamship fleet later became known as the “China Boats” because they were able to make the voyage from England to China without re-coaling enroute.

In mid-summer 1887, the Ulysses, under the command of Captain Arthur Bremner, departed London with a cargo for general merchandise destined for Penang, China. The voyage south to the Mediterranean and on through the Suez Canal were uneventful. It should be mentioned at this point that for Captain Bremner, an experienced captain who previously had had other commands, this was his first voyage through the Red Sea.

Upon clearing the Suez the ship continued its journey southward and on the evening of 15 August Captain Bremner checked the navigation charts one last time before retiring to his cabin. In the early morning hours on 16 August, the ship struck the northern side of Gubal Seghir and was hard aground.

Upon first inspection, Captain Bremner estimated the damage to the ship to be slight and, as the ship’s pumps were easily handling the amount of incoming water, he decided to wait for assistance from any passing vessels. Just before dawn, the British steamer Kerbala appeared and it was requested that she make for Suez in all haste and request assistance for the grounded ship. Meanwhile, until the requested assistance arrived, the crew was busy keeping the ship afloat assuming that once the ship’s cargo had been offloaded that the Ulysses could simply be pulled off the reef.

Assistance in the form of 2 lighters, with the HMS Falcon didn’t arrive until the 20th of August. During those 3 days between the grounding and the arrival of help, the ship had been slowly working herself on the reef in the building seas. This would prove to be the end of the ship.

The Ulysses’ crew, with assistance from the Lighter’s crews, began the laborious task of offloading the ship’s cargo and carrying it over a third of a mile across the reef to where the Lighters lay at anchor. The amount of cargo was more than the two Lighters could carry so some was also put on the deck of the HMS Falcon.

By the time the ship’s cargo was offloaded the reef had done its damage to the ship. Soon afterwards the ship slipped slowly off the reef and quietly sank by the stern, settling on the reef below with only her bow and bowsprit remaining above the water. With that, the Lighters and the HMS Falcon with the cargo and crew of the Ulysses departed for Suez on 06 September 1887.

Arriving at Suez, Captain Bremner submitted his official report concerning the ship’s loss where she was listed as “Abandoned”. Soon after, heavy weather caused considerable damage to the ship and the Ulysses disappeared from the surface at position 27.41.12N/33.48.10E in 4-28 meters of water.

The Board of Trade enquiry valued the ship’s cargo at 60,000 British Pounds and determined that loss of the ship was a result of navigational error, although no fault was ever assigned. After the loss of the Ulysses, Captain Bremner never returned to sea…..

Diving Information

The wreck of the Ulysses lies on her port side on the northern face of Gubal Sheghir with her bow, or what is left of it, lying in 4-5 meters of water and the rest of the wreck descending down the reef to where her propeller lies partially buried in the sand at 28 meters.
The wooden deck has long since disappeared leaving only the skeleton of the ship’s iron deck supports. This allows easy penetration into the wreck with no chance of becoming lost. However, the interior of the wreck is encrusted with extensive marine growth. The after-most part of the ship is the most complete, with her propeller and rounded stern leading up to the ship’s engines located approximately amidships. Her shaft is clearly visible as well. The main deck still has bits, chocks, and other equipment mounted on it. Located on the seabed around the wreck are also bits and pieces from the ship, including a bathtub!
This area is subject to strong currents so the best way to dive this wreck is to drop in up-current and descend to the ship, then seek shelter on the lee side of the ship where the current drops off.

About Author

Lee has been in the marketing industry for the last 15 years and now specializes in teaching marketing techniques to people in the scuba diving industry. He is founder of Dive Media Solutions which, in addition to providing complete marketing, media, communications and IT solutions exclusively for the scuba diving industry, also produces The Scuba News. You can connect with Lee via Twitter by following @DiveMedia

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