Octopus Diving [EDIT]
Octopus Diving
Address: Octopus Diving Centre: Larnaca/Dhekelia Road near the Princess Hotel. 7 KM from the Town Centre and 5 KM from Dhekelia Garrison.
Phone: +357 24 646571
Fax: +357 24 646571
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We offer the full range of B.S.A.C. and P.A.D.I. courses
including Nitrox. Below is a comprehensive guide to the courses on offer.

Sunk off Cyprus in 1980 after problems with her computer-controlled ballast system, and lying in 42m of water, the unsalvaged ferryboat Zenobia, with her complement of 108 variously-loaded articulated lorries, is the island's biggest draw for wreck divers. Until recently, the engine room in the depths of the vessel had not been entered since she sank. Helen Moody describes the difficult and dangerous work which led to its penetration earlier this year.

IAN and I were feeling frustrated. We had wasted a lot of time and energy exploring dead ends when we should have been running a business, and we were still no closer to finding a way into the Zenobia's engine-room.

Adding to the pressure was the fact that the date for filming was approaching rapidly.

Our quest had started earlier this year, when Ian McMurray received an enquiry from Ron Baloney of Singin Gyraff Film Production Company. Ron wanted to dive the Zenobia to film a documentary on wreck penetration using technical diving techniques.

The film was to be called Heart Of The Zenobia, and Ian had wanted to produce something special for Ron.

Sunk off Cyprus in 1980 following problems with her computer-controlled ballast system, and lying in 42m of water, the wreck of the Zenobia is intact. One hundred and eight articulated lorries remain in the lorry decks and on the outer decks, with cargos ranging from eggs and paint to air-conditioning units and toys.

Salvage work has never been permitted. An unauthorised souvenir could lead you to gain an intimate knowledge of the Cypriot judicial system.
Ian owns and runs - with my assistance - Octopus Diving Centre in Larnaca, and has dived the Zenobia thousands of times. It has become his playground, and he know the routes to its innermost parts intimately.

That said, one part of the wreck had long remained an enigma. The location and entry point to the engine-room had never been found, and Ron's film gave Ian an incentive to pursue that elusive goal.

With a filming date agreed, we embarked on a series of exploratory dives. From past experience Ian knew that all the normal routes were blocked, some by 32-tonne artics that would be impervious to the normal wreckies' crowbars and big hammers.
The maintenance-access hatches looked promising, but proved too heavy and were jammed too tight to shift. Forced to turn to even more obtuse routes, and following a lead from some earlier research, we started to explore the emergency escape hatches.

First on the list was the starboard escape hatch, located inside the lower car deck. This took us some 20m along a narrow steel tube less than 80cm in diameter, and led to a hatch that we thought was located in the ceiling of the engine room.
Unfortunately, this hatch had been distorted by the tremendous pressures of air and water as the ship sank. Now it could neither be opened nor closed.

To complicate matters further, there was a ladder in the escape tunnel, making it impossible to turn round. Our exit had to be made backwards up the full length of the tube.
It was frustrating, but after penetrating the wreck so far in such a confined space, this route had to be discarded. We were forced to turn to the port-side hatch, which was even deeper.
This, too, proved impenetrable, because a bank of silt had forced its way in through a ventilation hatch. Hardly surprising - at this point we were 3m below the seabed.
It was time for a last-ditch attempt. Ian decided to try a relatively small hatchway that he had previously dismissed. It lay at 40m some three minutes into the wreck.

Following a dive to relocate the hatch, and after again consulting the plans of the Zenobia and photos taken of the sister ship's engine-room during a refit, he was hopeful that this might be the way in.
Unfortunately, the hatch appeared to have been secured with a series of self-locking nuts. Releasing them and prising open the hatch was going to be hard work.

We set up nitrox stage cylinders, boosted the extra backup systems required to cope with the expected increase in air consumption involved with this sort of task, and called on the help of our Canadian friend Wayne.

The danger, we knew, was of being lulled into a false sense of security.

To see your computer indicating 5min of decompression time would not normally get the heart fluttering, but when you are 4min from a clear surface and at 40m-plus, 5min of deco rapidly becomes 10 or 15min. So our dive planning moved up a gear, and dive discipline became vital.
After eight long and frustrating dives spent wrestling with the rusting self-locking mechanisms, we felt we were tantalisingly close. However, when partly prised open the sheer weight of the hatch meant that it would immediately slam back on itself, making it impossible to enter safely.

We attached a 300kg lifting bag to the door to lift and support it while the remaining locking mechanism was released. With the hatch cover safely away from the opening, Wayne and Ian gallantly allowed me to enter first!

Time, and the rain of rust and debris disturbed by our bubbles, allowed for no more than a quick glimpse inside; the dive had been successful. The cylinder heads of the engines were clearly visible.
Subsequent dives allowed for further exploration and showed the engine-room to be in what can only be described as a time warp.
Everything was as intact as it had been when the Zenobia sank 17 years ago. The manufacturer's plaque was in pristine condition; engineers' ear-protectors hung next to gauges that looked ready to use.
Further penetration proved the remainder of the engine-room to be a further 2m below the seabed. Again, the amount of exploration time was limited both by the depth and the distance inside the wreck. A vast amount of rust and debris poured down continually, as if someone was emptying a huge packet of cornflakes over us.

Visibility reduced rapidly to zero, and soon rendered our only exit invisible, making the dive even more hazardous.

Satisfied that the engine-room could be penetrated, though only using the right equipment, and with the most careful dive planning, discipline and know-how, Ian felt the camera crew would be able to get the footage they required to make a successful documentary.
Taking into account the time available and decompression limitations, the crew wanted to film the most technically difficult dives first. They were immediately able to start filming in the engine room. The tight openings on the way there were mastered with a squeeze, but some wider routes had to be found to accommodate twinsets and cameras.
The rust in the engine-room posed a problem. To get the necessary clear shots, filming had to start on entry, while the water was still relatively undisturbed and clear. On occasions we became camera-crew, filming as we laid lines further into the engine-room.

With the complicated shots out of the way, a series of dives that the average diver could expect to enjoy on the Zenobia were filmed: general orientation dives and penetration of the bridge, restaurant and upper lorry deck.
This footage would be used to highlight the technical skill required to penetrate further into the wreck and ultimately the engine-room.
After a long and tiring week of shooting, Ron finally filmed a reconstruction of an actual incident in which a diver had become trapped inside the wreck, breathing from an air pocket until being rescued two hours later.
This was to ram home the point that even penetration dives that appear relatively straightforward at the outset are not for the inexperienced or ill-prepared.

The crew departed with substantial footage of the Zenobia; with luck the film should be seen on British screens towards the end of the year.

Ian was left with the dilemma of what to do with the open hatch deep inside the wreck. He wanted to keep this part of the Zenobia intact but at the same time to prevent inexperienced divers exploring it.
After much careful thought we decided that the best policy would be to reseal and lock the hatchway, but in such a way that it could be reopened as and when required.
We hope more divers will have the thrill and pleasure of experiencing the undisturbed, innermost depths of the Zenobia but only after the most careful vetting and preparation. The engine-room is a long way down, a long way in, and a long way from home. It should be dived and treated with the great respect it deserves.


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