What's in Davy Jones' Locker? Arabia's shipwrecks down the years

From Saudi tankers to Dubai dhows and World War II submarines, there’s a history to be found under the Arabian sea.

Neil Churchill April 21, 2015

In January 2013, a visiting British Royal Navy ship discovered two previously unknown shipwrecks in the waters of Port Rashid, Dubai.

The vessels were identified as 20-metre long dhows that are believed to have sank late in the 20th century. Sticking five metres up from the seabed in the busy harbour, it was incredible their presence had never been previously identified. The discovery was a small indication of the unknown world of the Gulf's shipwrecks.

There are only a dozen or so official recorded cases of a vessel sinking or running aground in the Arabian sea. But many wrecks have been found over the years with very little previous information detailing their demise. It's not a surprise really; the region has always had busy ports and shipping lanes, and where there are ships there will always be shipwrecks.

Some are well-known and fairly recent. In 2009, MV Demas Victory (below) - a supply ship that sailed to offshore oil and gas platforms - sank 10 nautical miles off the coast of Qatar's capital Doha. There were 35 lives on board, of which only five were rescued and six bodies recovered.

The reef to the south of Jeddah has trapped several craft over the years. MV Glen Sannox was a car ferry that served Scottish interests for over 30 years before being sold to a Middle Eastern company. In 2000, she ran aground south of Saudi Arabia's coastal city, as did Golden Arrow and MV Free Enterprise III.

The Sagheera was a 21,000-tonne Saudi supertanker that sank in 1989 while travelling from Fujairah to Mina Saud. An explosion, believed to be caused by a floating mine, brought about its demise. Four crew members were lost while 28 were rescued. The vessel now lies in two pieces on the seabed 115 metres deep, the bow and stern some distance apart.

The Innes is a popular wreck for experienced divers 11 km off the coast of Fujairah at 70 metres deep. Anita is a 50-metre supply vessel at a depth of 90 metres, sinking after it hit a mine. Fifi was a tugboat that caught fire and sank off the coast of Bahrain in the early 1980s, and has since become a popular dive site. Fifi Bahrain shipwreck.Some shipwrecks are better known than others; the Ajman Glory is one of the most famed in the UAE. The 55-metre wreckage was found in 2000 by a local diver, who not knowing its real identity, named it Isobel after his wife. Over the years, it picked up different monickers including Dollard, Mullah and Thinner, because its cargo looked like paint thinner. But after studying previous drawings and descriptions of the vessel, in 2012 it was confirmed as the Ajman Glory.

Sunk in 1989 while on a trip from Sharjah to Iran, dive teams have since found no clue as to why she went down. The weather on the day, August 28, was one of the calmest of the year.

Speaking of Iran, it's no surprise that there are thought to be several wrecks in the Strait of Hormuz that are yet to be discovered. Energy Determination was a Liberian supertanker that suffered an explosion as it crossed the busy shipping lane. Sinking in two pieces, the stern rests at a depth of 83 metres, 64 km off the coast of Ras al Khaimah.Ajman Glory shipwreck.One that has been dived only a few times is the Norman Atlantic, lying on the seabed 100 metres down. It's so far out from the UAE's coastline that Iran can be seen from its coordinates on the surface. Given its distance from shore, its location in the middle of one of the world's busiest shipping lanes and instances of Iran seizing boats that stray into its waters, it's not surprising that few have seen her.

It's not just ships and tankers that have fallen pray to Arabia's waters though. Military submarines too have sunk in this region. A Nazi German U-boat, U-533, has sat 105 metres deep in the Gulf of Oman since it was sunk on October 16, 1943. The direct strike by a British aircraft bomber caused a two-metre hole in its stern, dooming the 77-metre long sub and 52 of its crew members to a watery grave.

The Galvani is an Italian submarine resting at 100 metres, a short distance from the Strait of Hormuz. It sunk on 26 June, 1940, by British depth charges dropped by HMS Falmouth.Nazi German U-boat U-533.But it is the MV Dara that has one of the saddest stories of Arabia's shipwrecks. After completing a journey from Bombay to Dubai on 8 April 1961, a powerful explosion caused it to sink with 819 lives on board, 238 lost.

Arriving in Dubai and preparing to unload its passengers and cargo, a sudden storm forced the captain to take her back out to sea to ride it out. Onboard were dozens of people who had come aboard at Dubai, as well as the original passengers and crew. Withstanding the worst of the storm, the MV Dara began to return to port when a huge explosion tore through the ship. MV Dara shipwreck. While it was never proved by court of law, it's always been believed that the explosion was caused by a deliberately placed device, planted by Omani rebels related to the Dhofar rebellion. A British admiralty court concluded the explosive was an anti-tank mine. 565 lives were saved by British military crafts and several foreign merchant ships.

The MV Dara now lies just 21 metres deep, eight kilometres off the coast of Umm al Qaiwain. It is marked by a yellow and black buoy, bearing the words "Dara Wreck".