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My Love Affair with the MV Viminale, the Italian Titanic

Young, poetic Italian explorer Andrea Murdock Alpini reveals the sensitivities of his not so discreet love affair with the wreck of Motonave Viminale, the Italian Titanic, which lays more than 100 meters beneath the sea near Palmi, Italy. As the Bee Gees sang, “Quant’è profondo il tuo amore?”

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By Andrea Murdock Alpini 
Translated by Lara Lambiase (DAN Europe, Diving Medical Officer) AKA Lady Murdock 
Header photo by Marco Mori

Puoi leggere questa storia in italiano qui
You can read this story in Italian here

Everyone would like to run towards their dreams. Touching them is a privilege some people have.  Taking  them up with both hands is a blessing for just a few. The life wind often blows inconsistently and in many directions.  A strong analytic effort is needed in order to understand the right path to follow.

Saying Farewell

It takes courage to leave behind a wreck. Turning and making the decision that this will be the last time you see her or that you will be close and inside her, these are some hard choices. It sounds like standing at the door saying goodbye to someone dear to you who comes from far away and is going to  leave again. To say goodbye means the end and, at the same time, implies a beginning: that your relationship is moving into memory.

The first time I dived down to visit MV Viminale, I knew it would never end in a farewell. Delicate metal sheets embracing me for the first time; her touch and her voice, made up of a long-distance courtship; it all fascinated me so much that I could not help thinking about her: such a charming, elegant ship.

A transatlantic is unique in shape, dimension, history. 

MV Viminale Wreck
Viminale Wreck – Murdock on the top deck. Photo by Marco Mori.

The first encounter is never to be forgotten. In just a short while it conveys the whole timbre of what is possible.  Your clean-shaved deep-sea observer’s glance cannot stop at the surface anymore. He must see more. “There’s a fracture in everything,” some crack that allows entrance to the inside, a place where delicate worlds are opening or closing.

After one visit, I can say goodbye no longer. 

I remember my many, earlier dives, for a full year while I waited for the right moment to meet Viminale. I was able to feel what Penelope, Ulysses’ wife, felt while waiting for her dear husband’s return, much like the endless waits sailors endure as they pass from one harbor to another, the embers of their smokes drifting into the air of the night.

Coming across Viminale’s wreck has been one of the most powerful experiences of my entire life. With my first gaze, I witnessed the past but even so, still longed for the present. 

The Future of the Classic

Looking at the Viminale requires a high level of attention. Even though you believe you’re seeing the wreck, you are also watching the ship. At first sight, observers see the wreck, but if they allow themselves to watch carefully and with new eyes, they will see the fascinating Lloyd Triestino ocean liner. Once seen, it’s impossible to be ignored..

Motonave Viminale, an old archive photo – the bow.

You will want to come back, again, again, and again. Your eyes will never grow tired of her beauty and your thirst for knowledge about her will lead you to explore and extend your personal new boundaries. It’s  an enchantment: at the exact moment the young girl appears, she begins her transformation into a woman.

Two aspects co-exist, inseparable, but so far apart if you are not able to see.

The first aspect is related to the wreck, which is basically what every person sees while glancing at her; the second aspect represents the future of a classic look. The woman is hidden to the eye, covered by different layers that  shaped her, over time.  

Looking at the young girl, then the woman appears: the Ship: “She’s a force emerging from the past; she finds her strength in the tradition of love.” Love for whom? For the Sea, who she belongs to since she first  floated on the surface of the water until the moment she surrendered and sank, consumed by the  ocean’s swells.  

I wrote about Viminale last year; my scream of joy in front of the Ship at 107 m/350 ft of depth. The reason I fell in love with this wreck was that, until then I had only seen the young girl, but suddenly the woman appeared to me.  

The video “Relitto Viminale – Sala macchine -107m” was filmed in June 2019 during Andrea Murodck Alpini’s second trip diving the wreck of Viminale. Footage is focused on the pilot deck, the beautiful bow with its anchors, and the stunning interior of the engine room. The film was taken in one dive with a long bottom time. Total runtime of the open circuit tech dive was four hours and 20 minutes.

Old alpine climber Walter Bonatti’s hands were thick, but in spite of that, the Alps’ cold wind cut them. Wreckers’ hands test the water, touch very gently, toss roughly or smoothly. Hands, for us wreckers, are more than eyes: they feel, see, and perceive. These hands sometimes plunge as do Amore’s marble fingertips into Psyche, remembering the classic tradition of sculpture. Touch is decisive, but cognitive. Hands clutch, and fingers cling into a pianist’s dance. 

Painted Words

Lara painting the Viminale’s ballast.

When I look at the surface from the bottom of the sea, I sometimes glimpse the far glaze of the surface.  Sometimes—not often—it happens that a ray of light fills the distance separating the wreck from life. At that moment my eyes suddenly shine because I am participating in an extraordinary event; the beauty appears in its natural way. Artificial lighting is useless in that moment because your eyes are acclimated to the darkness that surrounds you. In that moment you feel your soul is made whole because you are staring at incomparable natural beauty.

This time, the heavy 45 kg ballast to be thrown on the wreck took place into my cabin van because I felt that it didn’t deserve the cold cargo bed. 

Watching it, I felt sure that this was not simply naked iron thrown in the water, but I wanted to paint a love story on its sides, one to accompany it to the sea bed. I traced smooth lines with white enamel on one side, and Lara painted Latin words in capital letters on the opposite side. This was the beginning of something that could not be otherwise; the event that opened a crack in the boundary between what was and what would be. 

The very first impact had changed the flow of life into an unexpected and surprising way. I took a brush and began painting on your side THAT’S AMORE, because this is how I go deep into the wreck. Each man and each ship goes through huge storms, the ship’s plank wheel and helmsman make the course, indissolubly together in spite of being visually separated. “Stay with me and the storm will cease”

Like you, none. Never.

“That’s Amore” ballast on the Viminale Wreck. Photo by Denise Brusoni.

Incredulous   

Attraction is a magnet that can lure you to insanity.

A year ago, I, along with two dive buddies, entered the engine room of Motonave Viminale. A year later, I along with my personal friend as well as professional photographer, Marco Mori, returned. We had prepared two dive plans. One for 25 minutes of bottom time at a depth 105 m/345 ft in the event of bad visibility and strong flow, and the second for 35 minutes of bottom time at the same depth in the event of good conditions, i.e. clear vis and little flow. We were lucky enough to encounter the second; we had a great dive on the wreck Viminale.

I remember that we had been astonished by the silence that accompanied our dive into the engine rooms of the Italian wreck, the Titanic, as we were surrounded by electric panels, pressure gauges, fire tanks, and ancient lamps that had ceased shining. I will always remember the inner silence broken by thrilling sights, our eyes filled with wonder and happiness as we finned slowly and played out the spool of line to exit with to the main deck. Those memories were the allure that had brought us to the belly of the Viminale. We were careful to move cautiously and to pay attention not to disturb our surroundings.

MV Viminale
Viminale Wreck – The iconic electric panel (-108m)

As my head emerged from the hatch, I could not believe what my eyes saw in front of me. Thanks to the darkness we were coming from and the blackness of the engine room into which we emerged, Palmi seemed more as a deep blue shade reminiscent of the calm sea overhead. The pilot house and the branch lifeboats appeared as sculptures rather than parts of a wreckage.

As we left the engine room at 108 m/352 ft, we moved forward to 90 m/294 ft depth, and I began to brush off the wooden deck with my hand and marvelled at the feeling I received from touching the beauty of the ancient wooden planking. I love iron ships, but the soft touch of wood conjures up for me the feel and scent of a long-ago era. I recollected making the same gesture with my right hand two years previously on the HMS Britannic’s promenade. It is an unforgettable sensation I will carry with me always.

MV Viminale
Viminale Wreck – The power unit inside the engine room (-104m).

Knowing it was time to ascend, our dive computers were saying that our decompression would require 210 minutes before we could surface, I gazed lovingly one last time from the right side of the pilot house looking toward the bow. I kept all my deco cylinders away from the line and passed an oxygen cylinder to Marco as he was calling “Goodbye,” to Viminale.

Three and a half hours later, we resurfaced, both of us believing this was one of our best dives ever. We were fortunate to be able to see amazing sights, thanks to a fine mix of clear visibility, calm seas, good adrenaline and friendship. A chapter, nay a paragraph in the life of this shipwreck comes to an end yet we both feel that our job is not done. We will be back, again and again. I switched off my dive lamps. We were ready to begin our lift to the surface with the natural light remaining.

Encounters with a woman, a friend or a shipwreck can sometimes shake you up and change your perspective forever. To Viminale I think, “I will meet you again, under the guise that I simply want to talk with you.” Perhaps these thoughts are why I am awake at night, longing to see you again tomorrow. You have become a part of my life. I do not care who had you before me; I am yearning for you. That’s amore. In the end all I want is to dream about you “as I have never dreamed before.” 

Puoi leggere questa storia in italiano qui
You can read this story in Italian here

Additional Resources:


Andrea Murdock Alpini is a TDI and CMAS technical trimix and advanced wreck-overhead instructor based in Italy. He is fascinated by deep wrecks, historical research, decompression studies, caves, filming and writings. He holds a Master’s degree in Architecture and an MBA in Economics for The Arts. Andrea is also the founder of Phy Diving Equipment. His life revolves around teaching open circuit scuba diving, conducting expeditions, developing gear, and writing essays about his philosophy of wreck and cave diving. Recently he published his first book entitled, Deep Blue: storie di relitti e luoghi insoliti.

Conservation

WWII WRECKS – A TOXIC LEGACY?

Maritime archeologist Matt Carter discusses what brought him to Chuuk Lagoon and his quest to call attention to the oil leaking from WWII shipwrecks, the focus of the Major Projects Foundation, where he serves as Research Director. The foundation was created with the goal of working with Pacific nations to protect their marine ecosystems from potential oil spills from WWII shipwrecks, and is currently working to determine determining how much oil the ships lost in the Asia-Pacific region still hold. Previously a team of international experts calculated the amount of oil to be anywhere between 150 million and 1.2 billion gallons.

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Header image by Steve Trewavas. The port propeller of the Rio de Janeiro Maru clearly showing the huge scale of the shipwreck.

Maritime archeologist Matt Carter discusses what brought him to Chuuk Lagoon and his quest to call attention to the oil leaking from WWII shipwrecks, the focus of the  Major Projects Foundation (MPF), where he serves as Research Director. The foundation was created with the goal of working with Pacific nations to protect their marine ecosystems from oil spills from WWII shipwrecks.

What many people know is that between 1939 and 1945, the Japanese military and the Allied powers fought an increasingly bloody war through South-East Asia and out across the Pacific Ocean. What fewer people know is that this maritime war saw the loss of some 3800 ships which sank, taking with them their crew, cargoes, and in some cases huge volumes of toxic heavy fuel oil. 

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A volunteer cleaning oil spilled from the wreck of the MV Wakashio in August 2020. (Photo: Shutterstock)

One of the questions that Carter is asked frequently is how much oil could these ships possibly still be holding today? In 2005, a team of international experts came together to answer just that question. Searching through archives for information on these potentially polluting shipwrecks (PPW), they calculated that combined, all of the ships lost in the Asia-Pacific Region could possibly still hold anywhere between 150 million and 1.2 billion gallons of oil!

MPF was established in 2018. After signing a memorandum of understanding with the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), the foundation began reviewing and prioritizing the 3800 WWII shipwrecks sunk in the Asia-Pacific Region, resulting in a priority list of 55 PPW deemed to be the highest environmental risk. Seventeen of these wrecks are located in the world-famous diving Mecca of Chuuk Lagoon in the Federated States of Micronesia.

One of the key tools that the foundation used for investigating the condition of the PPW in Chuuk was photogrammetry, a process where a wreck is scanned by divers taking thousands of overlapping photos which are then run through a 3D software program. The main focus of this photogrammetry work was the wreck of the Rio de Janiero Maru, as oil leaks from the wreck were thought to have impacted nearby mangroves in 2008. Over multiple dives, the foundation surveyed and scanned the shipwreck taking 7350 photos and three hours of video. This was the first time that any of the wrecks in Chuuk Lagoon had been recorded in this way resulting in the 3D model shown below. 

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3D model of the 140-metre-long Rio de Janeiro Maru. The model comprises 7,350 high-resolution images Photo Dr. Matt Carter/Major Projects Foundation

From this survey, Carter was able to create a baseline condition assessment of the Rio de Janeiro Maru including a hull integrity assessment that has allowed for a more accurate estimation of the amount of oil that may remain inside the wreck. This information was subsequently incorporated into a ‘Likelihood of Oil Release’ assessment providing MPF and the Chuukese authorities with a greater understanding of the potential threat that this wreck poses.

The survey of the Rio de Janeiro Maru has shown what can be achieved through the combination of marine archaeology, technical diving, and photogrammetry. However, this is only the first of the 55 potentially polluting wrecks throughout the Pacific that MPF and its partners urgently need to assess in order to mitigate the impact that these ticking ecological time bombs will have on the people and marine ecosystems of the region. 

Read The Full Article Here 

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