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Trip Report: The Wreck of the MT Haven

Belgium service member, explorer and tech instructor Kurt Storms reports on a recent trip—his first post-lockdown—to the wreck of the MT Haven, the largest shipwreck in the Mediterranean. The 334 m/1079 ft long crude oil tanker caught fire and exploded while it was unloading its cargo to a floating platform off the coast of Genoa, Italy. The fire was extinguished and the ship towed to within 1.5 km/.9 miles of shore where it sank in April 1991, but not before dumping an estimated 50,000 tons of crude oil, making it the worst oil spill in the Med. The wreck lies between 33-83 m/108-273 f.



Text and images by Kurt Storms. Header image: The stair to the MT Haven’s upper cabins.

After not being able to travel for an extensive period because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we traveled back to Italy.  I completed my instructor course—CCR-OC Trimix Instructor—under the supervision of IANTD ITT Paul Lijnen. After a few exciting and heavy days, I can now proudly call myself a fully-fledged IANTD CCR/OC Trimix Instructor.

I owe this certification to my good students and help and support from the two other instructors who also obtained this rank. The course took place on the most beautiful wreck of the Mediterranean—the MT Haven.

The front of the steering cabin.

MT Haven was a VLCC (Very Large Crude Carrier)-Class oil-tanker built as Amoco Milford Haven in 1973. The Haven was incredibly large: 334 m/1,069 ft long with a 51 m/167 ft beam and a displacement tonnage of 110,000 tons. In 1987, it was hit by a missile in the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq War. Extensively refitted in Singapore, it was then sold to ship brokers who leased it to Troodos Shipping.

Around 12:30 pm on April 11, 1991, the Haven was unloading a 230,000 ton cargo of crude oil on a floating platform 11 km/7 miles off the coast of Genoa, Italy. Having transferred 80,000 tons, it disconnected from the platform for a routine internal transfer operation to pump oil from two side-holds into a central one. While still loaded with 144,000 tons of crude oil, the ship exploded and caught fire, killing five crew members. As the fire engulfed the ship, flames rose 100 m/328 ft high and, after a series of further explosions, between 30-40,000 tons of oil poured into the sea. 

The Italian authorities acted quickly with hundreds of men fighting a fire which was difficult to access and control. They distributed more than 9 km/6 miles of inflatable barriers around the vessel, submerged 1 m/3 ft below the surface, to control the spillage. 

On day two, Italian authorities towed the MT Haven closer to the coast in a bid to reduce the coastal area affected and ease intervention efforts. As the bow slipped beneath the surface, the towing crew passed a steel cable around the rudder, and tugs applied towing pressure. On April 14, the 250 m/820 ft main body sank 1.5 km/.9 miles from the coast, between Arenzano and Varazze, flooding the Mediterranean with up to 50,000 tons of crude oil, making it the worse oil spill in the Mediterranean.

The Haven is also the Mediterranean and Europe’s largest shipwreck in the sea and lies at a depth of 33 m/108 ft to 83 m/273 ft off the coast of Arenzano (Genoa).

Stairway to the upper deck of the MT Haven

I have been diving on this beautiful and unique wreck for the last three years, and I can truly say that I am in love with this big baby. But I want to warn every reader—she can be a killer and a dangerous monster for untrained or inattentive divers.

Depending on the day, the current can shift from mild to strong, and the visibility can change from a perfect +30 m/+100 ft to a very poor 5 m/16 ft. Inside the wreck  is a giant labyrinth where one can get lost, like in any cave system. There are also  sharp metal edges and huge amounts of silt that can turn the water milk-like and trap you. The wreck is enormous and deep, and you can lose your orientation as well as your notion of time and your gas consumption. So, plan your dive, and dive your plan.

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No heroes allowed here: You must be humble and patient enough to discover the wreck step by step, piece by piece, and according to your own level of training and experience. The 250 m/820 ft long main section of the Haven lies peacefully in an upright position. Part of the superstructure, which originally reached a depth up to 24 m/79 ft is now gone, and the shallowest part of the entire wreck, the smokestack, now stands at 33 m/108 ft deep. [Note, that a piece of the upper deck was found at 94 m/310 fy by Andrea Bada.]

Resting at a depth of 40 m/131 ft, you find the empty wheelhouse, from which Captain Petros Gregorakys from Cypriot, maneuvered the tanker—he later died in the explosion. All the instruments and controls burned away before sinking. Installed on the upper deck, isa memorial plate and statues of the Virgin Maria. You can easily penetrate the steering house by heading down or up the inner stairs. It is also very easy to go up or down the main lift opening that goes through all bridges, or to follow the outside walls. The windows on the side are numerous, but too small for most divers, but every room has a door.

Inside the wreck at 50 m/163 f

There are six different bridges about 23 m/75 m high with bedrooms, the kitchen, and workrooms. You can penetrate almost everywhere, but it’s a labyrinth— consider it as a cave and use a guideline. From the bridge, technical divers can descend to the deck in the back of the tanker, past the winches, pipes, and valves that are proportional to the size of the ship, and then free fall down to the propeller at 81 m/266 ft. Here, the excessiveness is still striking—the  rudder is 20 m/66 ft high and the propeller more than 7 m/23 ft in diameter. 

The dark becomes darker as we move under the shadow of the wreck and lose light from the surface. At its maximum depth, the Haven is breathtaking; looking up from this point, she is majestic.

Captain’s walkway bent by the heat of the fire.

The engine room entrance is just under the chimney below -52 m/171 ft, and from there you can go deep inside the ship. Here, you will find a gigantic 8-cylinder diesel engine. The various steel panels and counters are still in perfect shape and intact. Going up on the port side, there is a huge opening left by one of the two explosions. The gaping hole is so large that it is difficult to comprehend its dimensions, the plates twisted like a broken can.

You need to be a technical diver to dive the MT Haven and complete these dives with hypoxic gasses. As always, don’t do this dive without proper training. There are two dive centers that can provide all of your supplies for diving the Haven. Both are in the Marina of Arenzano. Organization is perfect, and safety non-negotiable. 

There is a fixed deco station with decompression bars at 6 m/20 ft and 3 m/10 ft with sufficient spare tanks.The descent lines are fixed and lead you down to the quarterback at -33 m/108 ft.

Enjoy your dive!

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Kurt Storms

Kurt Storms is a member of the Belgian military, an underwater cave explorer, and an active technical /cave/rebreather diving instructor for IANTD. He started his dive career in Egypt on vacation, and the passion for diving never ended. Kurt is also founder and CEO of Descent Technical Diving. He dives several CCRs such as AP Diving, SF2,  and Divesoft Liberty SM. Kurt is also one of the push-divers documenting a new slate mine in Belgium (Laplet). This project was news on Belgium Nationale TV. Most of his dives are mine and cave dives.  In his own personal diving, Kurt’s interests are deep extended-range cave dives. His wife (Caroline) is also an enthusiastic cave diver. In his free time, he explores Belgium’s slate mines, and often takes his camera with him to document the dives.


Why It’s Okay To Make Mistakes

To err is human. To trimix is divine? Instructor evaluator Guy Shockey examines the importance of learning through one’s mistakes, and most important, being willing to admit and share them with others, especially for those in leadership positions. It’s the only way to create ‘psychological safety” within our community and improve our collective diving safety and performance. Wouldn’t that be divine?




By Guy Shockey. Images by Andrea Petersen

A few months back, I read an article about a club where members talked about failure and making mistakes. This club required that members freely discuss their mistakes and failures without fear of judgment. The goal was to destigmatize failure and recognize that we learn by making the very mistakes we are afraid to talk about! Moreover, to become truly high performing and develop unique and creative solutions to problems, the article argued that we needed to be free of the worry of failing—to understand that “to err is human.” 

The article went on to mention that for high performing teams to be successful, they needed to operate in an environment of “psychological safety.” This term was originally coined by Harvard professor Amy Edmondson, and Gareth Lock has written about the concept extensively. In his work with The Human Diver, Lock identifies psychological safety as a key component primarily missing in our diving culture. As a full-time diving professional and someone who delivers The Human Diver programs, I couldn’t help but reflect on the failure-destigmatizing club in the context of our diving culture in general and, more specifically, dive training.

Consider the humble Roomba robot vacuum cleaner. The Roomba learns how to clean a room by bumping into nearly everything in the room and, with some nifty software, creates a “map” of all the “vacuumable” space in the room. Then, it goes about its business efficiently and repetitively cleaning the room. The Roomba has learned by making multiple mistakes—much like humans do. 

Now imagine being able to transfer that new “map” from one Roomba to another so a new Roomba doesn’t have to repeat the mistakes of the first as it sets out to vacuum the room. Finally, imagine this transfer of data to be less-than-perfect—perhaps, occasionally, the new Roomba will make some mistakes (from which it will learn). But it will make far fewer mistakes than the original Roomba had to make. 

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I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. Humans learn the same way Roomba vacuums do (hopefully without running into as many hard surfaces), and we can transfer information between each other. Because the transfer process is less than perfect, we still make some of the same old mistakes. This is particularly interesting because, despite drawing specific and repeated attention to these common errors, students often still make the same errors! One of the most important parts of instructor training is educating future instructors to recognize where these common mistakes will occur and encouraging them to ramp up to being hyper-vigilant rather than regular-vigilant. 

Learning Through Mistakes

One way we learn is by making mistakes, talking about them, and sharing the experience in the hopes that future divers don’t have to make the same ones. At its core, this is the very essence of learning. Incidentally, this is also what makes experience such an important characteristic of a good teacher. The more experience the educator has, the more mistakes they’ve made and, consequently, the more information they can transfer. Fear of owning our mistakes keeps us from learning from them; perhaps more importantly, it means that others will miss out on these important lessons. 

Yet, in diving culture, we (for the most part) shy away from discussing the mistakes and errors we (hopefully) learned from for fear of being considered a less than capable diver. When divers in influential or leadership roles do this, it is a tremendous loss for the diving community in general—it robs future groups of divers of the opportunity to learn. Sadly, because this commonly happens at the leadership level, it is hardly surprising that other divers further down the line copy that behavior, and we ultimately end up with a diving culture that emulates the example of the leadership. 

I advocate for taking the opposite approach. In my teaching, I am very open about the mistakes or errors I have made while diving. I recognize that I am basically a smart Roomba, and I learn by making mistakes. Thus, it would be disingenuous to pretend that I don’t make mistakes—I had to learn somewhere! I believe this approach lends authenticity to my instruction and starts to create psychological safety in my classes. Ultimately, my goal is to encourage students to recognize that, “If the instructor can admit they make mistakes, then it is okay to talk about the ones our team made during the training dive.” 

I have found that there is a remarkable change in the relationship between student and instructor when this happens. Learning becomes more of a collegial activity, and stress and performance anxiety significantly decrease. This leads to more successful learning outcomes and happier students. I am a firm believer that, while training can be serious, it should also be fun!

Creating Psychological Safety

Creating psychological safety in our diving culture is a daunting task, but every flood begins with a single raindrop. The first thing that needs to happen—at all levels—is an acknowledgement of failures and mistakes among  those in positions of influence and leadership. Sadly, this is not as easy as it sounds, and there is frequent pushback. Ego is one of the most dangerous aspects of a personality and it frequently causes people to overreach, crippling growth and learning. The irony here is that every single one of us has made a mistake. We all understand that no one is perfect, yet many in leadership positions cling to the view that vulnerability is weakness—that demonstrating imperfection will cause others to stop trusting them (or revering them). 

I propose that the opposite is true. I should also note that I believe every dive professional is acting in a leadership role. This means that, while creating psychological safety can best be started by those in senior leadership roles, it must also be encouraged at all levels of leadership, including anyone in supervisory or teaching roles. In a perfect world, every diver would embrace this approach and enable psychological safety within their team.

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There are a few things you can do to help develop psychological safety. First, facilitate a debrief at the end of the dive and begin with “something that I as the leader did wrong or could have done better was…” This immediately creates fertile soil for psychological safety to flourish. When the leader is the first person to say, “I made a mistake,” it establishes that this is a safe place to discuss mistakes and errors with the intention of learning from them. This opens the door to follow-up discussions. 

On the subject of transparency, in any organization it is often the voice of dissent—a contrary position—that is the most valuable. This voice causes the group to reflect on original assumptions and decisions and offer a perspective that “groupthink” does not. This means that we need to be open to different solutions to problems lest we be blinded by our own cognitive biases—ones that have been developed over thousands of years of evolution in order to make us more efficient Roombas. 

We are essentially fighting against our own brains, and it takes a significant amount of effort to think outside the box. We are hard-wired to think in terms of “evolutionary” rather than “revolutionary” ideas, and we need to make a conscious effort to consider the voice of dissent and understand why it is so hard to do so. 

In Conclusion

In psychologically safe environments, we experience a significant increase in “discretionary effort,” or shifts on the “need to do” and the “want to do” curves. If a team has a high degree of psychological safety, they are motivated to perform higher than the minimum standard. If you create a high degree of psychological safety, your team will perform better as a result. 

This is where it all comes full circle. We want our dive teams to perform at a high level. We want them to have a high degree of discretionary effort. We want them to embrace our “commitment to excellence.” Therefore, we must be the ones to create the psychological safety necessary to facilitate this growth. 

One of the most effective things you can do as a leader is to be open and willing to share that, in the end, you are human too. You make mistakes, you admit to them, you learn from them, and you share them with others so they can learn too.

One of the most effective things you can do as a leader is to be open and willing to share that, in the end, you are human too. You make mistakes, you admit to them, you learn from them, and you share them with others so they can learn too.


Other stories by Guy Shockey:

InDEPTH: Reflections on Twenty Years of Excellence: Holding The Line (2019)

InDEPTH: Situational Awareness and Decision Making in Diving (2020)

InDEPTH: The Flexibility of Standard Operating Procedures (2021)

InDEPTH: How to Become an Explorer: Passion, Partnership, and Exploration (2022)

InDEPTH: Errors In Diving Can Be Useful For Learning— ‘Human Error’ Is Not! by Gareth Lock

InDEPTH: Learning from Others’ Mistakes: The Power of Context-Rich “Second” Stories by Gareth Lock

Guy Shockey is a GUE instructor and instructor trainer who is actively involved in mentoring the next generation of GUE divers. He started diving in 1982 in a cold mountain lake in Alberta, Canada. Since then, he has logged somewhere close to 8,000 dives in most of the world’s oceans. He is a passionate technical diver with a particular interest in deeper ocean wreck diving. He is a former military officer and professional hunter with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science. He is also an entrepreneur with several successful startup companies to his credit.

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