Thursday, 22 March 2012
The Oceana was built in 1887 for Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O). The ship’s builder was Harland & Wolf of Belfast, who later built the ill fated Titanic, which was launched on 31 May 1911 and lost just four weeks after the Oceana on 15 April 1912.
The Oceana weighed in at 6610 tons at a length of 468.4 feet by 52 feet wide, with a triple expansion engine giving 7000 hp and a top speed of 16 knots.
At 4 am on the 16 March 1912, while in the charge of a pilot, a sailing vessel was spotted bearing down on her. The Chief Officer made an attempt to cross the bows of the German four-masted barque, Pisagua, to pass port to port. This was his undoing as the iron sailing vessel of 2,850 tons tore a hole 45 feet long in the Oceana’s side that extended below the water line.
Water-tight doors were closed, the lifeboats were made ready with no. 1 lifeboat being lowered, containing 17 passengers. As it was lowered the ship’s engines were ordered ahead. Unfortunately the officer in charge of the lifeboat did not stop lowering the boat while the ship was underway. He also neglected to make sure there was a painter made fast aboard the lifeboat. On hitting the water the boat sheared away sideways, swamping the boat and throwing the passengers into the sea.
A second boat was lowered to rescue the stricken passengers of lifeboat 1. The SS Sussex came to the rescue of the Oceana, taking off all the passengers and most of the crew. Then Newhaven Tug Alert took her in tow, bound for Dover. She was listing fast and the cables were cut before she sank. She settled on the sea bed 1.3 miles south by south west of the Royal Sovereign shoals, taking with her £747,110 in gold and silver that was destined for the ports of Said and Bombay.
Her masts were still visible above the water line where she had sunk in relatively shallow water. Within ten days the Liverpool Salvage Association had begun recovering the lost gold and silver. Most ingots were recovered but it is thought that some remain on the wreck.
It was the centenary of the Oceana’s sinking on 16 March 2012. TWSAC dived her on this day to celebrate her 100th year beneath the sea. We had always enjoyed diving her and it only seemed right to celebrate her centenary with her.
Back in 2009 an unusual find was brought to the surface by Jamie Smith and Geoff Mulligan of TWSAC. The unusual find was a 760mm by 510mm brass memorial plaque for the Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment), which was part of the cargo destined for Bombay. It was to be erected at Secunderadad, India, in memory of those lost while stationed there,
TWSAC returned the plaque to the regiment, where it remains today. The BBC footage can be viewed
The wreck today.
The bow still stands proud and quite intact and even some of the wooden decking is visible. There are plenty of holes to explore and machinery lying around. The wreck is silted over more around the boilers, where a few scallops can be found. Moving aft, the engines are worth exploring: they dominate the area, towering some 10 meters from the deck. My favourite area is further aft. If you take your time and look hard at everything around, you will start to see knives, forks, spoons, trapped port holes and all manner of other P&O memorabilia. Then, if you can tear yourself away, you can complete your tour of the old lady by visiting the stern.
She’s always worth a dive, very easy and a safe wreck to dive. You will find her laying 1.3 miles south west of the Royal Sovereign Lighthouse, in the position N 50 42.306 E 000 25.754. Enjoy!