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Steamboat VIS, near Plomin

 

  • TYPE: cargo steamboat
  • NAME: VIS (ex-RENTERIA)
  • AFFILIATION: Yugoslav, company Oceania, Susak.
  • BUILT: 1921. Port Glasgow, United Kingdom.
  • DIMENSIONS: length = 79 m (259.19 ft), width = 12.5 m (41.01ft), 1772 GRT, 2865 t.
  • SUNKEN: 13th February 1946.
  • CAUSE: Mine
  • LOCATION: About 400 m (1312.34 ft) East of Cape Masnjak, East Coast.
  • COORDINATES: 45deg 07.500 'N, 14deg 13.000' E.
  • DIFFICULTY FINDING: The location is about 400 m (1312.34 ft) east of Cape Masnjak in the open sea. The ship lies upright.  Instruments assistance need.
  • MAXIMUM DEPTH: 60 m (196.85 ft)
  • MINIMUM DEPTH: 45 m (147.64 ft)
  • CURRENT: Mostly weak.
  • VISIBILITY: Generally good, occasionally very good.
  • HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE: exists

History:

Cargo steamboat VIS belonged to the company Brodarsko corporation "Oceania" from Susak, who had in possession between the two world wars, considerable fleet of merchant vessel. It was built in the UK under the name RENTERIA 1921. As the majority of his contemporaries, he had a triple expansion steam engine. Cargo space was divided into four large warehouses, two in front and two behind the superstructure.

After the outbreak of war in 1939 VIS received a big inscription "Yugoslavia" and the national flag at his side, in order for submarines and warships warring parties to distinguish it from a distance as a ship-neutral country. After the occupation of Yugoslavia in April 1941 all the Yugoslav merchant vessels that were found in British and American ports were requisitioned for the needs of the Navy. This was the fate of steamboat VIS as well and was immediately added to the convoys of Allied vessels.

Considering that the load was less than the other Yugoslav vessels, it sailed along the coasts of the United States in within the coastal convoy, mainly on Cuba-North America-Canada route. The vessel was in active service of the Allies floated to the end of the war, happily avoiding all the pitfalls of German submarines that were navigating up to U.S. shores.

Towards the end of the war VIS was a part of a convoy headed across the Atlantic to England, where he offloaded wooden timber cargo, and then continued to Oran in North Africa.  In Oran the ship loaded sundries for Alexandria, and later at Alexandria loaded UNR's help to Yugoslavia. VIS first sailed to Trieste, and then, after so many years of war, arrived in Split. The vessel has done a few short journeys and then in February 1946 arrived to Rijeka.

On the morning of February 13th 1946 VIS sailed for Rasa in Istria, where he loaded cargo of coal. The weather was windy, so the stern wind favored the slow steamers to increase the speed. Due to the risk of mines, since the middle part of the Vela door (the passage between the coast of Istria and the northern part of the island Cres) minefields had not yet been cleared so the captain ordered to be kept as close to the Istrian coast, where the "corridor" was that has been cleared of mines. Thus, the VIS sailed close to the steep coast of Istria, keeping at a distance of about 400 metre (1312.34 ft).

Around 09:30 am VIS was near Cape Masnjak (northern cape at the entrance to Plomin’s bay), the vessel shook with a tremendous explosion, and over the bow railing a huge water column raised. Together with the water the hull parts and equipment flew in the air for several seconds, and then fell into the sea. Bow to the mast fell overboard, leaving the rubble and waste, and on the starboard was a big gaping hole through which the sea rushed in.

The commander Frano Jurkotić and the first deck officer Sveto Ratković, boson Anthony Prince, as well as other crew members who find themselves on the deck quickly worked to save what can be saved. There was no time to lower the rescue boats as the vessel plunged the bow down to the main deck. Only the rafts remained which were set up by the Allies in case the ship should be abandoned quickly. The ropes that held the life raft were cut off and they slipped into the sea.

The crew somehow climbed on the rafts that floated near the vessel that was rapidly sinking. Less than ten minutes from the explosion, VIS forever dived in with the raised stern. It was a tough scene for a castaway some of which have passed all the horrors of naval warfare sailing on the steamboat VIS and then lost their vessel so close to the home port. Together with the vessel three sailors lost their lives. Castaway rescued a motor yacht and disembarked in Rabac. Slightly injured crew members were quickly recovered, and most of them later continued to sail. "And what else could the sailor do?" asked one survivor.


Condition of the shipwreck and diving:

While I was in my early diving days, slowly "warming up" to explore the wreck, I have often thought about the meaning of a mark on the maritime map of the Kvarner Bay. Near the entrance to Plomin's Bay, along the coast, was a charted wreck designation. Older divers were talking about a shipwreck, where because of the depth nobody dived, but it was certainly there "there somewhere" near the Bay of Plomin. The fishermen said that they have to be careful when pulling the fishing nets around that part because it’s full of dangerous wrecks that are damaging their fishing nets.

Long I was getting ready to go and look at the spot from the location of the charts, but something always got in the way. In the meantime, I have found in old magazine "Maritime" an article about Captain St. Ratkovic in which sinking of the steamboat VIS was mentioned. It was not difficult to conclude that the unknown wrecks were in fact VIS.

When we started with the systematic exploration of the shipwreck in Kvarner Bay, the sinking place of the torpedo boat TA 36 STELLA POLAR and steamboat VIS were one of our first goals. Experienced diver from Labin Doriano Mohorović, who had previously located VIS, was the first who took me to the wreck. In a few dives we inspected the entire vessel and gathered a lot of video and photo material. We have concluded unanimously that the wreck VIS and the state of his preservation is one of the most beautiful in the Adriatic. Since then, a lot of divers dived to the shipwreck VIS, which, although is submerged at a depth of 60 meters (196.85 ft) and is adjacent to the coast, is increasingly becoming a destination for many divers interested in shipwrecks and technical diving.

Although only about 400 meters (1312.34 ft) away from the coast near the village Načinovići, diving on the steamboat t VIS is considered diving in open water. The buoy is not tied to the wreck so it is necessary to locate it with depth sounder. After diving in the first point to appear is the highest part of the vessel - the funnel.

It is interesting that the high round funnel is still in place, although full of numerous remains of the fishing nets. Sides of the chimney are slightly flattened, since the time of the sinking the sea hasn’t entered into the interior, while the outside was squeezed and the funnel's paneling was immersed. On the funnel, to our great surprise, sheeting letter "O" a sign of the company "Oceania", attached to both sides was still well recognised.

The superstructure is well preserved, except the wooden deck that rotted and the interior can be entered without any special problems. The walls of the wheelhouse are well-preserved; the only thing missing is the wooden ceiling. In the area of ​​the superstructure various installations, pipes and pieces of equipment can be seen. Wheelhouse window glass fell out of the bearing and is situated under a window in the sand on the floor of the wheelhouse.

Goniometric aerial from the roof of the wheelhouse collapsed down the deck, and is hanging on steel cross beams of the wheelhouse. On the wings of the bridge the deck has been reinforced by the circular steel plate. These are the reinforcement of anti-aircraft guns that VIS had when she was in allied services. Circular windows are still preserved at the side of the superstructure. All the external parts of the vessel are thickly overgrown with a variety of marine vegetation, turning objects into unrecognizable shapes.

The bow of the ship was severely damaged. A collapsed mast lies across the hatch of the storehouse no. 2, along with the unwilling steel clips that are snapped when the mine exploded. Broadside next to the storehouse was completely dismantled by the explosion and made a huge hole in the whole length of the vessel’s side. The deck was also ripped apart by explosion and the sides curved upwards. Great anchor winches are at the bow of the vessel. A rack on which once hung a bell was empty. Bell has been a good catch to the one of the first visitors. Both anchors are in their eerily sunken dark eyed housing.

Diving towards the stern of the ship outside of the superstructure, we found in the funnels slanting steel structures. These were the carriers of life rafts, the only ones thrown into the sea before sinking. Behind them we found a boat davit, and you can see that the crew tried to turn them towards the outside of the boat to be lowered. Behind the funnel is a "skylight" of the engine whose lids are partially opens. Through them, outlines of the steam engine are visible in a strong light.

Diving to the aft part we found another small "lodge" of the superstructure, and then in front of us storage of the hatch No. 3 appears. The mast stands tightened by the steel swage above it. Dropping in the aft of the cargo spaces we are not finding any remains of the encumbrances.

Wide and long tube that leads from the engine room bulkhead all the way to the stern is set through the middle of the storage area. This is a "tunnel" of the shafting, protecting the shaft of the machine from possible damage.

On the left side of the bulkhead that divides the storage of the engine, spare screw is mounted on. The enormous dimensions of its four branches make it truly impressive. From the open stern storage we come to the stern, where the remains of a small superstructure are situated. The roof has collapsed so you can see various items inside but it is difficult to make out their proper forms.

On the roof a small round water tank is placed and the stern boat davit for lifeboats. Going down to the bottom at the stern of the vessel we are entering the murky water layer that almost always retains about 1-2 metres above the bottom. Screw and rudder are partially buried in the mud and barely visible. Since the visibility is not the best, we climbed onto the main deck.

Alongside the broadside the remains of the wooden lifeboats can be seen at the bottom, which prolapsed out of their places. Superstructure is the most interesting part of the vessel where you can see the big schools of fish, mostly smaller whitebait and some bigger whiting. Conger eels are also not uncommon, especially in the interior of the vessel.

As you emerge, on the good visibility you can still see the outlines of the chimney, the highest part of the vessel, as the steamboat VIS doesn’t want to be forgotten. This scene is a special experience and leaves a strong impression.
 

Author of text and photos: Danijel Frka

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