The ship was dark and fractured, its surface scarred from decades of corrosion. On the port side, a terminal rupture traced an uneasy path from the deck to the hull. There was an opening next to it – and it was just large enough for a person to pass through.
Of course, it is highly unsafe to explore shipwrecks without adequate training, equipment and support. Both above and below the surface, innumerable sharp, rusty edges threaten serious injury and impalement. Worse yet, shipwrecks can be extremely fragile – the slightest nudge in the wrong place can cause anything or everything to come crashing down.
With so many deadly and indiscernible hazards, wrecks are unsuitable for casual exploration. However, that didn’t stop this man from kayaking inside of one. Unsurprisingly, the video of his exploration, published by Jukin Media in July 2017, makes for extremely uncomfortable viewing. Claustrophobes should look away now…
The setting for this dangerous adventure is the Black Sea – a vast body of inland water bounded by six countries in Eastern Europe and Western Asia. Specifically, the wreck occupies a space off the coast of Romania, close to the village of Costinesti – one of several Communist-era resorts that fringe the shores all the way from Bulgaria up to the Danube Delta.
The explorer, whose name was not disclosed by Jukin Media, appeared to be a young man equipped with nothing more than a kayak, a paddle and a video camera. After casually paddling up to the wreck, he steered himself towards the jagged hole in its side. Slowly, carefully, he glided in.
Encrusted with algae and rust, the interior of the ship was dark, eerie and hopelessly dilapidated. Its vault-like engine room was filled with enormous gears and pistons. Large girders supported the structure like a behemoth ribcage. Moreover, through the torn and pock-marked walls, beams of sunlight illuminated the space unevenly.
“Anyone else freaked out by this?” wrote Elmer Garcia, a commenter on the Facebook page of theCHIVE, which shared the video of the trip in July 2017. “Few things truly scare me but the combination of the ocean and a few thousand tons of rusty, abandoned metal scare the hell out of me…”
Indeed, the video appeared to evoke considerable anxiety in several commenters. Nonetheless, there was much more to the wreck than its outward state of ruin. In fact, the ship had spent years crisscrossing the globe before ran it aground. Moreover, many of its journeys were conducted in extremely perilous circumstances.
For once upon a time, the ship had served the United Kingdom’s Ministry of War Transport (MoWT) as a so-called “Empire ship.” Empire ships were built, or sometimes captured and seized, for the purposes of bolstering the nation’s wartime shipping. They included cargo liners, salvage ships, tankers, freighters, tugs and numerous other vessels.
Empire ships were intended to supplement the United Kingdom’s peacetime fleet of merchant ships, which was the largest in the world during World War Two. However, around 4,000 merchant ships – one third of the total fleet – were lost in the conflict, which raged for six long years from 1939 to 1945.
Historians have described the war’s Battle of the Atlantic as the “longest, largest, and most complex” battle in naval history. It pitted the Allied navies and air forces of the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States against those of Germany and Italy. Throughout the conflict, Empire ships regularly crossed the Atlantic under the threat of German U-boats and the Luftwaffe.
However, this particular Empire ship managed to avoid obliteration during World War Two. Christened Empire Strength, the 7,355-ton refrigerated cargo vessel was constructed in Northern Ireland by the famous Belfast-based shipbuilders Harland and Wolff. She was launched on May 28, 1942. Subsequently, in January 1943 she embarked upon her maiden voyage.
Departing from the port of Liverpool, Empire Strength first crossed the Atlantic to New York. She then traveled south to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and onwards to Cristobal – the Caribbean terminus of the Panama Canal. On February 18, she began her two-day crossing to the Pacific Ocean. From there, she headed to Sydney, Australia.
Records of her subsequent sailings that year are sadly incomplete. However, it does appear that the Empire Strength traveled back and forth between Australia and the United Kingdom, using the Panama Canal to expedite the journey. Then, in February 1944 she arrived in Cardiff, Wales, for a new assignment.
Throughout 1944 and 1945, Empire Strength was used to transport frozen meat from Argentina. She made at least three transatlantic crossings and participated in several convoys in the Mediterranean Sea. Her stops included numerous ports in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, including Gibraltar, Algiers, Malta and Haifa.
After the end of the war, the MoWT sold Empire Strength to a company called Frederick Leyland, which changed the ship’s name to Saxon Star. Over the years, she changed hands – and names – several times. In 1965 she was acquired by a Greek Company called Hegif Compania Naviera, which renamed her the E. Evangelia.
On October 15, 1968, E. Evangelia was traveling to Constanta in Romania. Approximately 16 nautical miles south of Constanta – the largest Black Sea port in the world – she ran aground. Unfortunately, the vessel was unsalvageable and she has remained there ever since.
Irreparably broken and weathered by the elements, the ship has sustained multiple holes and fissures over the years. Moreover, according to a photographer called cristi, who posted images of the ship on a website dedicated to the shipping company Blue Star Line, locals may have pilfered the wreck for scrap metal.
In fact, the E. Evangelia is something of a local landmark in the nearby resort town of Costinesti. Tourists often swim out to it. Furthermore, according to one commenter called Carlin Lapugean, who wrote on theChive’s Facebook page, there is even a way to get up onto the deck and jump off it.
Of course, there are hazards. Getting to the deck requires tip-toeing on underwater pipes and climbing up a windowless shaft on a rusty ladder. Then comes a four-story jump into the water. So, those who value their lives may prefer to admire this fascinating wreck from a safe distance!