By Piers Boileau-Goad

By Piers Boileau-Goad

25th August 2022

Introduction

The MV Ice Prince was a 328 foot Greek registered cargo ship which sank in the English Channel on 15th January 2008, spilling 2,516 tonnes of timber, around 423 tonnes of intermediate fuel oil and 123 tonnes of marine diesel oil. Twenty crew members were rescued by HM Coastguard helicopter and Brixham lifeboat. Timber from the cargo washed ashore along the south coast of England. Beaches along the south coast of England were closed to prevent looters taking away washed-up timber.

Links

Dive Report

Just before departure from Portland, our Skipper told us that there was a certain amount of restricted surface visibility out in the channel so our dive on Ice Prince might not be guaranteed due to the proximity to shipping lanes. That said, after two hours steaming, close to the approaches to the South West bound lane of the Ouessant Traffic Separation Scheme in the English Channel, two divers dropped into the water at 10:40. With a very negligible current running, roughly 0.1 knots as it was just about to hit slack water we dropped down to 3m for a bubble check.

James, my buddy however had other plans due to a leaky glove so we both ascended, made our way over to the boat who suspected something was wrong. He jumped onboard to sort his problem while I was told to wait by the shot unless I also had a problem, thus, over to the shot I finned. Looking down, the visibility was looking really inviting, from the surface at least it seemed like a good 10-15m.

I was worried that the dive would be canned but, I should not have been as James jumped back into the water and joined me on the shot. Take 2, and now 10:55, we started our descent into the deep.

As we descended the light started to fade and the darkness encroached further. Closer and closer we came to a wreck I have been trying to dive for a year or so now. From roughly 20m I could feel a huge black shadow before me. So when she finally came into view my heart leapt, almost from my chest. It didn’t take long to get to the wreck as my descent speed was 17.3m per minute. The very first vestiges of the vessel that I saw were a straight line, then a curve which morphed into a weather tight door on the ship’s starboard side running along a little open deck area (bridge wing), forward of this was a window, now covered in sponges and other ‘life forms’. Heading past the wing we made our way down to the deepest part of our dive where my buddy recorded 60.3m on the stony, gravel bottom. Lights were most definitely needed from now on as with the wreck towering over us, natural light was essentially blocked out. It felt like a night dive at this point. Me being me, I put my light onto a narrow focus and tried to suggest a light sabre duel with my buddy which fortunately he didn’t quite understand.

As we swam further towards the stern we saw ladders (staircases) and catwalks that would have been used by the crew on their daily duties checking fire hoses, life boats, dampers and a myriad of other safety items from their planned maintenance schedules.

It was at this point that I noticed that the vessel appears to be turning turtle slowly so I will need to dive this again to see as it is simply huge.
Heading round to the stern we came across the aft mooring deck – above us – and the aft anchor so we ascended again and found ourselves looking at the rudders and her propellers. I had hoped to see the name ‘Ice Prince’ on her stern but alas, she has not been submerged for long, but 14 years is long enough to have this covered, instead we did however see a few patches of blue which was her original livery. Moving on from the propeller we decided that, as James’ glove was still leaking and he now had a wet arm, we would cut our bottom time short and head up at minute 22. As minute 20 came along we both brought our SMB’s out and started to inflate, taking what felt like an eternity to make the surface, 47 metres above us. I had some pretty interesting but not hugely lengthily decompression obligations at this stage, from memory it was roughly 36 minutes with a deco ceiling of 19m (the orange line in the graph below), James’ deco however was starting at 26 metres where we waited for 2 minutes before heading up to 12m for another 2 minutes. It was at 28 metres however that my Suunto Eon Steel decided to have another tantrum and lock me out, I have tried to remedy this but as yet I have not ticked/removed the right option. There were other stops along the way that were showing on our computers but rebreathers being efficient they were done before we got there. Another stop was made at 9m for 5 minutes before the longest of all, 6m for 25 minutes. Since ditching my spool and moving back to a ratchet reel I have found my stops easier to maintain so my spool is now only for an emergency, even so, I might still get rid of this in favour of a second ratchet.
At 6m the water was 19 degrees but after 25 minutes of not doing much it was starting to get a little chilly so I turned my heating on, whilst naturally heating the water around us, much to James’ disgust. My ‘P Valve’ was very much in service. Once my deco was cleared (James cleared his about five minutes before I did) I suggested that we do a five minute final stop at 3m as my O’Dive recommends something to extend my overall stops and increase my off gassing. So with this stop now done we ascended back into the sunlight 81 minutes after initially leaving it.
Whilst we were the last ones into the water, we were not the first, nor the last out of it, we made our way over to the boat which was by now a few metres away, took the grab lines in hand and ascended the lift in due course. Once back onboard and on the benches, with my mask, loop and bailouts removed I was asked how it went to which my response was (slightly less politely) that it was very enjoyable and a most satisfying dive.
I need to get back to this wreck! Big, dark, new, shiny and still evolving, this will be a tremendous wreck to dive annually, or at least, frequently, to see how she deteriorates and becomes part of the environment once more.
With all my kit removed I took my O’Dive measurement (as well as the required one again 30 minutes later), uploaded my dive profile from my Suunto and received a score of 71% which is an intermediate score, had I done an extra 3 minutes at 3 metres I would have gone up one layer and into the ‘High Quality’ score region for the dive.

Lessons Learnt

  • Dry gloves are not always dry.
  • While my ascent (the grey line in the graph) is satisfactory, it wasn’t perfect so improvement is needed there.
  • The planned bottom time (30 minutes) would have resulted in a 92 minute run time. Had we surfaced directly from our last deco stop at 6 metres, run time would have been 76 minute. The additional 7 minutes on the bottom required 16 minutes more decompression.
  • Always carry my battery! Heating while not necessary at 19 degrees is a good option to have even if its just for a few minutes here and there.
  • I had two 1Kg weights in my thigh pockets mostly out of habit, these hindered me slightly from holding a perfectly horizontal position in the water so these should be moved onto the belt although this has never been a problem when using Nitrox 32% as my bailout.
  • Looking at my PPO2 charts (red and orange line in the big graph below) my PPO2 is pretty good with ascents obvious when the PPO2 drops. That said, I had more than minimum loop volume at one time on the 6 metre stop, this means extra buoyancy for a “lower” PPO2 so this also needs to be monitored more closely.

Statistics

  • Site: Ice Prince
  • Boat: SkinDeep
  • Depth: 60.3m
  • Run time: 81 minutes.
  • Water Temperature at depth: 18 degrees.
  • Gasses (O2/Helium):
    – Dilluent: 13/68
    – Deep Bailout: 18/46
    – Shallow Bailout: 50/20
    – O2 Consumed: 59 bar – 118 litres.
    – Dilluent consumed: 58 bar – 116 litres.