Your guide to Albania’s secret shipwrecks
Intrepid divers are discovering exciting new wreck dives in the middle of one of the world’s busiest maritime zones.
The Mediterranean is one of the busiest maritime zones in the world. For thousands of years, crossing the water was the preferred way of transporting people and goods as it was faster and cheaper than travel by land.
A combination of stormy weather, unseen rocks, and, on occasions, enemy attack made some routes perilous, though. Their wrecks still lie on the seabed, monuments to the crews and passengers who lost their lives.
There’s an unusually high concentration of shipwrecks along Albania’s coastline on the Adriatic and Ionian Seas.
The shape of the cliffs, the underwater caves, and submerged rock formations all dragged ships down, but as this region was frequently a theatre of war, plenty more vessels were deliberately sunk.
Albania’s Coastline Agency is mapping the seabed and so far have found 38 wrecks, the oldest of which date back to the 4th century BC.
Some wrecks are protected within the boundaries of the Karaburun-Sazan Marine National Park; others are in unmarked locations just off Albania’s stunning beaches.
Europe’s divers are starting to take note.
The Ancient Shipwreck Decay Project combines diving with archaeology. The Joni wreck, which lies on the coastal side of the Devil’s Tongue, was the first underwater site to be excavated in Albania.
The original cargo of amphorae is still aboard, and can be traced back to Ancient Rome and North Africa. The Joni sank in the 4th century and lies undisturbed, though it is in a fragile state due to its age.
Recreational divers are more likely to dive onto Albania’s 20th century wrecks. Not only are they more intact, but their condition is such that it is still safe to swim inside.
The Po in Vlora Bay is one of the most impressive wrecks in the Adriatic. An Italian medical ship in WWII, it was accidentally sunk by British torpedoes in 1941. The ship had an operating room, X-ray machines, and a laboratory onboard and was used to treat wounded soldiers.
A swordfish torpedo hit the side of the Po, and the order was given to abandon ship. It sank within 10 minutes, and 21 people, including four nurses, died.
The Italians didn’t have much luck: their SS Probitas cargo ship was sunk at Saranda in 1944.
The wreck is 200m from the shore, and in places only just below the surface of the water. It is thought to have been hit by a German bomber, and divers can see the impact holes when examining the sides of the ship.
There are recent civilian wrecks, too. The Peshkatarit, a traditional style Albanian fishing vessel, collided with a ferry leaving Saranda for Corfu. It now lies 30m below the water, still bedecked in colourful curtains of markers and nets.
Recreational diving in Albania is in its infancy, but with so many underwater attractions within easy reach of the shore, it is certain to grow.
For more information on unique travel experiences in Albania visit albania-holidays.com.
Main image: Divers exploring a wreck in Albania (© Spiranca Diving Center)