Wreck Diving in the Marlborough Sounds New Zealand
Dive the awesome Mikhail Lermontov, one of the biggest cruise ships to sink since the Titanic. Tours from our Dive Lodge in Port Gore.
Lermontov article :
So Sunday 16th February 1986 saw the Lermontov cruising New Zealand’s South island, 735 passengers and crew commanded by Captain Vladislav Vorobyev. She departed Picton for the Marlborough Sounds, under the supervision of the local pilot… Read more >
The Mikhail Lermontov
The Lermontov, history and dive information
The Lermontov is fully intact and lies on her Starboard side, with diving depths varying from 12 to 36 metres. Diving on the Lermontov is a fantastic experience for both the recreational and technical diver, with the propellers (27 metres), damage (26 metres), funnel (22 metres), bridge (18 metres) and pool area
(25 metres) all easily assessable. Penetration dives are not recommended unless with an experienced guide or the right equipment. Go Dive Marlborough offer external and penetration dives depending on your goals and your experience.
The wreck has now become an artificial reef and is encrusted with invertebrate life and home to schools of local fish. Visibility on the outside of the wreck can get down to 5 metres, inside the wreck it averages around 12 metres. During the Spring it can reach 30 meters and beyond.
” How can a pilot run a ship onto the rocks, in his own water, in clear weather?” Captain Vladislaw Verobyov, after the event speaking on the bridge of the Wellington ferry.
Named after a Russian poet, who was killed in a duel in his mid 20’s, the Lermontov sunk under mysterious circumstances on February the 16th 1986. She was carrying over 400 mainly Australian passengers on a cruise of a lifetime, when for reasons still unknown, the ship was piloted through a shallow channel at the tip of Cape Jackson. The ship struck the reef on her port side which opened up a large gash. Mortally damaged the Lermontov limped into Port Gore where she subsequently sunk, with the loss of only one life, some hours later in 30 odd metres of water. There is speculation that the Mikhail Lermontov was used as a spy vessel and the official government report into her sinking will never be made public.
On 16 February 1986 The Mikhail Lermontov ($ 25.000.000, 20.000 tons, 155 mtr long, 8 mtr draught, 25 mtr across the beam, 408 passengers, 330 crew) set off from Picton harbour at 15.00 hours.
The pilot Don Jamison was on board at 14.50, he was working 80/90 hrs a week at that time, as acting EO of Marlborough Harbour Authority and as Pilot.
The films shown that day were the newest Hollywood blockbusters like Goonies, Gremlins, Beverly Hills Cops.
The ships route taken led through Shakespeare Bay where it nearly ran aground due to a misunderstanding about the bow thrusters. The Captain warned the pilot not to get too close to the shore anymore.
The Pilot was commenting on the scenery and history of the Marlborough sounds via the public address system. The ship also went into Ships Cove (James Cook anchoring place),where again it came close to shore .The course was then set for 40°N, the speed was 15 knots. (About 27 kph, 18 mph).
The Russian refrigeration engineer Purvee Zagliadimov was last seen going into the compressor room at 17.30 hrs.
The course was changed to 10°N, by order of the Pilot direct to the Helmsman. The ship struck Perham rock (submerged rock) between Cape Jackson and Jackson Head at 17.37 hrs.
lthough the ship was built for ice breaking, this proved too much strain on the hull.
The damage caused was 2 gashes of 40 feet long about 100 feet back from the port beam.
The ships clock stopped at 17.40
The passengers were told that “Dinner will be served late”. There was nothing to worry about.
The ship was making water fast and headed for port Gore beach.
Then a sort of a Mayday was sent but this was later cancelled. Nevertheless the Wellington ferry Arahua and LPG tanker Tarahiko went to see what was going on.
At 18.20 the assistance arrives, the Russian plan was to push the ship onto the beach and drop anchors. This was refused by the LPG tanker. Navy ship Nimrod also arrives. Passengers started evacuation, the last man was off the ship at 22.25. 737 survivors were counted the next day in Wellington.
The only subsequent enquiry into the affair was a ‘preliminary enquiry‘, called the Ponsford enquiry (led by the best man at Don Jamisons wedding)
Don Jamison handed in his pilots license as suggested by politicians, but was kept on as Harbour master of Marlborough Harbour Authority (MHA).
The MHA was abolished and had to hand over all its assets to pay for damages.
The Marlborough District Council took over the responsibilities of MHA and taxpayers paid the bill.
There was extensive communication from the ship with Vladivostock during the sinking, local vhf radio communications were confusing and had to be relayed.
The Russian Captain was kept ashore until the abolishment of the USSR in 1991, he now commands a ship again.The Russian navigator was severely fined and had a suspended prison sentence.
The pilot still lives in Picton. He later commanded a livestock ferry. Putin was working in the Wellington Russian Embassy during the sinking. A Russian spyship was nearby and on site of the sinking although its existence was denied.
The executive officer of the MHA, Mike Goulter, who was sacked (before the Lermontov sinking) was embroiled in a lengthy tribunal hearing, accusing MHA of wrongful dismissal. The reason for the dismissal was “incompetence”. At the hearing Don Jamison gave evidence against Mike Goulter, as acting EO of MHA and was told by the adjudicator : “It is astounding, for a pilot who single handedly sank the biggest ship in peacetime since the Titanic to suggest someone else is incompetent.”
The Shipwreck Lastingham
Cape Jackson, Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand
Similar ship to the Lastingham. No photo of the Lastingham is known to exist
The Lastingham, history and dive information
The Lastingham was built in West Hartlepool, England in 1876, it was a twin mast iron sailing ship of 1217 net register tons and underway to New Zealand.
Rated as one of our top dives, an interesting wreck and full of a variety of abundant marine life.
The ship measured 221’6″ ( 67.15 meters ) long, Beam 35’3″ ( 10.7 meters ) and Depth 20’8″ ( 6.3 meters)
She was used as a general cargo ship between London and Wellington.
The Lastingham was near the end of her long journey, but the welcome land waited for so long proved her nemesis. The Lastingham could not weather the Cape Jackson point and was gradually driven on the lee shore
The ship struck bow on and then immediately broached to in the heavy weather, the deckhouse, boats and deck furniture were quickly swept away.
The ships company broke up in two groups, the group at the bow rescued themselves fast by climbing over the bowsprit onto shore, but they could not point out this escape route to the other party stuck at the stern of the ship due to the noise of the breaking waves.
In about an hour the decks bulged outwards, she then slipped of the rocks and disappeared.
When the ship struck and its condition was seen to be hopeless, the Captain who was getting on in years, retired to his cabin and was last seen sitting at his table with his arms round his wife, with water up to their armpits waiting for death.
She so sank on the 1st of September 1884 in a heavy North West Gale at Cape Jackson, at the entrance of Queen Charlotte Sound with the loss of 18 lives. These victims were aforementioned Captain and his wife, 5 passengers and 11 crew.
The remainder of the ships population including the first and second officers, reached the mainland and were saved after 40 miserable cold and hungry hours by the ketch Agnes. Many of the rescued were bruised and cut and in poor state of health. The Agnes spotted an improvised emergency signal, a blanket waved by the survivors.
The position of the wreck was located in 1966 after a painstaking search off Cape Jackson on the West side, about 20 meters off shore.
She is lying in approx 10-20 meters of water on a shell and sandy bottom with some kelp covered reefs nearby and a usual good visibility generally of about 7-8 meters
This is a collapsed and broken apart hull, though still with its masts nearby. With the wooden deck rotted away, it is possible to swim under the collapsed ships sides forming artificial cave spaces. The shapes are in many places obscured with kelp and in other spots clearly defined
Even with poor visibility it is a fascinating area with rocks in a purple haze.
The iron of the hull is now thickly covered with various growths, weeds, soft corals, anemones, shells, sea urchins and aquatic plants
All the main portions of the hulk are quite recognizable, and it is possible with some careful observation to navigate the hull and deck area as a wreck dive.
Some interesting items were taken off the ship , a small bell and sextant were recovered, ships general bits and bobs and bottles both full and empty have been found
Interesting features that remain are, some steel rail track, barrels of cement ( wood rotted away ), grinding wheels and sharpening stones generally further away from the main wreck at a depth of about 25 meters.
Some 400 sovereigns are suppose to be still about somewhere.
Plenty of crays are to be found in the area around the wreck with depths fairly quickly going to the 20’s and 30 meter mark.
The fish life on and near the wreck contains marble fish, blue-cod, spotties, blue- and red- moki, triple fins, blennies, sea perch, butterfly perch, banded wrasse, scarlet wrasse, leather jacket and tarakihi.
With a bit of luck you can also spot stingrays and eagle rays.
Some seals can sometimes be found on rocks nearby, and the area is sometimes visited by dusky, bottlenose dolphins and penguins
Normal precautions taken into account, is usually a safe dive for confident open water level divers onwards, anchor needs to be used here, some strong currents can be present, no nets but the kelp can be a hazard, another thing to watch for is reduced visibility due to over-enthusiastic finning. Also advisable to keep a good eye out for the weather here on this exposed coast line.
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