LOCATION AND ACCESS: It’s approximately 4 miles away from the coast in the “Bajo de Fuera” or “Roca del Vapor” (Steamboat Rock), as it’s also named after the shipwreck. There is no direct anchor point, but it’s accessible from the anchor point at “Bajo de Fuera”. It is only accessible by boat.
DEPTH: -40 meters (-131,2 feet) / -65 meters (-213,2 feet)
SAILED: 1883 – 1906
LENGTH / SIZE: 115 meters (377,2 feet)
MINIMUM DEGREE: PADI DEEP DIVER / B3* or Advanced Diver with experience in deep immersions and more than 250 immersions
HISTORY OF THE SHIPWRECK: the transatlantic “Sirio” was a 4.141 ton Italian ship. The “Sirio” was built at the Robert Napier & Sons shipyard, in Glasgow in 1883. The ship is 115 meters (377,2 feet) long, with a 12 meters (39,3 feet) beam and a 7 meters (22,9 feet) draft. The “Sirio” could sail at a maximum speed of 15 knots.
The launching of the “Sirio” was on the 26th of March of 1883 in Glasgow (Scotland). The company that owned it, the Italian Society of Marine Transport Raggio and Company, moved the ship from Glasgow to Geneva (Italy). The first transatlantic trip the “Sirio” made was from Geneva to Buenos Aires in 1883 or 1884. The route made stops in Barcelona, Cádiz, Canary Islands, Cabo Verde, Rio de Janeiro and Santos.
The Italian Navigation General Company bought the vessel in 1885. This company organized the transoceanic trips of passengers destined to the “new world”. The destination points were Buenos Aires (Argentina), Montevideo (Uruguay) and Rio de Janeiro (Brasil). The company was founded in the Mediterranean city of Geneva in 1881.
The 4th of August of 1906, the “Sirio” was sailing in front of the coast of La Manga in the direction of America. The captain, Giuseppe Piccone, was resting in his cabin after lunch. Taking his place, a non-commissioned officer took control of the ship. It was a sunny and hot summer day, with a lot of visibility and a calm sea. The ship sailed very close to the coast, at about 1500 meters (4921 feet), in spite of the existence of underwater mountain formations marked by the Isla Hormigas lighthouse.
At around 4 in the afternoon the “Sirio” crashed at a speed of 15 knots against the Bajo de Fuera, at Islas Hormigas in Cabo de Palos. The ship ended up with its prow raised and resting on the sharp end of the rock that had torn its hull, with an inclination angle of 35 degrees. The hull and the stern broke apart and the boilers exploded.
Captain Piccone didn’t react and the passengers panicked and fought desperately to get on the lifeboats.
Among the distinguished passengers on the “Sirio” at the time of the catastrophe were the singer Lola Milanés (deceased), the bishop of Sao Paulo, José de Camargo (deceased), the Brazilian archbishop of Pará, José Marcondes (survivor), the Austrian consul in Rio de Janeiro, Leopoldo Politzer (survivor), Doctor Franco Franza (survivor) and the Director of the musical band of El Hospicio in Madrid, Maestro Hermoso (survivor).
The Argentinian student Martín Hailze tells the drama lived on board of the “Sirio” to the newspaper “El Eco” after the accident. “I was in my first class cabin writing a letter when a big jolt threw me to the ground and an immense shouting let me know some terrible disgrace had just happened. I soon knew we had crashed against underwater rocks. Hurt by the blow that I received when I fell to the ground, I dragged myself to the deck, and the terrifying picture I saw will remain with me all my life. The ship was quickly submerging from the stern and the passengers ran like crazy, screaming in anguish, some crying, some cursing and all of them full of terror. This was what caused the real savage scenes that happened. Men and women fought against each other, kicking each other, using their fists, fighting tooth and nail for the lifeboats. I even saw some people with knives.” The stern sank in just 4 minutes, and the prow remained over the water.
After the accident of the “Sirio” crashing against the Bajo de Fuera at Islas Hormigas in Cabo de Palos (Murcia, Spain), chaos and anarchy took over the crew and passengers of the steamboat in the fight for survival. The captain of the “Sirio”, Giuseppe Piccone, and his crew avoided the organization of the evacuation of the ship and got on a lifeboat, saving their lives.
The rescue of the “Sirio” is the biggest civil rescue operation at sea in Spanish history. The steamboat “Marie Louise” was the first boat to get to the “Sirio” after the tragedy. The vessel saved the life of 44 passengers and then changed course to Alicante.
The packet boat “Joven Miguel” was Spanish and was commanded by Captain Vicente Buiges. The nine lauds (typical Mediterranean steamboat) from Cabo de Palos that took part in the rescue were: the “Vicente Lacamba” with Captain Agustín Antonio Valdivia; the “Cristo” with Captain José Salas Martínez, the “San Pedro” with Captain Ramón Parodi, the “Joven Vicente” with Captain Juan Bautista Rodríguez, the “Pepa y Hermanos” with Captain Manuel Puga Romero, the “Francisca” with Captain José Ruso Manzanares, the “Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles” with Captain Pedro Llorca Zaragoza, the “San José” with Captain Juan Valero Martínez and the “Pepe Hermanos” with Captain Miguel Puga.
The sailor Vicente Buigues was the responsible for the most heroic action of this tragic day when he was heading to Cartagena from Denia. The Captain of the packet boat “Joven Miguel” headed towards the “Sirio”, in spite of the crew’s disagreement. His first move was to drive the stern of his boat into the side of the “Sirio”. A very dangerous operation, due to the risk of causing the definite sinking of the “Sirio” taking also his boat and crew to the bottom of the sea. Once they gained some stability, they made a safe footbridge with wooden boards and ropes between the “Sirio” and the “Joven Miguel”s deck. And this is how he saved more that 400 people that were packed into the “Joven Miguel” until the disembarkment was made at the port of Cartagena. Also, the lighthouse keepers at Islas Hormigas, José Acosta and Manuel Jimenez helped more than 100 shipwreck survivors reach the island and looked after them.
Juan de la Cierva Peñafiel, ex-Minister of Public Instruction and Arts praised the heroic behavior of Cabo de Palos residents with the shipwreck survivors of the “Sirio”. “These rough, old men, some eighty or more years old, have a very big heart, made for the sea. And without anyone telling them, they prepared their fragile boats and sailed, using their oars. The wind was against them and made their advance difficult, but they fought against it… To save them these men and women marched, the whole colony, eager to simply comply with their duty.”
The “Sirio” tragedy cost hundreds of lives. The exact numbers of the human casualties change depending on the source. The municipality of Cartagena counted the death of 242 passengers of a total of 812 and the Navy Ministry talked about 283 deceased of a total of 920 passengers on board of the transatlantic.
The fishermen moved the survivors in their boats to Poniente Beach at Cabo de Palos. Most of the “Sirio” survivors reunited there. The tugboat “Arsenal” and Captain Vicente Buiges’ pack boat took the survivors to the Port of Cartagena. Among them was the Captain of the “Sirio”, Giuseppe Piccone.
Cabo de Palos’ residents donated clothes and food to the survivors. Also, Cartagena’s authorities sent tugboats to Poniente Beach at Cabo de Palos with food essentials. Most of the shipwreck survivors were sent to Cartagena. The “Sirio”s crew stayed at “La Piña” inn in Cartagena.
CONDITIONS: The “Sirio” is broken in two and some other parts due to the boiler’s explosion. The prow is on the SE face at between -40 meters (-131,2 feet) and -55 meters (-180,4 feet) deep, while the stern rests at NW at -40 meters (-131,2 feet). We can see other parts like the boilers at -32 meters (104,9 feet), part of the engine at -15 meters (49,2 feet) and supposedly one of the anchors at -30 meters (98,4 feet), and many more surprises and secrets that we discover in each immersion. Find one the toilets in the stern area!
CURIOUS FACTS: The captain of the “Sirio” died crestfallen and depressed in Italy two months after the shipwreck. The remainings sunk completely to the bottom of the sea on the 21st of August, 1906.
The pillaging and the extraction of scrap metal in the last century have let the “Sirio” with little structure but we can still see some things of interest.
– This is not an immersion we frequently plan. We only plan it with trustworthy divers with enough degrees or experience.
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