THE STORY OF THE SINKING:
She was operating between Suez and Bombay. Before the completion of the Suez Canal, vessels unloaded their passengers and cargo in Alexandria which were then transferred to Suez on land. There another boat waited for them, in this case the Carnatic, bound for Bombay, with 34 passengers, a crew of 176 and a cargo of bales of cotton, wine, royal mail, copper sheeting and £40,000 in gold coins.
On September 12, 1869 the Carnatic sailed out of Suez under the command of Captain Jones and began her voyage to Bombay. Captain Jones navigated the treacherous waters in the Gulf of Suez. The headlands and islands along the way were visible in the clear night. However early in the morning, breakers were seen by the crew as the boat was getting near of Shadwan Island. It was too late to stop and the boat struck the Abu Nuhas Reef.
Although impaled by the reef, the pumps were working hard and the boat still seemed to be in good condition for the captain to keep the crew and passengers onboard. He was also expecting the Sumatra to pass them by shortly and hoped for a rescue. She did not show and despite several passengers requesting to be taken to Shadwan Island, they all had to spend another night onboard. The captain was reluctant to allow people to be taken to the island in the life boats in such treacherous waters but by the morning water was filling the boat quickly and he finally ordered the life boats to be readied.
During the rescue the boat suddenly broke in half after 34 hours on top of the reef taking 5 passengers and 26 crew with her. Eventually the survivors were able to make it to Shadwan Island, about 3 miles from the reef. Finally they were all rescued by the soon arriving Sumatra.
Recovering the cargo
Recovery operations for the valuable cargo began a couple of weeks after Carnatic’s demise with the help of Stephen Saffrey, a diver. Most of the cargo was salvaged, including the royal mail, the gold coins and the copper sheets.
DIVING AT THE WRECK:
Today the Carnatic lies at the base of the Abu Nuhas reef, parallel to it. She is on her port side with the bows facing east. Her stern is at about 24m on the seabed and her bow is at about 16m. The deck faces the open sea. The wreck is shaded by the reef behind, therefore it is best to dive her in the morning.
The wooden structure and planking has rotted away but the steel hull remains, held together by iron supports. With the decking gone, divers are able to explore the wreck 2 decks down. The keel of the boat is virtually intact and the stern provides a view to the impressive windowed quarter deck. The boat widens from the bows toward the main body where the life boat davits are found. From here divers can enter the more than 150-year-old structure.