By Pierre Kosmidis
Photos submitted by Asım Karsçakar and used by permission (B&W photos © 1979 Ahmet Adas and color photos © 1996 Engin Aygün)
Just opposite the Greek island of Lesvos in the Aegean Sea, cape Baba on the shores of Asia Minor, or Babakkale as it is known in Turkish, has been a sacred spot for sailors for centuries.
According to Piri Reis the Kapudan Pasha, the Grand Admiral of the navy of the Ottomans, a famous geographer and cartographer, a holy man died there and all sailors passing by -Muslims and Christians alike- offered a piece of bread to his memory, in order to have calm seas.
Just off cape Baba though, a shipwreck has been described as “haunted”, because of a series of fatal accidents involving scuba divers, despite the fact that the crew managed to safely abandon ship, with no lives lost.
Let’s jump back in time: On March 3rd, 1921 the Greek cargo ship “Melpomeni”, full of goods, as well as three cars, which can still be seen in the wreck, hits a sea mine and the violent explosion sinks the ship.
The crew manages to get ashore and for the next decades the wreck lays forgotten, upright at the seabed, as if “Melpomeni” was ready to sail again.
According to researcher and experienced scuba diver Asım Karsçakar from Turkey, the ship was bought in 1917 by N.J. Lyras from Piraeus, Greece and converted into a cargo ship. In 1920 she was bought by P.M.Lemos from Oinousses, Greece and received the name “Melpomeni”, honouring P. Lemos’ wife.
Mr. Karsçakar has dived the wreck of “Melpomeni” in 1992, with photo and video equipment. “The wreck is at a maximum depth of 65 metres, with the upper structures of the ship at 48 metres. The wreck appears suddenly in front of you, as if she was shrouded in fog, it is quite unique to see it for the first time!”
“The wreck was initially found by local fishermen and the first first dives where done around 1975-1976 2 by two divers, Kamil Ertuğrul and Turan (from Marmaris city ) from the team of Tosun Sezen and Baskın Sokullu and then was explored again in 1979 by scuba divers Kamil Ertuğrul and Ahmet Adaş, who shot those wonderful black and white photos with a Nikonos 1.
In the early 1980s a tragic accident cost the life of scuba diver Sadik. His story is really sad, as he suffered from decompression illness (the bends), but was killed when the ambulance carrying him to a recompression chamber located on a naval ship based in Çanakkale had a traffic accident.
In 1996 Engin Aygün and his scuba team dived at the wreck and shot some nice colour photos.
“I have to mention too that other divers have lost their lives or suffered severe injuries while diving at the wreck and the diving community calls this wreck haunted, because no one was killed when “Melpomeni” sank in 1921, but divers have died at her wreck. Maybe it is the curse of Poseidon, the ancient god of the Seas. Being a scuba diver means you rely on your equipment, experience and the rules of diving and cannot be superstitious, but nearly all of the dives, performed by well trained and experienced technical divers, have been plagued by bizarre and inexplicable events, that could have been fatal”.
“The wreck is a magnificent spectacle. Sea life has encrusted “Melpomeni” and apart form the sea mine damage the ship is largely as it was back in 1921. The diver can get inside the holds, see the three cars inside, as well as barrels and other goods she carried on her fateful voyage”, says Mr. Karsçakar