Divesites: The Zainab
Dubai coast, 14th of April, 2001
It is early morning, must be around 6am, but the Arabian sun hits with all fury against the ship’s deck; there is very little rest from the unrelenting heat in this part of the world during summer. The crew appear to be resting, but there is tension in the air.
They know that even though appearing like an ordinary merchant ship; they smuggle a much riskier and more valuable load than the furniture, cereals and cargo that used to be transported by the Seasroun Five some years ago.
Now with the load compartments rebuilt, under, they will move 1300 tons of light oil to sell in Asian countries, where the controls are lighter. What most of the crew does not know is that Seasroun five had already been caught smuggling oil 2 years ago. This makes their vessel a prime suspect for the many US patrol ships in these waters, responsible for enforcing the UN block on Iraqi oil. They are in dangerous waters, and have their eyes set on crossing the Strait of Hormuz.
Once the crossing has been completed the trip will be a lot calmer. But the closer they get to completing the crossing, the closer they get to Iraq’s enemies in the United Arab Emirates. American military bases, with American military ships patrolling the waters.
Their only hope is to skip the block unseen. Unfortunately for them, they have already been noticed.
An American patrol boat has contacted them by radio, requesting to board in order to check the cargo. The captain knows that getting caught violating a United Nations block will result in a huge fine and possibly a long stay in jail…and no one wants to end up in jail. The captain gives the order to go full throttle.
In the engine room the ship’s diesel engines create a deafening roar that overwhelms everything. They need to increase the gap between them and their pursuers as much as possible. Maybe they can find shelter in Iranian waters. At more than 70 meters long and fully loaded with oil the Seasroun Five is a slow giant compared to the semi-rigid fast-boats in pursuit however.
If they don’t get enough distance between themselves and their pursuers, they will be caught and exposed as a war trophy by the Americans. The Captain calls to engine room – “We need more speed”. No-one protests, even though they know the risk.
They all know that pushing beyond full throttle is risky. The smallest maintenance oversight can result in the engines exploding or catching fire when overworked. This in combination with the amount of oil they are carrying is like flipping a coin. Meanwhile the diesel engines tremble, the fixings on the deck slightly bend in a rhythmic pace.
It has been 30 minutes since the last radio communication, and far on the horizon they can see the American fast-boats coming. They might have another 20 minutes. By now they almost 30 km away from Dubai coast, they turn of communications, now they can only try to escape blind to open sea. If they push the engines harder they might have some more time. Maybe even escape.
The engines are already overheated, and it is risky to keep pushing them, but it is their only chance of escape.
No one knows exactly why, maybe a small fuel leak, maybe some of the engine oil leaked, but smoke starts billowing from the engine compartment. The crew use fire extinguishers to try and extinguish the blaze. The origin of the fire is however still unclear. The engines keep on working but it is only a matter of time before they will get boarded. Despite the crew’s best efforts, the fire spreads, and open flames are now visible. They have to close the engine compartment. The 11 crew members and the captain surrender the ship.
The Americans board the ship and check the load, the next order is bringing it to the Jebel Ali port. The crew talks, the captain knows about the fire started on the engine room, only some of the Americans speak Arabic, and they speak badly, in one distraction, the captain order his crew to sink the Seasroun Five. Only 16 miles away from the port the Zainab sinks.
Seasroun Five dies that day, leaving behind a huge oil spill. It sinks barely 500 meters away from a gas conduit alarming the nearby gas refinery and creating major concerns also on the desalination plant. From that moment Dubai’s coast can count a new wreck. Reborn as Zainab, lying on her port side, under 30 meters of water, like an old adventurer she rests, her smuggler’s past, forgotten, giving shelter to oysters, snappers, batfish, sea snakes, barracudas and rays among others. It seems like she is searching for redemption from what her captain pushed her to do.
On the diaries:
Special thanks to Emil Duffey for the help