Egypt Red Sea Shipwrecks - The Nazario Sauro

The Nazario Sauro

By Ned Middleton

Note: Ned Middleton is a professional Underwater Photo-Journalist who has published a number of articles in recent years about Red Sea Wrecks. Please send corrections to Ned Middleton here.

Day Boat

Safari Boat

Shore Dive


Diving Grade







10 39' 46" N, 40 00' 29"E. Dahlak Islands, Eritrea


Usually private Yacht although a few boats do operate out of Eritrea

Minimum Depth to Wreck

5m ( To mast tops)

Maximum Depth to Seabed:

40m (At Bows)

Average Visibility:


The Ship

Technically described as a Cargo Passenger ship, the Nazario Sauro was built by G Ansaldo & Company of Sestri Ponente, Italy and launched on May 14th 1921. Originally designed as a cargo ship, the vessels interior was redesigned during construction in order to accommodate passengers in response to the growing number of emigrants seeking a new life in America. On completion, the ship had 80 first class cabins, 48 second class and space for 1,109 third class passengers.

The vessel measured 136.3m x 16m with a draught of 5.2m (unladen) and displaced 8,150 gross registered tonnes. In addition to passengers, the vessel also had capacity for 4,669 tons of cargo. Originally powered by two steam quadruple expansion engines with 3 coal-fired boilers per engines, these were later replaced by 4 oil-fired engines arranged in two groups of 3 turbines - also built by G Ansaldo & Company, and producing a top speed of 16 knots.

The Nazario Sauro was named after an Italian WW1 war hero and finally entered service with the Transatlatica Italiana shipping Company of Genoa on 1st February 1924.

The Loss of the Nazario Sauro

With the pace of marine technology being what it was in the years between the two World Wars, by 1927 this, still relatively new vessel, was unable to compete with the newer and faster transatlantic ships that were now operating between Europe and America. Consequently she was taken out of service and laid up for 7 years.

Converted to a troopship, she saw service between Italy and her colonies in Somalia and Eritrea before finally changing hands once again. On 1st January 1937 the ship was purchased by the Lloyd Triestino Shipping Company who employed the vessel between Italy and her East African territories. In 1940, however, Italy entered the War and the Nazario Sauro was caught in the Red Sea where she was laid up in Massawa until April 1941. With Eritrea about to fall into British hands, the ship was moved to the Dahlak Islands and immediately scuttled.

Like so many Red Sea wrecks, post-war information was often conflicting and even the Italian Navy had recorded this vessel as having been "recovered by the British." Curiously an Italian Warship of the same name is also recorded as having been lost off Massawa on 1st April 1941 and this probably gave rise to that confusion. It is not known what happened to the 1,058 tonne Destroyer - except that she was bombed and sunk the day the British entered Asmara - the capital of the colony. With her mainmast still protruding from the surface, one of the first to visit the SS Nazario Sauro in her underwater environment was the late, great Jacques Cousteau - but it was to be many more years before ordinary Scuba Divers would be able to share the experience.

Diving the Nazario Sauro

This is a very large ship and she sits perfectly upright on an even keel at a maximum depth of 39m to the seabed throughout. Overall the vessel is still largely intact and her sheltered position does much to ensure she will remain this way for many more years to come.

From the Bows, the port anchor is deployed and the starboard anchor fully retracted and tight against the hawse pipe. Both sets of chains are as one would expect - stretching over their respective windlass and down into the chain locker below the focsle. There is a 2m drop to the forward deck which, being made of steel is still intact. There are two main holds forward of the centre castle. As one would expect, these are both empty. Nevertheless, with the hatch covers having long-since disappeared, these giant caverns provide the diver with a very interesting journey through thousands of Glassfish that have taken up permanent residence.

Between the holds the mainmast is still standing as far as the cross-trees and reaches up to within 3m of the surface. Below the mast are all the deck winches and other items associated with a busy cargo ship. The four loading booms are all safely stowed - as though ready for sea. The bridge is an area of great interest and towers above the forward deck to with 12m of the surface. The structure was made of wood and has long since rotted away and, although no trace was found of the bell, the large Binnacle was still in place until recently.

Immediately after the bridge, is a large skylight surrounded by the remains of four large engine room ventilators. Here are also found the remnants of the once large funnels. Curiously, the way in which they have quietly corroded has left the frame-work of one funnel largely intact. Below these are many rooms and companionways to enter and explore. Be warned though, this is not the gin-clear water for which the Red Sea is famed, these are relatively low visibility conditions and the marine life - especially the remains of many thousands of molluscs, have combined to create ideal conditions for even lower visibility - should the unwary Diver decide to stir it all up.

Dropping down to the rear decks, the Diver will discover No 3 Hold which is also empty. This is immediately in front of the rear mast which also reaches to within a few metres of the surface. Once again, the deck winches are all in place and the cargo booms securely stowed. Beyond the mast is a small accommodation block which sits above a beautifully rounded stern. Here, the giant rudder is still intact but the twin-propellers were removed many years ago.

All the railings are still intact and everything is covered in hard corals and soft corals and other forms of encrusting organisms. Sea Whips and Gorgonians are particularly prominent and the fish life is truly exciting.

That said, the overall underwater visibility within the lagoon in which the vessel sits is generally poor. This overall lack of light-penetration means that the coral growth on this, generally undisturbed, shipwreck is not of the calibre one expects to find anywhere in the Red Sea. Nevertheless, this is an exciting shipwreck of high calibre and well worth several exploratory dives.

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Last Updated: May 29th, 2011