National Institute for Scuba Diving
  National Institute for Scuba Diving - Established since 1980
Tales and Dives in Lebanon
 

Beirut, 15 October, 2006

by Walid Noshie

Lebanon has lots of sites that makes it if not for the visibility and lack of corals, one of the most interesting places in the world, not by its many site, but for the quality of marine life and its wrecks. Link to wreck photos. Here are some the good sites discovered so far, making Lebanon a very interesting diving location for both locals and travelers. It will give you an idea on the best times to visit certain sites, how to get there, and what to expect on that specific dive.

DIVE SITES & TALES IN LEBANON is an essential guide for divers of all levels of experience. This practical link offers detailed information on dive sites. It gives the background of some spots on the Lebanese coast, the history on certain locations, and it recounts a few dive tales.

DIVE SITES IN BEIRUT

AUB CANYON


Location: Facing American University Beach

Getting there: By car or boat

Finding Site: easy

Access and condition: Boat is ideal but shore entry from AUB beach or from the Cornish is possible. Rocky but easy entry, rocky bottom. Some wind and waves possible, watch out for sea urchins on entry

Depth of dives: Rocky bottom starts at 5m, drop-offs down to more than 300m

Level: This site is suitable for all standards of divers, beginners to technical

Best time to dive: October to June for a good visibility. Jelly fish concentration in July and August, making the site hazardous
Quality of marine life: Diverse; moray eels, octopus and groupers; lobsters in April

Visibility: 6-20m, rain and river run-off effect the visibility. Excellent spot for night diving when visibility is good, all marine life out of the rocks feeding including flute fish, sting rays and Spanish dancers

FACTS

AUB Canyon was one of the best diving spots known in the 60’s. It used to be called the Sharks hole since fishermen used to catch sharks from the deep end of the canyon. Nowadays sharks are almost nonexistent on that spot any longer. But on a calm and sunny day in winter with a soft north wind and a good visibility, divers might find this spot an extremely interesting site.

The canyon walls start at a depth of 25m and drop to more than 300m. The walls on this reef are steep, beautiful, full of small caves and fishermen's nets, with a huge old anchor laying at 43m. Having a dive light surely will make your dives on that spot much more interesting. Remember that when you start exploring the walls of that canyon, a relative good diving experience and a dive leader familiar with that spot would be a great asset.

SHARK POINT


Location: 1.5Km. South-West of Rawche

Getting there: by boat

Finding site: easy with the use of a line or anchor

Condition: Strong wind, waves and currents all possible

Depth of dives: Rocky bottom starts at 28m. drops to 50m

Level: This site is suitable for experienced advanced divers

Quality of marine life: diverse and rich. Best in the whole country, although best between April and September. Moray eels, sting ray in groups, Eagle rays, groupers but best of all is the sharks. The Small-Tooth Sand Tiger and the Gray Nurse sharks. These sharks will start showing up in July and will disappear again in October, to come back again same time the year after

Visibility: 10-25. Good year round although affected by currents and plankton blooms

FACTS

Shark point is an area composed of 5 reefs, which includes some plateau sections and a deep canyon running along every reef towards the East. Crossing 1 reef to the other towards the North is sand beds in between making the passages look like huge corridors. Getting to the third reef, divers will admire a statue of a Lebanese saint praying above a small cave which sting rays take refuge in. Crossing to the 4th Reef, comes the site of a vertical wall, with a rugged profile full of fissures, inlets and crevices to explore. Getting to the 5th reef towards the East is where most sharks were observed. Divers should be careful of the strong north-west currents which are very common in this area in the summer season, to avoid being completely swept off the Shark point.

TALES

The year 1981, I was on a normal dive with my brother on a land I have just discovered few days earlier. We were moving on the higher plateau wanting to extend our dive time. Depth was 27m. Few minutes later I realized that in order to see more marine life, we had to drop to 34m to be able to see the lower part of the wall. The visibility was not excellent that day. Moving towards the bottom, the sea bed came to sight. With it came a huge shark moving strait towards me. There was no place for fear since that huge animal was only 2 m. away from me. My brother until then had seen nothing since he was still on the plateau getting ready to follow me. I grabbed the wall and started climbing back upside down until I reached my brother and I warned him on what's below. He moved cautiously to the limit of the wall and here was the shark passing at a speed of 4 km per/hr. looking towards us as curious as we were. The sight was awesome, we've been diving 3 years already my brother and I and nobody ever mentioned the existence of any sharks in our waters. We thought that this was a coincidence yet every year we saw the sharks again and sometimes they were many, up to 5 sharks around us in one dive. With more studies on the behavior of these sharks and after few hundred dives on that site came the sure conclusion that these animals would come to that same spot every year, stay around for 2 months and leave again. (all the site measures not more than few hundred sq. meters.). Start the dive 20 m. away from that spot and you won’t see any sharks at all. There came the site's name. Shark Point.

SMALLTOOTH SAND-TIGER ODONTASPIS FEROX

A shark with a robust body and a long, conical snout, the eyes are medium large, the mouth is well developed, with teeth consisting of a central cusp and two or three small lateral cusps. There are two dorsal fins, the first of which is well developed. The tail is heterocertal, but with a developed bottom lobe. The coloring is grayish, and paler to white on the belly. It usually lives in deep waters or near the sea bed, between 15 and 420 meters deep. Regional feeding ecology is poorly known, but available data on stomach contents demonstrate a primarily piscivorous diet of small bony fishes, squid and shrimp, (also seen feeding on a sting ray by local divers). Assumedly ovoviviparous, but no reproductive data, males measure up to 300 cm. while females reach 400 cm. At birth, size is over 105 cm. Long. It is found in the Mediterranean, the east Atlantic and the Indo-Pacific (Madagascar, South Africa, Australia, Japan, Hawaii and California).

Despite the name FEROX, this shark has never been accused of attacking people. Divers are advised to move and behave cautiously when the sharks are sighted during the dive. Divers should never attempt touching the sharks. Just stay calm and enjoy the show. Remember that all sharks are predators and will attack and bite if felt threatened.

Gray nurse - Eugomphodus Taurus

Also seen on shark point, had a bad reputation in the old days as a man-eater in Australia but this was due to confusion with other sharks as it is inoffensive unless provoked. Popular aquarium species because its fierce look. Very similar look to the ferox. Groups sometimes herd schools of prey.

THE “SOUFFLEUR”


Location: 12 km south of Ras-Beirut

Getting there: By boat from Beirut

Finding site: Difficult

Condition: Current, waves and wind can all be considerable

Depth of dive: Average 34m to a maximum of 38m

Level: This site is suitable for experienced advanced divers

Best time to dive: Good year round, best in spring and fall

Quality of marine life: Diverse, Sting rays, moray eels and eagle rays

Visibility: 6-25m year round affected by currents and plankton blooms

Historical interest: High

Documents: Souffleur. Souvenirs D'un Sous Marinier au Liban durant la seconde guerres mondiale (link as old web)

FACTS

The "SOUFFLEUR" can be ranked among one of the best WW2 wreck in the world. The site is suitable for divers with some good experience and the level of expertise increases as conditions and visibility deteriorate and they do so frequently. Check for currents, wind and waves action, and decide if the conditions match your skill level. Dives generally begin at the bow deck, where downline will be secured. Descents and ascents should always be made along the line to avoid being swept off by currents.

The "SOUFFLEUR", a French submarine sank in battle during WW2., with 50 men of its crew, lies cut in two at 38m. of sandy bottom, the stern laying on its left flank and the bow on its right. Torpedoed by the English submarine "PARTHIAN", in the midsection under its 105 mm. Canon, was the epicenter of the blast that sank the Souffleur and it is badly damaged. The rest is pretty much complete. The main anti-aircraft gun lies broken with its stand on the sandy floor. Same goes for its 105 mm. Canon, lying 150m away from the submarine. Divers will find plenty of open holes caused by old-time fishermen's dynamiting the site for fish. These holes look very tempting for a discovery penetration, but divers beware from any penetration attempt, since passages are very narrow and silt will immediately cover your trace making entry extremely hazardous and life threatening.

HISTORICAL FACTS

Nine "shark" type submarines were built between 1924 and 1928. Building of the "SOUFFLEUR" began at Cherbourg on October 1st, 1924 and terminated in 1926. Length: 78.25m, beam: 4.52m, displacement: 1,147 tons (surfaced) 1,438 tons (submerged), power: 2,900 diesel HP. And 1,900 electric HP. Speed: 16 knots (surfaced) and 10 knots (submerged). Armament: ten 550m/m. Torpedo tubes (4 forward, 4 external and 2 aft), one 100m/m canon and a 20m/m double machine gun. Crew: 54 men.

On March 20, 1940 lt. Commander Bazoche commanding the "SOUFFLEUR", was replaced by its new and last captain, lt. Commander Lejay.

After the fall of France in that same year, and under the new Vichy government, the "SOUFFLEUR" and two other submarines of the same type, "CAIMAN" and "MARSOUIN", departed on April 1st. 1941 to Beirut to join the Navy division of the Levant.

The three submarines started their patrols along the Lebanese and Syrian coast until June 8, 1941, when the British and the Free French Forces launched their attack against Syria and Lebanon.

On that day, the "SOUFFLEUR" was operating in Tyre region. Between the 8th and 11th of April, he participated in his first battle mission, attacking 3 British destroyers (unknown result), and getting attacked himself with depth charges. Back to base on April 11, 4 P.M.

The "SOUFFLEUR" goes again on new missions from April 14 until the 18th, and again from April 20 until the 21st.

On April 24th, he goes on his last mission. On April 25, at 12.55 P.M. the "SOUFFLEUR" was on the surface, 3 Km off Khaldeh, running on one engine, trying to recharge his batteries after and agitated night. 4 torpedo lanes appeared coming from the west. Lt. Morange who was on the surface command with 5 other men, maneuvered to avoid the torpedoes which 1 hit the submarine's middle section. The "SOUFFLEUR" broke in two instantly. The other 3 torpedoes went to shore of which 1 exploded, and two were found intact.

Lt. Morange, most likely gravely wounded, sank with the submarine. The other 5 sailors who were on the deck tried to reach the coast: 4 succeeded after swimming for 3 hours, the fifth sank on the way.

Commander Lejay died that day with forty nine other crewmen.

The "SOUFFLEUR" was torpedoed by the British submarine "PARTHIAN".

The "PARTHIAN" hit a mine and sank with its crew on August 10, 1941, 50 days after it sank the "SOUFFLEUR".

On July 10, 1941, the allied forces took over all Lebanon and Syria.

From The 9th Division of the Levant came these words about the submarine "SOUFFLEUR":

"Gloriously lost on June 25, 1941 on the Syrian coast during a war operation".

MORE FACTS, PERSONAL OBSERVATIONS & CONCLUSION

It appears (previous and numerous correspondence from Com. Lt. Lejay to the general headquarters, that I personally read) that this type of submarine had a major factory defect. Any time they had to maneuver up and down during combat, the "shark type" would loose its battery power in a alarming speed. This would cause a premature surfacing to recharge the batteries. This is most likely what happened on June 25, 1941.

From the report given by the 3 sailors that returned to base, ( the fourth sailor, deserted to join the allied forces), They mention that they had a very rough night. They were in no position to give more details since their captain would not speak to all his sailors detailing all what was happening.
Analyzing these circumstances, it proves that Com. Lt. Lejay had to make a drastic decision that day. His batteries empty, he faced suffocation under the sea or a mid-day surfacing, knowing that he could be hunted down. We all know the rest of this sad story.

TALES

The year 1963, Abu Hsein, fishermen, takes his boat with his aid and air compressor and moves to Khaldeh area, looking for sponge. His aid Ahmad takes the air hose and dives for the search of the sponge. Instead he comes across a submarine wreck and while Abu Hsein is sitting on the boat, he sees Ahmad emerging from the water screaming: Submarine…Submarine. By the time Abu Hsein realized what they have found, the current has swept their boat away and while they continued diving that day, they could not relocate the submarine anymore. Dreaming of a treasure waiting to be picked up, they decide to keep the discovery a secret and starting the next day, the search begins with high hopes and dreams. The search continued unsuccessfully for 10 days. Tired and discouraged, Abu Hsein decided to follow a new search technique. He drops his fishing net around the location where they approximately encountered the submarine and started closing the circle. Suddenly something gets hooked. Diving again on the spot, they find the submarine laying in the water cut in two waiting to be explored.

With the little knowledge and experience they had, all they could pick up was some good amount of brass they were able to brake from the outer shell of the submarine, and sell it to the scrap brass market. But this task was difficult and time consuming. After 3 month of brass stealing, they realized that there was nothing more for them in the submarine since entry looked impossible and hazardous. There was another way to make more money, and that was the big amount of fish living in and out of the submarine. Since the fishing net would cut from the sharp edges of the wreck, they used the dynamite as a mean of fishing. Their plan succeeded and for over 2 years, Abu Hsein and Ahmad were the only people that knew the location of the submarine. The secret could not be kept any longer and later divers started exploring this great find.

MORE TALES

General Rohayem was a 7 years old kid in 1941, living in Khaldeh. On June 25, Gen. Rohayem was talking a walk with his grandfather. Suddenly the grandfather sighted the surfaced submarine far away in the sea. He shows it to his grand son, and while Gen. Rohayem was looking at it in admiration he sees it exploding and sinking an less than 30 seconds. This story remained in his memory until today.

THE “MACEDONIA”


Location: 500m north-west of Rawshe

Getting there: By boat; shore entry from Sporting beach club possible

Finding site: Easy

Condition: Currents can be considerable. Diving drop zone 50m south of the sight if suspecting currents. No diving when the wind is strong and the waves are high

Depth of dive: Average 12m. to a maximum of 17m

Level: This site is suitable for all levels

Best time to dive: spring and fall, although possible year round in calm weather

Quality of marine life: Good density and diversity of schools of fish, moray eels and octopuses

Visibility: 8-20m, best in April and May. North-west winds effect visibility and produce strong currents the rest of the year

Historical interest: Low

FACTS

The "MACEDONIA" was a cargo ship sailing regularly between Egypt and Lebanon in the early 1960’s. On a stormy night, sailing too close to shore, the Macedonia hits the shallow reef off Rawshe making a huge hole in its entire front lower hull. Macedonia started taking water and its sailors were able to content the water entrance for few days, until all its cargo was moved to shore. The crack was so big that it was impossible to move the ship to harbour for repair. Later it was sold to an individual who broke the ship in pieces and sold as Scrap. The job could not be finished as a storm came one night and brought the remaining of the Macedonia all down to the bottom.

The remaining of this wreck is cut in two, 1 part laying on the sandy side of the reef and the other part is on the rocks.

The wreck is fairly well colonized by different species of fish, including groupers and lobsters in the spring season.

TALES

Amazingly enough, the scrap was sold to the same person who discovered the submarine wreck "SOUFFLEUR" while looking for the sponge.

THE “LESBIEN”


Name: Lesbien

Location: Beirut, 2 km from shore, north-west the port of Beirut

Finding site: Easy with GPS

Condition: Current, waves and wind can all be considerable

Depth of dive: 60 from 75 meters

Level: This site is suitable for experienced technical divers

Best time to dive: Good year round

Quality of marine life: Diverse marine life

Visibility: 10 m year round affected by currents and plankton blooms

Historical interest: Low

The Lesbian, is a British freighter facing Beirut commercial port, lies intact and hardly ever visited except by few technical divers at a depth of 60 meters after being blown by the French Vichy Navy during WWII. It is an impressive sight, to hover above the mast of those ships, descending slowly and landing around their decks. Marine life is especially abundant on some of these artificial reefs.

1st Incident: June 1940, she was captured at Beirut harbor by the French Vichy authorities.

2nd Incident: June 1941, she was badly damaged by the bombings during the British offensive against Vichy troops in Syria and Lebanon. 14th of July 1941- After the surrender of Vichy troops to the British, the Lesbian who was damaged beyond repair was sunk in deep water to avoid blocking Beirut Harbor.

THE TUNNELS


Location: north-west of Rawche, 100m west of the wreck "Macedonia"

Getting there: By boat

Finding site: Easy

Conditions: Currents and waves can be considerable

Depth of dive: Average 15m to a maximum of 20m

Level: This site is suitable for all levels

Best time to dive: year round in calm weather

Quality of marine life: Diverse. Moray eels, octopuses, groupers as well as turtles

Visibility: 6-20m north wind will reduce visibility and produce strong currents

FACTS

This site is a crack in the rock towards the west, 7m wide, 100m in length, making it look like a passage between 2 walls. Marine life is pleasant, with a reef fish population that seems concentrated on this small spot by these favorable conditions.

STRING RAY REEF


Location: 500m north-west from the military beach of Beirut

Getting there: By boat

Finding site: Easy

Condition: Possibility of wind and waves on the surface

Depth of dive: Average 22m to a maximum of 31m

Level: This site is suitable for experienced advanced divers

Best time to dive: Year round except jelly fish season. June and July best for Ray season

Quality of marine life: Diversity of fish and rays

Visibility: 5-20m year round affected by currents

FACTS

The dive site encompasses a wide, oval sloping patchy reef which extends to the west of the circular reef top. The reef composition is quite varied, with patchy sections in sand beds. Fish life is not great, but in June an July, the sand beds and reef bottom crevices will surprise you throughout the haul dive. It is not unusual that divers encounter as much as 10 rays in a single dive. From sting rays to electric rays to Thornback rays and even Eagle rays; all encountered on that reef.

The reef slope is suitable for relatively inexperienced divers while more experienced divers will enjoy the incredible experience of seeing such a diversity of rays.

THE “CHAMPOLLION”


Location: 150m facing Miami Beach at Ouzai

Getting there: Shore or boat dive possible

Finding site: Easy

Condition: Site most covered by the new built airport runway.

Depth of dive: Average 8m to a maximum of 11m best time to dive: year round on calm weather

Quality of marine life: Below average. Octopus to eels to different kind of fish

Visibility: 3 to 20m best on north wind days

Historical interest: High

PRESENT STATUS: This dive no longer exists as a new airport runway has been built over the wreck

 

DIVE SITE NORTH OF BEIRUT

THE “ALICE B”


Location: 1 km north-west of ATCL in Jounieh

Getting there: By boat

Finding site: Difficult

Condition: Well protected, mild underwater current possible

Depth of dive: Average 34m to a maximum of 38m

Level: This site is suitable for experienced advanced divers

Best time to dive: year round in calm weather

Quality of marine life: Schools of tuna, groupers and Lobsters

Visibility: 4m-25m best on a very mild north wind

Historical interest: Low

FACTS

Although the wreck of the ALICE B is not old, on a good visibility dive, it is very interesting and exceptionally photogenic for underwater photography divers.

The ship is resting on the flat bottom, 38m from the surface.

Divers can start exploring the stern which gives access to the sleeping quarter and engine rooms. Starting at the main control room, the area is wide and accessible by most divers. Behind it, come the kitchen and the living quarter. From there divers will notice a hatchway that leads to the bedrooms then to the engine rooms. Since plunderers have removed anything of value, rooms are now completely empty except from their beautiful potholes.

While exploring the ship’s interior, take care to move cautiously; you can easily kick up clouds of suspended particles, reducing the visibility to a dangerous level. Divers are suggested to be specialized in wreck penetration before attempting entry to any section.

TALES

During the bad days of the civil war in Lebanon in the 80’s, a group of militias, ordered by their leaders, blow 2 holes in the ship’s stern and bow’s section in order to cash its insurance policy. Alice B was declared lost at sea to the insurance company and all the coverage money was collected; one million U.S dollars. At that time, It was a great loss for the insurance company and a great find for that militia. Nowadays, it is definitely a great dive and site to all divers.

TORO NEGRO - OIL TANKER


Location: north-west of Jounieh

Getting there: By boat

Finding site: Difficult

Condition: mild underwater current possible

Depth of dive: 19 to a maximum of 32m

Level: This site is suitable for experienced divers

Best time to dive: year round in calm weather

Quality of marine life: Rays, groupers and Lobsters

Visibility: 4m-25m best on a very mild north wind

Historical interest: Low

 

DIVE SITES IN TRIPOLI

TORPEDO CARRIER BOAT


Name: Unknown

Location: Tripoli 4Km facing the Fishing Port

Finding site: Easy with GPS

Condition: Current, waves and wind can all be considerable

Depth of dive: average 60m. Maximum of 62m

Level: This site is suitable for experienced technical divers

Best time to dive: Good year round, best in spring and fall

Quality of marine life: Diverse marine life

Visibility: 15-30m year round affected by currents and plankton blooms

Historical interest: High

FACTS

The name of this wreck remains a mystery even after deep research. This ship was used as a Torpedo Carrier supplying the Vichy submarines with torpedoes in the open sea. The ship was sunk after receiving a direct hit either from an allied ship canon or bombed from an airplane.

On a good visibility dive, it is very interesting and exceptionally photogenic for underwater photography divers, about 10 submarine torpedoes laying; on the deck.

The ship is resting on the flat bottom, 60m from the surface.

Divers can start exploring the stern which gives access to the sleeping quarter and engine room. Starting at the main control room, with an upper Deck where the steering remains intact.

The ship’s interior, is very narrow and difficult to explore even for the most experienced Technical Wreck Instructor.

HMS VICTORIA


Name: HMS Victoria

Location: Tripoli, 16 Km north-west

Finding site: Easy with GPS

Condition: Current, waves and wind can all be considerable

Depth of dive: from 75 m to 146m

Level: This site is suitable for experienced technical divers

Best time to dive: Good year round, best in spring and fall

Quality of marine life: Diverse marine life

Visibility: 15-30m year round affected by currents and plankton blooms

Historical interest: High

FACTS

Built at Elswick and launched in 1887, the HMS Victoria was the flagship in the Mediterranean of Admiral Sir George Tryon. Part of the Victoria Class turret ship of the Royal Navy, the HMS Victoria was rammed and sunk by HMS Camperdown on the 22nd of June 1893 during a maneuver preceding the anchoring, in formation, of the 10 battleships fleet in Tripoli.

Admiral Tryon intended the maneuvers and the anchoring to be an impressive sight to the entire British Navy fleet; unfortunately, the maneuver went wrong and the two battleships met halfway. Camperdown struck the Victoria on the flagship's starboard side, opening up an enormous hole at and below the waterline. Victoria's bow went down and the stern rose with the propellers still turning. The ship sank Only 13 minutes after the collision, rushing towards the bottom.

Today, the HMS Victoria is resting at the bottom in a vertical position with the stern upwards starting at 75 meters.

FACTS

One local dive instructor claims that he discovered the wreck. His story is far from the truth since the wreck’s whereabouts was always known from all the local fishermen.

More dive sites will be added when they will be completed and edited by the author