Experienced divers from Austria and Germany have recently discovered diving opportunities in the Black Sea of the Odesa region and got impressed. The experience turned out to be not easy but very engaging. The point is not only that the region’s sea has a variable ecosystem but also that historical past of Ukraine contributes to the excitement. Shipwrecks of different historical times and even an aircraft – the locations which can be attended from May to October in the Odesa region.
For the last 18 years, Vladlen Tobak, a diver, has been observing these objects and keep them from being stolen. He also collaborates with scientists. Vladlen is one of the authors of the idea to create a unique Auguste Piccard catamaran, which was first put to the Black Sea in 2014. The man told Opinion that diving in Ukraine would thrive despite all the obstacles and absence of legislation.
Europeans are diving near Odesa
The Europeans, who had dived in the best world spots, explored the diving opportunities of the Black Sea near Odesa. 3 groups from Austria and Germany, who are used to incredible Maldives, Egypt and other places, first dived in the Black Sea and just applauded to the organisers of the expedition. The experienced divers enjoy the historical underwater heritage a way more than colourful undersea. They explored about 12 shipwrecks of the Odesa Bay area, the town of Chernomorsk, capes of Budak and Burnas, and one aircraft, listened to historical lectures during the briefing before diving. Now, they are planning to collaborate, – the expedition organisers told.
“The conditions of the region are very complicated, unpredictable. The water temperature, wind, storms, relatively low water transparency up to 5 meters, which can be even lower virtually 0 meters, which spoils the diving process – you can’t 100% foresee it. In the Odesa region, unlike the Red Sea, for example, it is virtually impossible to hide in islands, atolls in case of unfavourable weather conditions. In the Odesa region, we have to immediately head to the port or just stop diving and float in the sea waiting for better weather. When there are certain winds and we are diving in certain areas, we manage to retreat from the plan and dive at other objects. It is not a big problem for Ukrainians, they are used to getting ready quickly for marine Safari and expeditions when the weather forecast is good. But for foreigners, this is a big risk as they plan their journeys one year ahead,” Vladlen Tobak, an organiser of marine expeditions, the head of the Board of the International Hydrographic Organisation Ukrainian Centre for Marine Expeditions, told.
The expedition started from a night 50-mile-sailing to the object Nikolay, which is situated 3 miles away from the cape of Burnas (the village of Lebedivka). This shipwreck, a big commercial ship, is 16 meters deep underwater. The name Nikolay is given by the expedition team temporally.
The next object is the Ankara lighter. This 70-meter vessel is interesting because it lies with its keel above. Then, the Europeans explored the Teodorich object. The Salzburg ship is special because in 2010 it was turned into the memorial where more than 2000 Second World War POWs died. They also explored the German vessel Gordelia situated 5 miles away from the entrance to the Belgorod-Dnestrovsky estuary, the Durnstein puddle vessel, Romanian torpedo motorboats Vidgelia and Viforul, the Hungarian Ungvar shipwreck – in the Chernomorsk area.
Then, the expedition headed to the Odesa Bay area to explore a new object of the region – the Onega trawl ship which sank several years ago. Now, it attracts divers with its 100-meter-height. Also, the guests discovered the most famous object of the Odesa Bay area – the Romanian commercial vessel Sulina and Soviet vessel Briansk.
The highlight of the expedition was a military aircraft JU-52 which had been found by the expedition team in 2008. Vladlen Tobak told that after the expedition finished, all participants of the tour became members of the international civil organisation IHO Ukrainian Centre for Marine Expeditions. A new visit of the representatives of the Germany Federation of the Marine Sport has been scheduled. The Dutch group also comes in autumn. The organisation arranges expeditions equipped on a modern, international level. It was founded in 2014 when a unique vessel was put to the sea. It was a catamaran named after the French scientist Auguste Piccard who invented a high-altitude balloon and bathyscaphe. He also was the first man to fly to the stratosphere and explore the Mariana Trench.
Until that time, starting from 2001, the expedition and exploration works were conducted on the legendary for many Odesa divers motorboat Calypso (a former lifeboat of the Ivan Franko passenger ship).
Auguste Piccard – a catamaran, research vessel, yacht or houseboat?
In his childhood, Vladlen watched films about expeditions and Jacques Cousteau. Like the famous ocean explorer, he dreamt about a real research vessel for exploration works and research of ocean. In 2006, he met Maksym Mykytenko who then was only learning how to dive. In the next several years, Maksym Mykytenko, as an experienced diver and yachtsman, took part in the Calypso expeditions. These expeditions on a tiny vessel, which were often handled under awful weather conditions, gave him an idea to build a special expedition ship. Auguste Piccard was designed as a patriotic project aimed at developing marine explorations and diving-tourism in Ukraine.
According to Vladlen Tobak, the project was being constantly improved while it was being constructed. Now, its ergonomic capabilities are so unique that only the experience of its usage indicates that the idea was worth trying from the very beginning. Because this vessel has the necessary equipment for both expeditions and diving. The three-deck-catamaran has a hydraulic loader crane, demineralised water generator, high-pressure compressor, receiver storage of high-pressure air, a balloon of a breathing machine, Nitrox carrier gas system, and diving chamber. The vessel is equipped with modern navigation and exploration systems.
Moreover, it has a RIB speedboat which is also equipped with a powerful engine and navigation system. This is only a shortlist of equipment facilities of the catamaran. It unites technical capabilities of a research ship and comfort of a yacht. It has 7 rooms with all facilities and even a climate-control system. The vessel can have up to 16 explorers and 4 crew members on board at once. This specialised yacht has even a sauna.
It is quite expensive to maintain such a ship. The state doesn’t support such projects. However, Auguste Piccard has been carrying out her patriotic mission since her first expedition in 2014 (Dnipro-Byzky estuary – Kinburn, Tendrivska Spits) when the team of the Institute of Southern Seas worked on the vessel. Additionally, the Ukrainian Centre of Marine Expeditions collaborates with the Institute of Environment. Scientists of the Institute have conducted 3 expeditions of the Emblas 2 International Monitoring Program on the board of the ship. One of the areas explored involved 40-meter-diving session in the area of the Zernov Phillophora Field. It is situated in the open sea 45 miles away from the nearest coast, close to famous “Boiko’s Derricks”.
“The main problem of the diving-tourism in Ukraine is that it doesn’t exist”
“The main problem for us is that there is no legislation on diving. It isn’t even considered as a part of the touristic segment. However, you have to get many documents which allow you to dive. We need laws on the protection of underwater cultural heritage which could equal all diving clubs and all divers. The Ministry of Culture, force bodies should understand that only associations with diving- clubs, organisers are the only way to save objects of the cultural heritage of Ukraine. Made-up restrictions on exploring “underwater scrap metal” create an atmosphere of secrecy and can lead to stealing of unique underwater findings. We often have a classical monopoly in everything, government relations and a total anarchy underwater,” Vladlen Tobak says.
When there’s attention to some underwater objects during the start of exploration, it results in black archaeologists destroying the objects. And they are not punished. It happened to the Vidgelia and Viforul objects which were destroyed by them. The same thing happened to the most famous in the Odesa Bay area Saulina shipwreck. It was officially forbidden to dive there, but black diggers didn’t care.
“Once my colleagues-divers and I saved this object when diggers were trying to disassemble a sternmost coat of arms of the Romanian royal family. We told the police about that and they drew up a protocol because we dived in a prohibited area. A good example is the Salzburg object where in 2010, our team placed a commemorative tablet saying that more than 2000 people died there. Then, during one of the expeditions, we arranged a commemorative action with a wreath-laying ceremony, we also organised a requiem. After our works, this object was officially announced a memorial, and the Ministry of Culture adopted it. After that, it was very difficult to arrange the same actions in this place. However, underwater robbers managed to steal a bronze commemorative tablet though the area was protected by the police from the Cape of Budak,” Vladlen says.
To avoid such situations in the future, according to the expert, strict legislation which will equal rights of all divers of Ukraine should be adopted. It will give a chance not only to earn money on diving tourism but also save the underwater cultural heritage. Because only professional divers who are keen on history and science of their native land will save it. The Southern Black Sea region is very difficult for this business. Only those will survive who really love it and understand that it could be easy somewhere, but here, only the strongest will cope.
Text by Nataliia Miziukina
Photo provided divinglab.com.ua