Make way for the shoreline— the ship is taking on water and fast! Perhaps these were not the exact words used to describe the situation, but the sinking of the MS Mikhail Lermontov has now become one of the largest diveable wrecks in New Zealand for both recreational and technical divers. The 155-meter-long Mikhail Lermontov was part of a fleet of five luxury liners named after famous Russian writers and was a regular cruise ship in New Zealand waters.
On 16 February 1986, she left Picton accompanied by harbor master Don Jamison. With the captain gone to his cabin and Jamison in charge, the harbor master took a course between the lighthouse and the end of Cape Jackson instead of clearing the rocky reef, which extended past Walker Rock and was clearly shown on the charts.
The vessel was drawing about 27 feet. Captain Jamison claimed his understanding of the depth in the channel to be 35 to 40 feet. However, it would have been a very foolhardy course to take for anyone aware of the presence of the rocks. At about 5:37 PM, there was a thud, and the ship started to list, as water flooded through a 40-foot-long gash in the hull, entering three water-tight bulkheads. In the meantime, an announcement was made that dinner would be delayed, and the wine tasting session that was in progress would be extended. But the wine tasting stopped when the ship tipped over far enough to send glasses sliding off tables.
The loud noises that emanated from the Lermontov would haunt passengers forever, as the vessel sank. Items on deck rocketed to the surface, into the air and came down, causing a cacophony of violent sounds. Huge bubbles soared from the surface adding to the deafening noises the Lermontov made while sinking.
Diving the wreck
How can one individual's mistake be a diver's delight? The answer: have an unfortunate accident resulting in one of the largest and most easily accessible wrecks at rest in only 36 meters of water. With diving depths starting in as little as 12 meters, the Lermontov wreck is suitable for both recreational and technical divers...
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