Although the Produce is undoubtedly Aliwal Shoal’s most famous wreck, the area is also home to another, equally rewarding wreck site – that of the British steamship SS Nebo. Today, the Nebo’s final resting place can be found approximately four kilometres from the Umkomaas river mouth, in 27 metres of water.
The wreck lies upside down and partly covered in sand, and yet her infrastructure is riddled with fascinating caverns and crevices that make her a haven for a wide variety of marine species. The Nebo is about more than her present day residents, however. To dive this wreck is to experience over a century of maritime history firsthand – making the Nebo one of the Shoal’s best kept secrets.
Maximum Depth: 27 metres
Minimum Qualification: Adventure Diver
SS Nebo’s Last Voyage
On 29th May 1884, the Nebo was nearing the final stages of a long voyage from Sunderland, England to Durban, South Africa. She was heavily laden with more than 4,500 tons of railway materials, intended for a new bridge being built at nearby Amanzimtoti. However, as she neared the Shoal, the weather worsened, and her heavy load proved disastrous in the increasingly large swells. The Nebo capsized and swiftly sank – and in doing so, allegedly became the third vessel of the same name (and belonging to the same shipping company) to sink on her maiden voyage. Rumours were rife in the aftermath of the Nebo’s demise, including a theory that she had run aground on an unchartered pinnacle – although that pinnacle has never been seen since.
Prolific Marine Life
For almost a century, the Nebo remained undisturbed on the seafloor before divers visited the wreck for the first time.
Today, heavy surge has dispersed much of the wreck’s superstructure, but sections of her stern, her propellers and her boiler remain clearly discernible. The wreck’s greatest attraction, however, is its prolific marine life. On clear days, shoals of baitfish move across the ship’s silhouette in such great numbers that the outline of the wreck is all but obscured.
Occasionally, passing game fish (including cape salmon, dagga salmon and barracuda) part these shimmering curtains as they prey upon the smaller fish. Enormous brindle bass (the world’s largest reef-dwelling bony fish) are known to frequent the Nebo, while the surrounding sand provides a refuge for rays, sand sharks, crocodile fish and guitar sharks.
Primarily, the Nebo is a refuge for the smaller denizens of the ocean, and as such has earned itself a reputation as a macro photographer’s paradise. Tiny candy-striped Durban dancing shrimp form small colonies in the ruin of the ship’s boiler, whilst every small dark space is a potential hiding hole for a myriad species of tiny crustacean. Nudibranchs, anemones, expertly camouflaged scorpionfish and almost-invisible ghost pipefish are all commonly seen on the wreck of the Nebo. For the best photographic results, the Nebo should only be attempted when conditions are right. Surrounded by empty expanses of sand, the Nebo is an exposed site that requires little to no current, whilst its close proximity to shore means that the wreck can be prone to poor visibility when the river is in full flood.
On days when the current and the visibility come together to create the perfect conditions, however, this a magical dive site that often exceeds all expectations – so much so that divers often come to Aliwal Shoal for the Produce, but end up falling in love with the Nebo.
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