Archives for December, 2011

The Carthaginian Shipwreck was once used as a whaling museum.  It is a replica of a 19th century brig which is similar to the ships that first brought commerce to the Hawaiian Islands.

Carthaginian shipwreck, Maui Hawaii (Steven W Smeltzer)

Carthaginian, At the Dock, Maui Hawaii

The ship was originally a cement carrier built in Germany in 1920.  The ship was purchased by the Lahaina Restoration Foundation and rechristened the Carthaginian II.  It sailed to Lahaina in 1973 where it took seven years for the historically accurate 18th century whaling ship rigging to be assembled.  The ship served as a reminder of Lahaina’s nautical heritage and was docked for many years at Lahaina Harbor.  The Lahaina Restoration Foundation operated a museum on board that displayed relics of Lahaina’s historic whaling days.

Carthaginian shipwreck, Maui Hawaii (Steven W Smeltzer)

Carthaginian, Maui Hawaii




Although it had no true historical value, the Carthaginian II was one of Lahaina’s most recognizable attractions.  It was featured in thousands of artworks and visitor photographs for over the 30 years. As the ship aged it became more difficult to repair.  The Lahaina Restoration Foundation was eventually spending about $50,000 a year to maintain the rusting hulk. When marine engineers advised against further repairs Atlantis submarines was approached to claim the vessel and use it as an artificial reef.  This would in turn enhance the existing Atlantis submarine tours in Lahaina.

Carthaginian shipwreck, Maui Hawaii (Steven W Smeltzer)

Carthaginian and Atlantis, Carthaginian, Maui Hawaii

On December 13, 2005, following two years of preparation, Atlantis Adventures sank the ship off Lahaina, Maui.   The reefing took place off Puamana which is just outside the Lahaina harbor.  The 97-foot, steel-hulled vessel, sank in 95 feet of water where it rests upright on its keel. Creating an artificial reef with the Carthaginian shipwreck was an extensive effort that will have long lasting marine life benefits.

Carthaginian shipwreck, Maui Hawaii (Steven W Smeltzer)

Looking Through the Main Cabin, Carthaginian II, Maui Hawaii





The first Carthaginian was a replica of a whaling supply vessel used for the 1966 movie “Hawaii,” based on the James Michener novel. The Lahaina Restoration Foundation purchased the wooden boat, but it sank in 1972 on its way to O’ahu for dry dock.  The German vessel was acquired and was rechristened the Carthaginian II and after extensive work served the city as a floating museum for many years.

Carthaginian shipwreck, Maui Hawaii (Steven W Smeltzer)

Frogfish Closeup, Carthaginian, Maui Hawaii

Atlantis spent approximately $350,000 on the Carthaginian shipwreck project, including preparation of environmental studies. American Marine Services was hired to handle reefing operation. Before the Carthaginian II was towed from Lahaina Harbor, entertainers from the Old Lahaina Lu’au performed “Aloha ‘Oe” and members of the Lahaina Restoration Foundation placed lei on the vessel and held signs bidding it aloha.

To prepare for the sinking, 10 tons of concrete had been loaded on board, adding to the 35 tons of material the boat already was carrying. Atlantis’ small tugboat Roxie pulled the Carthaginian II out of the harbor before transferring the operation to the larger American Islander tugboat.

A flotilla of about 20 boats was waiting when the Carthaginian II arrived at Puamana, and spectators lined the shore or pulled over on Honoapi’ilani Highway to watch the spectacle. Kahu Charles Kaupu offered a Hawaiian blessing, and after a 3-ton anchor was secured to the bow and the boat was in position.  Patches were then removed from two sets of holes that had been cut into the hull about 18 inches above the water line. Seawater was pumped into the hull, and 27 minutes later the Carthaginian was headed to the sandy bottom. Observers let loose with applause and whoops of appreciation as the ship quietly slipped beneath the surface. Aboard the Atlantis shuttle boat three air-shattering blasts were fired from miniature brass cannon to mark the occasion.

Carthaginian Shipwreck The Dive

Carthaginian shipwreck, Maui Hawaii (Steven W Smeltzer)

Main Mast in Forward Hold, Carthaginian II, Maui Hawaii

The Carthaginian shipwreck lies in about 90 feet of water of the coast of Lahina.  It is about a 10 to 15 minute trip from the harbor to the dive site.  The ship was sunk approximately 6 years ago and now supports a wide variety of marine life.  When you begin to descend from the mooring ball you will normally be able to see the outline of the ship quite easily.  The visibility is usually 80+ feet and much of the time over 100+ feet.  There can be some current on this site so some divers may want to descend using the mooring line.  As you descend to the Carthaginian shipwreck you will begin to notice more details regarding the ship and the impacts of being on the reef for a number of years.  The main mast collapsed in mid-summer 2011 and can now be seen sitting on the deck.  The main cabin roof and walls have deteriorated to some degree and there are numerous holes into the hold.  The access to the hold itself is quite large and easily accessible.  The engine room and forward compartment is blocked by a gate but you can still get a good variety of photos in this area.  The rear area of the cargo hold is fairly clear and at the present time will contain various fish species or crustaceans as they are moving about the ship.

Carthaginian shipwreck, Maui Hawaii (Steven W Smeltzer)

Pacific Trumpetfish Entering Hold, Carthaginian II, Maui Hawaii



There are a number of frogfish on the Carthaginian shipwreck and I was able to photograph five different frogfish on my last dive.  These fish are extremely well placed for macro photos and can consume a lot of bottom time, but it is well worth the effort.  Two frogfish were on the main deck to the rear of the main cabin and three were on the starboard side about the midships area.

You will also find a wide variety of fish including, Pacific Trumpetfish, Sergeant Majors, Dascyllus, Orangespine Unicornfish, Rainbow Cleaner Wrasse, and many more.

The Carthaginian shipwreck dive is best when there are less than ten divers in the water since the ship itself is not very large.  It is a very worthwhile dive and I highly recommend it for your next trip to Maui.

Check out images of other wrecks on my website at or visit my blog or follow me on Twitter at

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Oro Verde Shipwreck, Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

Descent to the bow, Oro Verde Shipwreck, Grand Cayman

The Oro Verde shipwreck (meaning Green Gold) in Grand Cayman has been a favorite site for divers since she was sunk on May 31, 1980 by the Caymanian government.  The vessel a 131-foot 692-ton freighter lies in about 50 feet of water just off Grand Cayman’s famous Seven Mile Beach.  The Oro Verde shipwreck has deteriorated a lot since her reefing.  This is mainly the result of several hurricanes that have hit the island in the last 30 years.  The debris field today is scattered over a wide area with only the bow section still intact.

The following is an article from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune dated Sunday, August 10, 1980 three months after the Oro Verde was reefed.

New Target Found For Cayman Divers

N.Y. Times News Service

Oro Verde Shipwreck, Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

Survey of Bow, Oro Verde, Shipwreck, Grand Cayman

Scuba divers on Grand Cayman Island in the Caribbean have a new target to examine:  A 692-ton Panamanian cargo ship that has been deliberately sunk in 60 feet of water off the island’s Seven Mile Beach.

The vessel, the 131-foot Oro Verde, had been stuck on a sandbar after it ran aground off the 17-mile long island’s North Sound four years ago.  A group of Grand Cayman divers then hit on the idea of stimulating diving interest by salvaging the freighter and sinking it 300 yards offshore from the beach and hotel area.

The divers sought contributions to the project from hotels, airlines and other tourist organizations and purchased the salvage rights from the Caymanian government.  Then, before towing the Oro Verde to its new site, they cleaned it and removed the watches, doors, glass and rough edges to make it as safe as possible.

Oro Verde Shipwreck, Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

Soft Corals on the Bow, Oro Verde Shipwreck, Grand Cayman

“The removal of the doors and hatches also created a lovelier site by allowing more sunlight to filter through to the ship’s interior,” said Horace DuQuesnay, a tour company representative who lives on the island and participated in the salvage.  “The wreck will become more beautiful over the years as the colored coral becomes an integral part of the ship.”

The story of the Oro Verde is a rather interesting one.  She was originally built as a “liberty ship” her original name was the Navajo and is a sister ship to the infamous USS Pueblo (that is the only US navy ship still being held captive by the North Koreans).  Once the ship was retired from the Navy, she was registered in Nassau and ran freight to and from North America, Latin America and the Caribbean.

The ship was once almost blown up in Miami with a homemade bomb in a cigar box.  See the following story from the Miami Herald dated October 19, 1966.

Cigar Box Bomb Attached to Ship

By Gene Miller
Herald Staff Writer

Oro Verde Shipwreck, Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

Starboard Side of Bow Section, Oro Verde Shipwreck, Grand Cayman

A homemade bomb in a cigar box, attached by a magnet to the hull of a British cargo ship, failed to explode at the Miami City Docks Tuesday – apparently because an undersea bomber didn’t set it correctly.  “It should have gone off,” said Capt. Tom Brodie, chief of the Sheriff’s office bomb squad.  The ship the 180-foot 692-ton Oro Verde, was due to sail late in the day for a five-day trip to Cristobal, Panama. From there, after unloading, its normal route takes it through the Panama Canal to Ecuador.

“We don’t have the slightest idea why anyone would want to blow up our ship,” said Robert Trost, operations manager for Chester, Blackburn & Roder Inc., Miami agents.  Horace Barron, a crane operator loading general cargo, first noticed something peculiar attached to the hull several feet below the water line.  “He’d looked at it for a couple of hours and didn’t know what to think,” said Bob Kretzschmar, a sheriff’s deputy assigned to docks.  The ship was on the north side of Pier C, berth three.  But before it arrived there at 7 a.m., it had unloaded bananas at the parking lot dock of the Banana Supply Co. on the river. The ship reached Miami Sunday.

Oro Verde Shipwreck, Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

Engine Room Remnants, Oro Verde Shipwreck, Grand Cayman

“The crane operator started talking to the crew and someone finally decided to call the Coast Guard,” said Kretzschmar.  “The Coast Guard took one look and said ‘Call the bomb squad.'” This was at 11:28 a.m.  Capt. Brodie, accustomed to frequent false reports, also needed but a single glance. He took off his shoes and shirt, jumped in, and deactivated it.  The time-bomb, put inside a wooden Cuban cigar box consisted of a cast-made explosive, pentalite, and weighed about two pounds.  Attached to it was an acid pellet triggering device floating underwater in a prophylactic. It looked like a ping-pong ball in a balloon from the surface.  When the pellet or ampule is crushed, the acid begins to eat at the wire. When the wire gives, a spring releases a hammer which strikes the primmer of the cap.  “Someone didn’t set it right,” said Capt. Brodie. “It should have gone off.”

Oro Verde Shipwreck, Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

Channel Clinging Crab, Oro Verde Shipwreck, Grand Cayman

Pentalite, he said, is a “very high order explosive, a step above TNT or the normal plastic explosives. It would have blown quite a hole in the hull.”  Investigators said they didn’t know whether or not the ship would have sunk.  Capt. Brodie said that pentalite is often used by militant Cuban exiles here. There was one unverified report that the CIA once had an interest in the ship.  Trost, the agency manager, discounted thoughts of anyone trying to blow up the ship in the Panama Canal. “The detonating device was of much too short duration for that,” he said. “It sure is odd.”

The ship, registered as British, is managed by a crew of 17. Wendell Phillips, a U.S. citizen, is the captain.  Trost, as well as police, believed that the bomb was attached to the ship in the Miami River sometime prior to loading at Pier C.  Yet police said they couldn’t tell how long it had been there.  Sheriff skindiver Ed Zender explored the underside of the hull for other bombs and Deputies J. K. Russell and James Askew searched the ship.  Neither Capt. Phillips nor John. W. Tatcher, owner of the vessel, could offer any possible motive for sabotage.  The ship, built in 1942, once was an Army cargo vessel, Phillips said.  “All we do is carry bananas from Ecuador and general cargo from Miami to the Canal Zone,” said Thatcher.

The Oro Verde Shipwreck Dive

Oro Verde Shipwreck, Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

Debris Field, Oro Verde Shipwreck, Grand Cayman

The Oro Verde shipwreck was originally a Liberty Ship built to carry cargo for the US  during WWII and supposedly a sistership to the infamous USS Pueblo (although documentation is very shaky). The ship was sold by the Navy and began operations as a merchant cargo ship sailing in the Caribbean and South America and is thought to mainly carry bananas or a regular basis.  The Oro Verde shipwreck became a drug smuggling ship late in her life and ran aground in Grand Cayman in 1976.  She was on the reef several years until a consortium of local diver operators got together with the local government to turn the ship into an artificial reef.  Local dive lore tells that the Captain of the ship hoped to make one last large deal to retire more comfortably and had a large amount of marijuana on board the Oro Verde.  While on route to Grand Cayman the crew of the ship found out about the Marijuana and confronted the captain, seeking a share of the profits since they would be prosecuted if caught with the ship and the drugs.  The Captain is said to have refused and the crew killed him and threw him overboard.  The crew then not knowing the local waters ran the ship aground.  When the authorities were notified the crew had abandoned ship and the marijuana was confiscated and burned on the south end of the island.  The story also goes on to say that the prevailing winds were blowing from the southeast to the northwest and everyone on the islands was reportedly quite happy for  several days.

Oro Verde Shipwreck, Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

Green Moray Eel, Gymnothorax funebris, Oro Verde shipwreck, Grand Cayman

The Oro Verde shipwreck and surrounding reefs are home to many species of sea animals, fish and corals, making this one of the most popular shallow dives in Grand Cayman, often frequented after a deeper wall dive or on a night dive.  Though it was in pristine condition when it was sunk and lying on her starboard in the sand next door to a patch of reef, the wreck’s finer details have since given way to the force of time; passing hurricanes have broken, rolled and scattered the vessel across a wide debris field closer to the reef. Still, the Oro Verde shipwreck remains a great example of a thriving artificial reef.

Oro Verde Shipwreck, Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

Rough Fileclam, Oro Verde Shipwreck, Grand Cayman

The buoy is attached to the bow section which is the only remaining intact part of the wreck.  There are no longer any ways to penetrate the wreck but you can look into the bow section through a couple of port holes.  The debris field flows primarily from the bow section to the north along several coral fingers.  The diver can choose to spend all or part of the dive on the wreck and part of the dive on the reef. There is a wide variety of reef fish such as parrotfish, sergeant majors, angelfish, silversides (seasonally), schoolmasters, large groupers and moray eels as well as crustaceans such as the arrow crab and rough file clam

The Oro Verde shipwreck is still a worthwhile dive. I especially like it as a night dive for the variety of marine species that are present.  The Oro Verde lies about 100 yards off shore so advanced divers in good physical condition could reach it as a shore dive but with the long swim and requisite dive flags and floats due to offshore boat traffic, why bother? All of the local dive operators will be happy to take you to the Oro Verde as your second half of a two tank west side boat dive, an afternoon dive or on a night dive.  I would urge you to dive the wreck whether it is the first time or it you have dove on the Oro Verde shipwreck before.  The site is constantly changing and the marine species always make for an interesting dive.

Check out images of other wrecks in Grand Cayman the Doc Poulson and the USS Kittiwake

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