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KwaZulu Natal shipwrecks: The Produce

Text By Dennis Guichard
We are very blessed living and diving on the east coast of southern Africa, as the oceans we call our home remain one of the highest energy coastlines found on our blue planet. The expanse of open ocean that extends eastwards toward Australasia and south towards the Antarctic provides us with a near-constant barrage of powerful oceanic ground swells, strong standing currents, and southerly weather systems. This is tremendous news of course, as all this provides us with a sometimes-ferocious stretch of coastline that has been the downfall of many hundreds of ships as far back as our maritime history can recall.

If it’s shipwrecks and history you’re after, your investigations of this rich coastline will excite you beyond belief. Our little stretch of ocean we call home alone contains a myriad of wrecks and treasures of which even I couldn’t completely hope to grasp. There are many famous wrecks of past centuries that you will find recorded in treasure books aplenty.

It’s an unfortunate truth that despite the wealth of ancient wrecks that have come to bear along this coast, few diveable remains have survived to this day. Fewer still lay in locations or depths that make them attractive to the current standard of recreational scuba diver that we commercially cater for in current times. Fewer people further again have the knowledge to know the precise locations of many of the best dive spots along this coastline.
For the serious wreck enthusiast, a local skipper with infinite knowledge of the sea and her secrets, who is capable of dropping you on a postage stamp time and time again is a must.
Similarly, a local Divemaster with intimate knowledge and passion for their location, who has a fountain of knowledge and experience on local history, marine life, dive management, rescue capability, and most importantly knows the secret locations of access corridors, spare propellers, and other such treasures is also a must. One of the more accessible and fabulously favourite wrecks along our awesome coastline is the Produce - a 119m long Norwegian bulk carrier, weighing in at 15,000 tons.

She was travelling south from the port of Durban carrying a cargo of molasses when she struck, and ripped open her hull, on the northern Pinnacles of the nearby Aliwal Shoal during rough seas on the 11th of August 1974. The crew made a brave attempt to turn the ship around to return towards Durban, but she was irrevocably doomed and started to sink.
The event was witnessed from ashore, and a rescue party was launched by local fisherman who managed to heroically rescue all the crew in treacherous conditions, thereby averting any casualties. The ship split in half and quickly came to settle about 500m north of Aliwal Shoal shortly afterwards, where today she provides an excellent opportunity for a most interesting dive.

The rusting framework now provides an established residence for a myriad of varied fish species, including her famous yet shy school of dark brindle bass each measuring over 2m in length.

The vessel lies on her starboard side on a sand bed at approximately 30 metres, with her bridge section lying merely about 14 metres below the surface. The stern is largely intact although the now almost 50-years she’s been laying there have inevitably taken their toll on the wreck.
Her massive bronze propeller was sadly commercially salvaged by a local company in her early years, where it was shipped off to the Far East to be sold as scrap metal. Massive outrage surfaced at the time as it was discovered that their initial plan was to simply blast the propeller off her drive shaft, and the company was eventually pressured into cutting the propeller free, and as such preserving the wealth of marine life that calls the Produce home.
There are many opportunities for safe swim-through’s and easy penetration into her massive rear upper deck holds. The bow section contains a massive forward hold that is easily and safely entered by anyone with the courage to swim into this seemingly initial dark space. As the thundering of your heart subsides and your vision adjusts, you find yourself faced with the ships spare propeller in full view in front of you fixed upright against the forward wall.
The Produce is a difficult wreck to visit because of the currents that frequently wash this part of the coastline. As a result, it is a diving opportunity we jump at whenever we are presented with a few days of slack water.

Divers need to be aware of the stinging hydroids that have colonised the wreck, and it’s the one time we advise divers to wear gloves and if at all possible to avoid touching the wreck, which we strongly advise against anyway. Most important is to ensure that one doesn’t touch your face during or after the dive as the hydroids, that may have attached to your gloves, will leave you will a nasty watering welt for days to come. Also be aware of putting your hands down anywhere during the dive as the wreck is home to many stone and scorpion fish that can cause a nasty sting if inadvertently disrupted.

This is a popular wreck with a heroic past that affords us the most splendid diving opportunities. The sheer size and interest factor that she provides ensures that numerous dives are required merely to grasp the full extent of her size and the opportunities for exploration that are possible here.

I have led a vast number of dives to this wreck over many years and yet there’s still not a visit that goes past that she doesn’t continue to amaze with the secrets that she slowly reveals.
She’s definitely worthy of inclusion on any list of ‘must-do’ dives.

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