Over the course of the two World Wars, the Adriatic Sea saw intense conflict. Many vessels fell prey to mines or were sunk while engaged in battle, leaving Croatia with a rich maritime heritage. Now, as Dubrovnik on Croatia’s southwest coast emerges as a fully rounded holiday destination, divers are becoming more interested in this picturesque region, where visibility often reaches Red Sea standards.
A special licence is necessary for diving in Croatia. It is granted by the Croatian Diving Association and is available via harbourmaster’s offices or dive centres. The good news is that serious dive centres, such as the ones listed in this feature, have been granted all the relevant permits and will be able to clear you for diving without encountering too many bureaucratic hassles.
There are many facets to Croatian diving. With a long tradition of local club diving, there is much detailed information available about the undersea scenery. There are a number of healthy reefs, areas dominated by seaweed and scope for cavern diving, but for most visiting divers the wrecks are the principal attractions.
This vessel was working as a merchant cargo ship at the time it ran aground in shallow water in 1930. So great was the damage, that the owner – an Italian maritime transport company – left it to the sea and did not bother to try to patch it up. Eventually it sank, creating a multi-level dive with plenty of features and marine life.
The bow rests at 10m, but at 20m there is a small plateau where it is believed the ship broke in two. Down at 34m you can dive inside the stern section. The rudder and cargo holds remain in excellent condition and you can still make out the cargo of granite blocks. This is very much lobster territory, but there are also some diver-friendly conger eels, so watch out for advancing grey shapes!
Maximum depth: 36m
This is a torpedo boat (the S stands for schnellboot), one of a fleet designed shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War. Launched in 1940, it operated in the English Channel and the Baltic before being sent to the Adriatic in 1944 as part of the 3rd S-Boot flotilla. Its assignment was simple: to escort friendly merchant ships and to destroy those of the enemy.
To this end it was often successful, sinking the British escort Cocker near Tobruk in Libya in 1942. However, in August 1944, S57 and its convoy were attacked by British battleships and a fire broke out on board. The captain scuttled his crippled ship and the S-57 met its fate.
This wreck is now a protected site, although several Croatian dive operations have the relevant permits to visit it. This is a stunning wreck – even if parts of the wooden deck burned away in the fire, it still has a unique atmosphere and some impressive features. The bow lies at 23m and is covered with red sponges. You’ll find the stern at 38m, and one of the propellers is still visible (the other is buried in sand).
There was once a 20mm bow gun, but it has been removed. However, its counterpart is still in place at the stern, a weapon of war now encrusted with bryozoans and sponges. Surrounded by bream and sargos, the gun presents an incongruous sight, but that’s the way with wrecked ships. They die in turmoil and exist afterwards in silence and peace.
Maximum depth: 40m
Sank: 19 August 1944
Diving base: Peljesac peninsula, Dubrovnik, Dalmatia
This vessel was first launched as a commercial trawler in 1941 but was soon converted for military use. She was used as an escort ship and for special missions, landing Allied troops in North Africa and Sicily. Later, she was equipped as a minesweeper, but on 5 May 1945 she struck a mine and sank about six miles off Novigrad. All her crew were rescued.
Today, the Coriolanus’s coating of marine life is, sadly, matched only by the amount of fishing net festooned around it. The mast rises to 18m and is overwhelmed with sponges and more nets. On the eastern side of the wreck you can see the hole ripped into the hull by the explosion that sank it. Until recently there was a spare rudder inside here, but somebody has helped themselves to it. You can move around inside this wreck, but it’s far from spacious and you need to avoid stirring up silt.
Generally, you’re better off exploring this wreck’s exterior. It also has a way of attracting lots of schooling fish, most of which manage to avoid the snagged nets.
Maximum depth: 36m
||The Baron Gautsch
This luxury steamship sank in August 1914 while cruising to Trieste in Italy with 277 passengers and 39 crew. Most of those on board were state employees and refugees from Bosnia Herzegovina. A fatal navigation error took the ship into a mined area ten miles out of Rovinj, and the ship took only ten minutes to sink, drowning most of those on board.
The wreck sits on a sandy sea bed at a maximum depth of 40m, close to a lighthouse. As a dive, it’s often characterised by low visibility after periods of rough weather, but you can get excellent conditions here for much of the year. On some of our dives, we could make out the outline of the wreck practically from the surface. The wreck attracts a good population of schooling fish, which envelop divers on the descent.
This is a superb dive, one of the best in the Adriatic Sea, but you need to dive with authorised dive centres that have the necessary permits to visit this site. It is possible to enter the upper sections of the wreck, although as with the Coriolanus, it is all too easy to stir up sediment inside the wreck. Much of the structure is coated with seaweed and colourful bryozoans and sponges. Watch out for the big conger eels that live inside the hull.
Maximum depth: 40m
|The Hans Schmidt
For years this wreck was known by an nickname ‘Istra’, but local divers went on a mission to identify it and eventually turned up the name Hans Schmidt. A merchant ship, she sank in 1898 after colliding with an Italian steamer. It must have been a severe impact, because it cut the Hans Schmidt in two: the bow is 20m away from the stern section, and both structures are wreathed in fishing nets.
This is a good wreck to penetrate: in the holds, you’ll find conger eels, red scorpionfish and loads of sponges. Keen-eyed divers will also find lobsters, while it’s impossible to miss the big school of sargo fish. Around the area of the wreck, divers can find wooden parts of the hull, the propeller and scattered cargo, as well as some big munitions. The best places to penetrate the wreck are via the stern and the engine room.
Maximum depth: 42m
|NEED TO KNOW
For diving out of Rovinj on the Istra, you can fly to Zagreb and cover the remaining distance in a hire car. Some travellers visit by driving from Italy and through Slovenia.
Nadi Scuba Dive Centre
00 385 982 19203
Tourist office 00 385 528 11566
For diving out of Vis Island, you can get there by ferry from Split and Hvar and it can also be
reached by plane from Split Airport.
For diving out of Korcula Island, you can fly from Dubrovnik or catch a ferry from several mainland ports.