Titanic's sister ship to become divers' paradise

the Britannic intended to be superior to its sister ship the Titanic but at the bottom of the Aegean Sea is planned to be transformed into a subaquatic paradise for divers and a haven for tourists.

 Titanic's sister ship to become divers' paradise

When it was launched in 1914 it was intended to be superior to its sister ship the Titanic but, two years later, the Britannic lay at the bottom of the Aegean Sea - the victim of a mine laid by a German U-boat.

Now a project is under way to transform it into a subaquatic paradise for divers and a haven for tourists.

The British owners of the Britannic, which sank in 1916 off the Greek island of Kea, have been granted permission to distribute licences allowing divers to visit the wreck.

They have also drawn up plans to create an associated multi-million pound complex, comprising a museum, hotel and diving school, and have secured £2.8 million of European Union funding for the scheme.

Until now, permission to dive to the Britannic, used as a hospital ship during the First World War, has been denied to all but a handful of divers because it lies beneath a busy shipping lane.

However, after a lengthy legal battle between the Greek government and the Britannic Foundation, a charity set up by Simon Mills, a British maritime historian and author, the path of the shipping lane will be diverted, increasing access to the vessel which, despite sinking in 400 ft of water, has survived almost intact.

Mr Mills, who bought the wreck from a private owner for £15,000 in 1996, said: "Britannic may be out of sight, but she's not out of mind. Everyone is fascinated by the Titanic and that explains some of the interest in Britannic.

"However, she has her own story to tell. While the Titanic is known for its glamour, Britannic was a serving hospital ship. When we go down there, we are going to find hospital beds as well as personal artefacts.

"She also has the potential to attract people and investors to an underdeveloped area of Greece."

Panayiobis Bouras, the secretary of the foundation, who has been involved in the negotiations with the Greek authorities, said: "Everything has been agreed with the government. We are just waiting for final confirmation from them."

Britannic made its maiden voyage on December 23, 1915, three years after the Titanic sank after colliding with an iceberg in the north Atlantic.

Built at the same Harland and Wolff yard in Belfast, Britannic received even greater attention to strengthening work than its predecessor and the demands of the First World War saw it pressed into service as a hospital ship.

The Britannic was laid down on November 30, 1911 and launched on February 26, 1914. The vessel, 882 ft long and with a beam of 94 ft, could produce 50,000 horsepower from 29 boilers and was capable of a speed of 21 knots.

It was bound for Kea on November 21, 1916 to collect 3,000 casualties when it hit a mine. It sank within 90 minutes with the loss of 30 of its complement of 1,062 crew and medical staff.

Although none of the survivors is thought to be alive today, many of their relatives are members of the foundation and have given the project their blessing.

Alasdair Fairbairn, 72, from Watlington, in Oxfordshire, is the grandson of the Britannic's captain, Charles Bartlett, who swam to safety from the ship's bridge as it sank beneath him.

He said: "My grandfather had a sword which must still be in his cabin. I would be very interested in having that. But I'd really like the ship to remain intact and not to be torn up. We want people to observe it and let the vessel rest in peace."

The wreck of the Britannic was first discovered and explored by Jacques Cousteau in 1975.

Diving has increased in popularity in recent years with the British Sub Aqua Club estimating that there are now more than 200,000 divers in the UK.

Alistair Reynolds, the technical manager for the club, welcomed news of the project. "Britannic is a bit like Mount Everest for divers," he said. "As people progress through diving grades, this is the enticement. To dive to the Britannic ranks as an absolute 10 out of 10 for divers."


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