Dive Travel

Saint Helena Island is a remote and captivating destination located in the South Atlantic Ocean.

Known for its stunning natural beauty and historical significance, with its dramatic cliffs and lush valleys, Saint Helena provides a picturesque setting for outdoor exploration and adventure. The island’s location provides opportunities for unforgettable marine wildlife encounters.

This destination is not just for scuba divers but for snorkelers, freedivers, and non-divers, with numerous activities to do in between dives.

The island’s history is deeply intertwined with the famous exile of Napoleon Bonaparte, and visitors can still explore the sites associated with his time on the island. Saint Helena Island is also renowned for its warm and welcoming community, making it an inviting place to immerse oneself in island charm and hospitality.

Scuba Diving Around the Island

Dive highlights St Helena Island 10

Most diving is on the sheltered side of the island, with long shallow rocky reefs that are 10 to 20 meters deep, slight tide or current, masses of different fish, lots of interesting macro life, great wrecks, and the potential to see some of the world’s most amazing large marine animals both above and underwater. The water temperature ranges between 18 and 25 degrees Celsius.

Explore many different wrecks in water so crystal clear that you can see them from the surface. The seas around St. Helena Island are teeming with diverse fish species, including groupers, parrotfish, jacks, snappers, and many more. An array of large marine animals such as manta rays, devil rays, whale sharks, lots of dolphins, green turtles, and more can be encountered here as well as lots of interesting macro life.

Diving the Shipwrecks of St Helena

Here are 8 well-known shipwrecks around St Helena Island that can be explored by scuba divers and some of them are also accessible to snorkellers being in shallow water.

This is a short history of each wreck, what they looked like, and of course, some recent underwater images of the wrecks as they are now.

1. RFA Darkdale

Deep Scuba/ Tech dive
Max Depth: 42m

Darkdale presinking

An 8145-ton freighting tanker that was used to refuel warships during the Second World War. This British Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel was sunk by a German U-boat on 22nd October 1941. She was split in two while at anchor off Jamestown when four torpedoes were launched and hit her side causing a massive explosion. She sank within five minutes and now lay at a depth of 42 meters.

Darkdale wreck schematic  Darkdale size
  Darkdale wreck schematic

 

Her wreck continued to leak oil posing an environmental threat to the coastal waters of St Helena. In 2010 a team of Royal Navy Divers cleared the wreck of explosives and were able to safely remove the trapped oil within the holding tanks.

The wreck is now a haven for marine life.

Darkdale shipwreck st helena island 1 Darkdale shipwreck st helena island 2 Darkdale shipwreck st helena island 3
   Images of the RFA Darkdale shipwreck underwater

 

2. SS Papanui

Snorkel & Scuba Dive
Max Depth: 12m

STH BW ARCHIVE Papanui 1

This ship was built in 1898 and initially designed as a cargo steamer but later it was decided that it should be a cargo-passenger vessel with a length of 131 meters and weighing in at 6372 tons.

On 25th August she departed London to make her return trip to Australia. On board, she had 318 emigrants bound for Fremantle and 50 emigrants bound for Melbourne. The ship caught fire on 5th September 1911 and having passed St Helena Island just the day before Captain Moore decided to head for the island, they made it safely to St Helena.

Burning of SS Papanui in St Helena Harbour September 1911

Burning of SS Papanui in St Helena Harbour September 1911

All 324 passengers and most of the crew were brought safely ashore but the ship could not be saved.

Today, the wreck is an artificial reef and lies in 6 to 12 meters of water. The stern post can be seen breaking the surface and the outline of the ship can be seen from Ladder Hill on a clear day.

SS Papanui shipwreck 1 SS Papanui shipwreck 2 SS Papanui shipwreck 3
   Images of the SS Papanui wreck underwater as it lies today

 

3. Witte Leeuw (White Lion)

Deep Scuba Dive
Max Depth: 33m

witte leeu wreck 2

This was a cargo ship on her way returning to Holland carrying spices, Ming porcelain, and diamonds. She was sunk by two Portuguese carracks in 1613, she blew up when her magazine exploded. Part of her crew was saved.

She lies in 33 meters of water and was found by Belgian diver Robert Sténuit in 1977. She was identified by one of her canons and salvaged. Tons of pepper, Chinese Ming porcelain, and some cannons were recovered but no diamonds.

All that remains of this shipwreck are the ballast stones, several cannons, and an anchor.

witte leeu wreck 1 witte leeu wreck
The remains of a canon and an anchor of the Witte Leeuw wreck

 

4. Bedgellet

Scuba Dive
Max Depth: 18m

Bedgellet wreck

This ship was brought down from the UK to support the team which was salvaging the Papanui. When the work on the Papanui was discontinued the Bedgellet was left tied to the stern post of the Papanui. During a storm she broke away and caused damage to other boats in the harbor, St Helena government decided to sink the vessel in 2001 as an artificial reef because of this incident.

She lies in 18 meters of water near Long Ledge which makes it an ideal wreck to be explored by scuba divers and snorkelers.

Bedgellet shipwreck st helena island 1 Bedgellet shipwreck st helena island 2 Bedgellet shipwreck st helena island 3
Images of the Bedgellet wreck being explored by divers

 

 5. Frontier

Deep Scuba Dive
Max Depth: 27m

mv frontier

The Frontier is fairly small at around 50m and was a fishing trawler originally from the Far East suspected of smuggling drugs. When the ship stopped at St Helena for repairs of a water pipe the St Helena government found a large amount of cannabis on board. The captain and crew were imprisoned, and the vessel was sunk in 1994 in 27 meters of water as an artificial reef.

Frontier shipwreck st helena island 2 Frontier shipwreck st helena island 3
The wreck of the Frontier has an interesting landscape to explore and beautiful schools of fish

 

6. MFV Portzic

Deep Scuba Dive
Max Depth: 27m
portzic Portzic sinking 2
The sinking of the Portzic vessel once deemed unrepairable  

 

A wooden fishing vessel owned by a French captain who fished for tuna on the Bonaparte and Cardno seamounts. The vessel was repossessed by the bank due to bad debts by the owner. In 2008 water started coming in through the corking in the wooden planks and was deemed unrepairable, it was sunk next to the Frontier as an artificial reef.

portzic wreck

The decaying wood of the Portzic vessel

7. SV Spangereid

Snorkel & Scuba Dive
Max Depth: 12m

spangereid schematic

This ship was built in Glasgow in 1896 as a large three-masted sailing barque with a steel hull, 80m in length, and traded between Europe and Chile for many years.

She caught fire in James Bay while carrying a cargo of coal from South Africa to Sweden. The fire did not get out of control and the vessel was towed onto the beach and swamped by making two holes in her bow, sinking her in 1920 in 8m of water near the Papanui wreck. This prevented the fire from spreading and allowed for valuable property to be salvaged.

spangereid wreck st helena island 2 spangereid wreck st helena island 1 spangereid wreck st helena island 3
The remains of the SV Spangereid wreck in the shallow water near the Papanui wreck  

 

8. Atlantic Rose

Snorkel & Scuba Dive
Max Depth: 12m
atlantic rose ship atlantic rose sinking
  The Atlantic Rose in the harbor and the sinking of the vessel

 

A German chef brought the yacht to the island as part of his wholesale business bringing goods to the island from Cape Town. He got into trouble on the island and was deported. Two local brothers bought the vessel and converted it into a fishing boat for catching tuna on Bonaparte and Cardno seamounts. During bad weather, she broke her moorings and was washed onto the rocks and the hull was damaged beyond repair. It was sunk off Young’s Valley as an artificial reef and now lies in 8 meters of water.

atlantic rose wreck

The Atlantic Rose as she lies on the bottom of the ocean

Would you like to go on a trip to this one-of-a-kind dive destination? Here’s what we have to offer.

All images credited & copyrighted by:
Craig Yon from Dive St Helena

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