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Lars Hemel
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Certification Number:
PADI 471740
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Diving at shipwreck the Empress of Ireland, a luxury passenger steamship.

Name Dive Site:Empress of Ireland
Depth: 80-140m (262-459ft)
Visibility: 3-50m (9-164ft)
Accessibility: Boat
Inserted/Added by: lars, © Author: Lars Hemel

Rated 4.0, 2 votes

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The Empress of Ireland was a passenger steamship; build in Glasgow in 1906 for the Canadian Pacific Railway. With a size of 184 meters long and 22 meters wide she was one of the largest passenger ships at that time. She crossed the Atlantic Ocean between Liverpool and Quebec and got its name from the thousands of Irish immigrants that it transported to make their fortune in Canada. She was a luxury ship which included gold trimmed plates, teak furniture, first class music including a whole orchestra and some of the most spacious sleeping quarters available at that time. It was not just a journey; it was a trip never to forget.

The Empress left Quebec City on May 29th, 1914 carrying 1477 passengers when she got into a huge fog. Another ship, the Norwegian collier Storstad, entered the opening of the river and was rapidly approaching the Empress. The Storstad tried to pass the Empress but because of fog and bad communication between the two captains they hit each other hard. The engine room got water immediately and less than 15 minutes she sank. Captain Randell and crew managed to get five rescue boats in the water and one SOS message out, but the boats were too late to safe the people in the water. More than 1000 people lost their lives during this evening which makes this shipwreck one of the worst in marine history. It isn't know very well because it happened at the start of the First World War and less than two years earlier the Titanic sank and received all the media attention. (The sinking of the Titanic happened on her first journey and crewmembers didn't know the ship very well, which resulted in an enormous amount of death.)

While the Titanic remained in peoples memories, the Empress of Ireland did not. It wasn't until the 1960's that divers started searching for her location. During the next thirty years there were two groups of divers competing and fighting between them. The professional divers tried to salvage parts while the artefact hunters tried to sell everything they though of value. Carpets, portholes, all the interior teak and china porcelain had been sold in the market. In the 90's there was one huge rumour left. There should be a treasure in the last remaining unopened locked hull. Once professional navy divers arrived at the scene combined with a huge argument about dynamite it wasn't hard to put everything together. The opening of the hull by a huge explosion meant a change in their thought about salvation of the wreck. All decided to join together and the wreck became a historical monument in 1999 with public mooring buoys set and some strict rules and penalties about taking stuff from the wreck.

Nowadays she lays at her starboard side nearby Point-au-Pere and Saint Luce (Quebec) in the middle of the Saint Lawrence River. Despite the extreme high currents and the salt water she is still fully intact. Her name on the bow is still visible but for more experienced wreck and technical divers there are interesting swim troughs, and narrow passageways and corridors inside the wreck, easy to get lost. Even some human remains add on the gruesome tragedy that has taken place here.

It is not an easy dive and it is best to go in good weather so respect wind, currents, tides and overcast. Best times are with ample wind, few currents which are often quite calm near the wreck anyway, slack tide and a sunny day to make it as bright as possible down there. Many divers have died because of navigational errors inside the wreck and suddenly strong current attacks. Visibilities can be less than a meter at the start of the season in June while the weather at the end of the season in September and October is often very bad as well with southern hurricane tails making it often impossible to even start the dive. Best time to dive here is around July and August, when water temperatures are at it highest and chances at sun and calm weather are at its best.

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