A shipwreck that has languished in the waters off Cape Sounion since 1891 has finally been identified as the Italian freighter "Taormina", 130 years after it sank beneath the waves.
"It is one of the rarest shipwrecks," said researcher Kostas Thoktaridis, speaking to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA) on Friday. "It seems almost unbelievable, how well the mast has been preserved," he added.
Thoktaridis, who has devoted his life to studying the seas with robotic vehicles, explained how the Taormina, which had set off from Istanbul bound for Piraeus with a consignment of cargo and passengers on board, came to sink as its sailed west of the islet of Patroklos in the early hours of September 11, 1891.
A few hours beforehand, the steamship "Thessalia" had set sail from Piraeus for the island of Syros. Due to poor handling, the two ships ended up on a collision course and the "Thessalia" rammed its prow into the left side of the "Taormina", fatally breaching its hull.
During the few minutes that the two ships were in contact, 32 members of the crew and 12 of the passengers managed to jump onto the "Thessalia".
The captain of the "Thessalia" then ordered the engines to reverse in order to break free of the other ship. The water rushed into the breach and very quickly filled the Italian vessel, which started to sink fast, dragging 23 passengers and 11 crew down into the depths within 15 minutes of the initial impact.
The only person to swim free of the sinking ship was a fireman that spent five hours clinging to some flotsam until he was picked up by the passing steamship "Makedonia".
Another 16 people were found in a lifeboat lowered from the "Taormina" the following morning, by the schooner "Ambelos" and Captain Dogas, who was awarded a medal for bravery by Italian authorities.
The Greek press of the time was critical of the Italian crew for abandoning ship before helping the passengers, who made up a large proportion of the 34 people killed.
Thoktaridis said the "Taormina" was found at a depth of 107 metres, west of the island of Patroklos, and was in very good condition given the time that has elapsed since it sank, while the damage caused by the collision is still plain to see.