The Kingston was a cargo ship built in 1871 by the Commercial Steamship Company in England. With a heavy iron hull of weighting 1,500 tons and 80 meters long it was powered by a two cylinder steam engine, typical of the transition period from sail to steam ships. This vessel was built primarily to carry cargo but also included compartments to accommodate passengers, something not very common at that time.
Diving in the Kinston, one of the oldest wrecks in the Red Sea, is diving in naval history. Through this wreck you will dive into the early days of steamboats and the heyday of the British Empire.
During the nineteenth century, boat traffic from Britain to India increased day by day. At the same time, steam ships grew in size and became more capable of navigating through the treacherous reefs of the Red Sea, while at the same time being able to ignore its challenging winds and currents… and that traffic grew even faster when the Suez Canal was opened in late 1869.
Early steamships were not very fuel efficient and had to load additional coal at regular intervals in order to complete their journeys, hence, ports that stocked coal started to emerge worldwide. Aden, in southern Yemen, is located almost in the middle of the Suez route to India and was a natural choice for a coaling station. The only problem was the lack of coal in the area, so they had to bring coal from elsewhere, mainly from Wales which had high-quality coal, and then store it in Aden.
The Kingston was loaded in 1881 with 70 tons of coal and sent to Aden to supply those steamboats that required it. After successfully overcoming the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean, it smoothly crossed the Suez Canal to a seemingly calm and perfect for sailing sea, when it hit the north side of Shag Rock. The Kingston, traveling at that time at the maximum speed that its engines could provide immediately began to take in water. The crew was able to keep the ship afloat for several days before the stern started to sink and then the entire boat went to the bottom of the reef.
Diving in The Kingston
The Kingston lies today in the same position in which it succumbed 130 years ago, with the stern to a maximum depth of 14 meters and its boilers a few meters below the surface. The bow is gone after so many years under the sea, and its remains were extended along the top of the reef, but the stern is still in good condition. The shallow depth allows for long dives.
In this area the prevailing current comes from the north and is divided to sweep around both sides of Shag Rock. The Kingston is located just a little west of where the current divides, allowing us an easy dive. The rudder and propeller of the Kingston are intact and it is the first thing to be visited on this wreck. Then you’ll dive on the outside of the stern and along the starboard side of the boat to go up a few meters and penetrate in the hull. All wooden cover has disappeared, leaving only the iron frame.
After more than a century underwater there is a great profusion of soft and hard corals. The remains are fully covered in coral resembling more a natural reef that has been there for thousands of years than a ship of human creation. In the remains of Kingston live all kinds of colorful fish like butterfly fish, anthias, damselfish, triggerfish, parrotfish, surgeons, emperor angelfish, Red Sea Banner fish … the opportunities for macro photography are excellent.
Following the boilers you can see an interesting spare propeller that is still in good condition and some other accessories and machinery as well as lashing gear and starboard and even two masts. Kingston remains are not very large and can be seen quietly, appreciating the quality of the coral that has colonized the remains, and when you finish the dive you might have an interesting surprise. Diving with the reef to our left side, you’ll receive a gentle current that will grow stronger and provide some adrenaline to this dive at the same time that you can enjoy the coral landscape of Shag Rock. And with a little luck, you’ll see dolphins and turtles around the reef.