The Hispania is a slack water dive, and patience on the surface waiting for the last of the current to die down is well rewarded. The wreck is fairly intact, and the abundance of sea life gives her the reputation as one of Scotland’s finest wreck dives.
Built and launched in Belgium in 1912 by Antwerp engineering Co, the Hispania was a Swedish steamship seized by French authorities during WW2.
On a voyage from Kaolack Senegal to Bordeaux in 1940, she was attacked and badly damaged by French Authorities and detained in Bordeaux in June 1940. The Vichy Government submitted an application to declare her as a war prize in November 1940, and allowed the crew to return to Sweden, with the exception of her Captain and a mechanic in December 1940.
By April 1941, the application was authorised and the Hispania was given to the Kriegsmarine, who later ceased ownership in November 1942. In December 1942, the Hispania was returned to Svenska Lloyd AB upon payment of 44,017.69 Reichmarks (roughly £76,6964.23 today). She departed Rotterdam on in January 1943, bound for her registered port of Gothenburg.
Just over a decade later, bearing a cargo of steel, asbestos and rubber; bound for Varbeg, Sweden on Friday 17th December 1954, the Hispania began her final voyage from Liverpool.
As Captain Ivan Dahn steamed the Hispania North through the Irish Sea and the North Channel, the weather deteriorated and Dahn took a detour between the sheltered islands of the Western Scottish Coast.
The Sound of Mull was in sight during the early evening on the 18th December and the Hispania steamed Northwards through the Lynn of Lorne, then Northwest, into the Sound of Mull.
The Sound offered little protection, as wild winds, drove sleet and rain into the faces of the crew, reducing the visibility in the Sound to almost nil.
Nearing Tobermory, the ship collided into a reef near the Mull shore known as Sgeir Mor (great semi-submerged rock). She shuddered to a halt. With engines full astern, the Hispania was dragged off the reef and began lean heavily to the port side as she rapidly took on water.
The crew quickly cast out the starboard anchor to avoid being swept away by the strong currents of the Sound. The 21 crewmen headed for the lifeboats, but could not convince Captain Dahn to abandon ship. The storm eased as the crew rowed around for an hour to witness the fate of their ship, and her captain. With a sudden lurch, the bulkhead gave away.
Captain Dahn defiantly saluted to his crew as the Hispania disappeared beneath the Sound of Mull. The crew rowed to the safety of the Morvern shoreline.
The Hispania rests with her bow in 24m towards the Mull shoreline sloping down to he stern at 32m. At just over 70m long, the Hispania stands upright with a slight starboard list and can over several exploratory dives.
A buoy is usually attached to the stern, so many divers will begin their dive here. At the stern, the auxiliary steering gear provides a interesting stop off before descending to the rudder and prop shaft. Ascending to the deck makes it easy to explore the brightly lit cabins and corridors of the stern accommodation.
Whilst the roofs have rotted away here, it’s recommended that you don’t spend too long here at the start of your dive. Save your air for the last few minutes before ascending on your return route.
Moving forward, attached to the front of the accommodation is a large, steel, spare propeller. Many divers will follow the deeper starboard side of the wreck towards the bows, then return along the shallower port side. It is possible to swim below decks between the stern holds to the midship’s superstructure, or alternatively to stay above the deck and check out the masts, spars and winches, festooned with yet more marine life.
Access to the upper levels of the engine room is easy, however moving further down can be a squeeze since it is partially blocked by debris. The catwalks and ladders remaining may have been used for the crew to get down, but they were not designed for the bulky shape of a fully kitted diver.
The area beneath the bridge, is thought to be the galley due to the various bottles and broken plates buried amongst the silt. Here, there is a hatch through to the portside tunnel connecting the holds.
The Hispania’s notorious enamel bath is located in this part of the ship. Some divers enjoy sitting in it. There are three more holds in front of the bridge with a array of masts, winches and spars. The foremast and the large winch at its base are very photogenic.
If there’s still time in the slack water window when reaching the bow, in good visibility it’s an incredible experience to drop over the side and swim out to look back on the ship and the starboard anchor dropped by the crew lying on the seabed below.
Returning along the shallower port side, more marine life can be seen coating the ship in colour. This might be a good time to explore any areas of the superstructure that may have been missed on the way forwards. Back at the stern, any remaining time can now be used for another look around the cabins before ascending the buoy line.
Moir and Crawford 1997, 169-71
BSAC Wreck Register May87, No 42
With thanks to www.divernet.com