On February 4th, 1924, the keel of the number 131 ship was placed at the Machinebouwer Scheepsbouw Maatschappij “Nieuwe Waterwegshipyardin Schiedam, The Netherlands. The cargo ship was launched on October 20th, 1925, named DELAMERE on behalf of the English company Manchester Spanish Line Ltd., owned by H. Watson & Co., Manchester.
In 1926 the ship was sold to the Dutch company Koninklijke Nederlandsche Stoomboot Maatschappij N. V. Based in Amsterdam and renamed MARS.
The cargo ship joined his company’s route network, transporting goods from the Netherlands to the American continent and vice versa.
The sea area at the entrance of the Gulf of Patras was of great importance for the defense of Greece at the beginning of WWII and the occupying forces afterward. As a result, many mines were placed in the broader area.
After the war, Greek and British minesweepers started a road race to clear the minefields. However, despite the knowledge of their exact location, the large number of landed mines combined with the bad weather where anchored mines left their anchorages and wandered freely and often had disastrous results in peacetime.
On May 29th, 1945, MARS was heading towards the end of a journey from Preveza to Patras, loaded with oil in barrels. After the parallax of Cape Papaw, the ship, located on the edge of the old minefield of Araxos, three nautical miles northwest of the cape, and while it was about to dusk, a terrible explosion shook it, as it crashed into a mine.
Eyewitness Aristos Pitounis recounts the events:
We returned from our daily fishing in Aliki; we met the ship that had a course for the Ionian Sea. I was impressed by the letters on the side, so I passed the boat for a warship… Then, I heard the explosion, and the smoke appeared behind the Papas. It was about dusk… Everyone got back on the boats and returned to rescue the shipwrecked…
Within minutes MARS was engulfed in flames. The sailors, fearful, aware of the danger of the cargo, fell into the sea. In the nearby fishing village of Aliki, the fishermen, who had just returned from the fishing of the day, entered their boats and rushed for help. They collected several shipwrecked people, many of whom had burns, but five crew members lost their lives. The ship continued to burn all night and finally sank at dawn on May 30th.
Dionysios Kyriakopoulos, a resident of Aliki, remembers:
…Then we stayed in Kounoupeli by the sea… I was very young, but I remember well when I saw the ship on the horizon, it was a big boat… Then we heard the explosion. The ship caught fire, and it was on fire by the time we went to bed. So the morning we woke up, we still saw it burn, but soon it sank…
MARS is one of the best-preserved shipwrecks of Patraikos.
The visibility in the area of the wreck in September is usually unique as it approaches 50 meters, and from the depth of 10 meters, it can be seen in its entirety.
The ship dominates at 48 meters depth, with its bridge being at 37 meters in perfect condition. Its large draught impresses; on the right side of the bow, you can see the crack created by the explosion from the impact on the mine with the ship’s two anchors in place.
From the furnace that stood proudly until yesterday, a part of it has fallen on the deck. The ship is wrapped in a colossal drift net almost from the bridge and in front of the bow.
The holds are filled with iron barrels, which have now been eroded and pierced. By searching the slightly better one will locate the ship’s spare propeller covered by a dense layer of mud.
At the stern dominates an imposing cannon, necessary for the ship’s protection during the war era. The cannon was placed above the rear bedside table of the ship, and just below it is easy to see the cabins of the crew members.
The visibility offered by this period, combined with the excellent condition of the wreck and the marine life that attracts and has developed on it, make diving in it a unique experience.
On September 19th, 2021, our team visited the Gulf of Patras in Achaia, where our good friends Akis Sesidis, Giorgos Toubaniaris, and Nikos Kriezis dived in this unique shipwreck.
We would like to warmly thank Giorgos Karelas and Aris Bilalis for the permission to republish their historical research and archive photographs.
Finally, a big thank you to Nikos Nikolopoulos and his diving center, Ionian Divers, for our mission’s excellent organization and execution. We hope that soon he will guide us again to the well-kept secrets of the Gulf of Patras.