The Paulus V shipwreck

All began at 4:25 AM on January 11th, 1978, when a sardinian radio station (Cape Mannu) picked up an SOS signal thrown by a burning ship which was located 25 miles west of Marettimo Island. Radio Rome threw back the SOS to the Coast Guard of Trapani who ordered the deployment of two patrol boats and a tug. In the meanwhile, the oil tanker Paulus V - this was the name of the troubled ship - was reached by the Norwegian container ship "Admiral Nigeria", by the motorship "Eleonora F." and also by an helicopter deployed by a support ship belonging to American fleet itself stationed in the Mediterranean.
On their side, Sicily Maritime Command ordered immediate take-off of an helicopter from Catania Naval Air Station in order to rescue the survivors. The first to reach the oil tanker (a giant 178-metres long, of Greek nationality and built in Billingham in 1951), coming from the German port of Wilelmschaven and heading to the Milazzo port, was the Admiral Nigeria which took onboard 32 survivors escaped to the fires thanks to the lifeboats lowered into the water just in time.

Some were still wearing their pijamas, other barefoot but everyone was numb with cold and terror-stricken. The fire that developed in the stokehold following a violent explosion rapidly spread over the entire stern, forcing the crew into a headlong evacuation. Nevertheless, two men were missing, both engineers, who probably got stuck amidst the burning wrecks without the possibility to get safe. Half the way between Marettimo and Trapani the Coast Guard patrol ship met the Admiral and provided to the transfer of the survivors; among them there were two women, the wife of the head engineer and the 36-years old captain's, Pedros Kodos, respectively.
For the Paulus everything seemed to go just fine: towed by the tugs Ciclope I and II, the ship proceeded towards the port of Trapani with force-two sea. Later, between Formica Island and the Colombaia pier, a new explosion happened: because of the wind the hotbeds that seemed completely extinguished in the previous afternoon, regained strength causing a new blast that made the ship tilt. The tanker, which performed a stripping operation (which involves the draining of the tanks) was travelling unloaded and with open hatches prior to the embark operations of fuel that had to be done in Milazzo. Because of the explosion sea water rapidly started invading the tanks.
At this point in time arose the problem whether towing the tanker in port or to moor it on the north side, practically upwind of the south-western wind. Someone choosed this last option and the ship was towed on a shallow seabed about 35-metres deep on which it rested making "hinge" on the rudder. About a mile and a half away from the coast it was possible to catch a glimpse of the hull that emerged for about a third of its entire length, from the bridge to the tip of the bow. In fact it was submerged for 140 of its 180 metres. Now the Coast Guard was facing the problem of the salvage but, most importantly, also that of the pollution of the coastline. The Paulus, in fact, because of the last explosion was leaking its own gasoline at a pace of about three tonnes per hour that covered the surface of the sea over a range of one hundred meters.
Here comes the decision by the Commanding Officer of the port of Trapani, Giuseppe Francese, di far giungere un notevole quantitativo di solvente per scongiurare l'inquinamento ma era il mare stesso a disperdere gradatamente le 15 tonnellate che complessivamente fuoriuscivano dalle falle. I giorni che seguirono furono decisivi per la sorte della petroliera perché il fortunale che nel frattempo si era abbattuto sul litorale impediva qualunque intervento mentre la Capitaneria stava completando la definizione del piano di rigalleggiamento destinato a riportare in porto la nave dopo averla alleggerita attraverso il pompaggio dell'acqua che ne aveva invaso i serbatoi. Il piano però non ebbe mai attuazione in quanto la Paulus si inabissò completamente spezzandosi in due tronconi all'altezza del castello di poppa.

L'immersione su questo gigante addormentato è tra le più suggestive tra quelle sinora descritte relative alla costa nord-occidentale della Sicilia, E' anche un'immersione che può essere effettuata in un tempo relativamente lungo in quanto buona parte dello scafo è adagiato su un fondale che degrada dai 16 ai 30 metri.
Iniziando quindi la discesa sulla prua della nave si potrà percorrerla per oltre tre quarti della sua lunghezza soffermandosi a guardare le varie sezioni in cui è divisa la coperta, le tubature per l'imbarco e lo stivaggio del combustibile che la ricoprono come una ragnatela, i portelloni dei serbatoi, le stive e parte dei locali dell'equipaggio.