UNDERWATER photographs and sketches by two North-East scuba divers are being used to help protect one of the world’s most famous shipwreck sites.

A unique project is underway to map the seven sunken First World War vessels at Scapa Flow, in the Orkney Islands, off the northern coast of Scotland.

Three battleships, and four light cruisers were among 74 ships deliberately scuttled by their commander who mistakenly believed the British were about to seize the German High Seas Fleet.

Loading article content

The wrecks of the SMS Cöln, SMS Kronprinz Wilhelm, SMS Brummer, SMS Karlsruhe, SMS König, SMS Markgraf and SMS Dresden all still lie where they sank, almost 100 years ago, on June 21, 1919.

It was the greatest loss of shipping ever recorded in a single day.

All seven wrecks have now been mapped by illustrator Steve Jakeaway, from Gloucester, of the British Sub Aqua Club, to raise awareness of the country’s marine heritage and protect one of the UK’s most popular wreck diving sites.

It follows an expedition with the team of divers to photograph and sketch the seven German High Seas Fleet wrecks, organised by Andy Hunt, 44, from Newcastle.

Also on the trip was Richard Booth, 58, of Warkworth in Northumberland, and two members of Stirling University Sub-Aqua Club, Alex Bicheno and his dad Pete, and Orkneys-based dive boat operator Bob Anderson.

Mr Booth, a former probation officer, whose photographs contributed to the illustrations, said: “Hopefully, it will produce something useful for other groups of divers, to give them some purpose and help them identify what they can see when they go up to Scapa Flow.

“The Karlsrhue is very broken up, but the Cöln is still intact. On the Kronprinz you can see a 12-inch gun that was fired at the Jutland, 36 metres down the gun barrels are still there.

“The only other place you can see such guns is outside the British War Museum.

“If you just dropped in it would be difficult to see the guns but with these maps it will guide people to see these historic features.”

The interactive maps, which are being published on the Big Scapa Clean Up project website, will help guide divers to explore the wrecks as they detail the outlines of the ships and key features.

They also highlight potential hazards and litter which divers have spotted such as discarded fishing nets, which cause a phenomenon called “ghost fishing”, when old nets get snagged and continue to kill marine wildlife.

Scuba divers will be encouraged to log on-line any debris they spot on the wrecks.

The data recorded will be gathered and prioritised, and then the items on the list can then be targeted for removal.

Mr Booth said: “The fact that we are coming up to the centenary of the scuttling in 1919 means historically, that generations of people who took part in the First World War are all gone now, but it was a momentous event when the German battleships scuttled and sank themselves.

“When you are down there and you cast your mind back to when it was the most important naval base in the UK people from all over the world come to dive there.

“It’s important to preserve the history for future generations.”

The Big Scapa Clean Up project website is available by clicking here