Diving the Mikhael Lermentov

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The wreck of the Lermentov

At the top of the Marlborough sounds lies the jewel in New Zealand's wreck diving crown, one of the greatest ship wrecks in NZ is Mikhael Lermentov an ocean liner owned by the Soviet Union's Baltic Shipping Company, built in 1972 she was the figure head of Soviet  luxury cruising. On 16 February 1986 she collided with rocks in a remote part of the Marlborough Sounds, she sank in a depth of 38 meters so perfect for diving. Louise and I made the journey a couple of years ago and were blown away by the sheer scale of this behemoth wreck!

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What happened?

On 16 February 1986 Mikhail Lermontov was cruising in New Zealand for the CTC cruise company. On that day it left Picton for the Marlborough Sounds, carrying mostly elderly Australian passengers. The Picton Pilot, Don Jamison (who was also a Picton Harbourmaster), piloted the ship out of Picton. His presence, and his knowledge of the area, should have assured the safety of MS Mikhail Lermontov.

Hugging the shoreline to give the Australian passengers a good view of the area, Jamison continued towards the cape. About one mile from the cape, Jamison made the decision to take MS Mikhail Lermontov through the passage. A Russian officer questioned the decision, but the harbour-master assured him it would be a safe course, and at the time the decision was made the ship was still within the harbour limits.

On February 6, 1986, the Mikhail Lermontov sailed from Sydney on the beginning of a two-week cruise around New Zealand, carrying 372 passengers and a crew of 348, which combined to a total of 743 people. On the evening of February 16, the Lermontov was sailing past Cape Jackson, on the northeastern shore of New Zealand's south island, about 30 miles northwest of Wellington. At 5:37 PM, travelling at 15 knots, Mikhail Lermontov struck rocks about 5.5 metres (18 feet) below the waterline on its port side.

By 8:30 pm, passengers began to abandon ship, with the aid of the crew and local rescue vessels. The passengers were transferred to several ships in the area, including the LPG tanker Tarihiko (Capt. Reedman) and the SeaRail road-rail ferry Arahura (Capt John Brew). As darkness set in MS Mikhail Lermontov listed further to starboard. Within 20 minutes of the last passenger being rescued, the ship had disappeared completely, sinking at approximately 10:27 PM, 4 hours and 50 minutes after running aground. The sinking resulted in only one casualty, 33-year-old crew engineer Pavel Zagladimov, who went down with the ship. The coroner's report lists his official cause of death as 'unknown', as his remains were never found. Eleven of those rescued had minor injuries.

This wreck is a monster!  We had several silt outs just from our exhaust bubbles!  Great fun but should be treated with the utmost respect! This phenomenal wreck lies in 30 meters of water, Dark Dirty and totally awesome! We cannot wait join another epic excursion to this amazing diving location!