The Zenobia, a roll-on roll-off ferry, was built in 1979 by Kockums in Malmo, Sweden. A Swiss registered vessel, she had set off from Malmo on her maiden journey on May 4th 1980, bound for Syria, carrying 104 lorries all loaded with cargo. The cargo was destined for Mediterranean and Middle Eastern markets.
Zenobia entered the Mediterranean Sea through the Gibraltar Strait on May 22nd 1980 and sailed to Keraklion, Crete. After 2 days moored there she departed for Port Piraeus, Greece. En route to Athens the captain noticed problems with the steering and Zenobia began listing to the port side.
Checks revealed that the listing was caused by too much water being pumped into the ballast tanks. After 4 days in Pireaus the water was pumped out of the ballast tanks and the problem was believed to have been solved.
Onward to Syria the next stop for Zenobia was Larnaca, Cyprus where she arrived on June 3rd 1980. The problem with the ballast had recurred. In Larnaca engineers discovered that the computerised pump system for the ballast was still pumping water into the side ballast tanks and the listing was becoming progressively worse.
On the 4th of June with no solution to the listing arrived at, the Zenobia was towed out of Larnaca as a pre-caution for other shipping in Larnaca port. She was left at anchor between 1500 and 2000 metres offshore to await a possible solution to the problem. All the crew were removed from the ship by lifeboat.
On June 5th at 5pm the captain dismissed the engineers / maintenance crew which it is suggested was a mistake.
Still listing at around 45° the Zenobia could not be taken back into Larnaca harbour despite requests from its captain.
The problem of fixing the fault and righting the ship had become overwhelming and the Zenobia was effectively abandoned just outside Larnaca harbour.
After 2 days outside Larnaca at 2.30am on June 7th 1980 the Zenobia sank to the bottom of the Mediterranean in 42 metres with its £200 million worth of vehicles and cargo.
Zenobia – 34’53.5″ N, 33’39.1″ E
There are many rumours surrounding the exact cause of the sinking of the Zenobia none of which have ever been proved and it seems never will be.
According to local legend the insurance money for the Zenobia was never collected by its owners and no formal investigation into the sinking has ever been published.
This article is drawn from many public sources and the amount of myth and speculation surrounding the Zenobia may have lead to some errors. This article is intended only to give the casual reader a background in the events surrounding the sinking of the Zenobia.