Diving the Cape Peninsula and False Bay/SS Bia
The dive site SS Bia is a historical wreck on an inshore rocky reef in the South Peninsula area on the Atlantic Seaboard of the Cape Peninsula, near Cape Town in the Western Cape province of South Africa.
The Swedish freighter SS Bia is one of at least three wrecks at Olifantsbospunt. It hit Albatross rock on a stormy night in 1917 and was wrecked. If you are diving the area, you may as well visit them all if there is time and the sea is not too rough. The others are the SS Thomas T. Tucker, and the SS Umhlali. All are shallow, and decompression will not be an issue.
This site is in a Marine Protected Area (2004). A permit is required.
The name "SS Bia" is the name of the ship wrecked at this site.
Maximum depth is probably less than 8m. The top of the engine block and boiler are at about 3m. (Average depth is likely to be about 4m.)
The site is in very shallow water, wher the surge is strong, and visibility will not often be good. However on a very flat day after an upwelling better visibility than usual may be expected.
The bow of the wreck lies close inshore behing a shallow reef, The wreckage is mostly mangled hull plating and frames, but a few portholes and other items of interest have been seen There is a large cast iron mooring bollard on one of the fragments. The wreckage is on a shallow section of sandstone reef, and is mostly encrusted with rust and crustose coralline algae, and overgrown by kelp and smaller seaweeds, as are the rocks, and in some cases it is difficult to distinguish where reef stops and werck starts.
The major part of the wreckage is further out to the west, but is also on a shallow reef. This reef has higher profile, and there are areas where there little wreckage, and other areas with lots. The triple expansion steam engine lies on its side on top of a fairly high section of reef, and the cylinders of the upper engine block are clearly regognisable and fairly intact, though well camouflaged by coralline algae. The engine remains include piston rods, crosshead links, connecting rods and the crankshaft, with what appear to be valve control rods. About ten metres away, at similar depth, is the remains of a scotch boiler. The firebox is open and has a large hole in the lower surface, and the boiler casing cylinder walls are mostly rusted away, leaving the tubes open to view. Between these two items is a long shaft with a gear near one end and a winch drum at the other end. There is also another winch shaft with drums at both ends, a number of heavy solid iron bars, and a fairly large amount of hull framing and plating.
Geology: Quartzitic Ordovician sandstone of the Peninsula formation.
The site is exposed to westerly swells and winds, so should be dived in low swell and offshore (south easterly) winds. These conditions are most common in summer, but can occur less frequentlduring other seasons.
Boat dive. The site is 16.5km from the launch site at Kommetjie, and 27km from Hout Bay harbour. There is no shore access as there is no road providing reasonable access to the area. Shore exit should be possible in an emergency, but it will be a long walk to the nearest habitation.
The wreckage and reef are largely covered by crustose corallines, and is the base for a kelp forest of Ecklonia maxima, the sea bamboo. Ther are also areas densely covered by small brown and red seaweeds, and the reef and wreckage provide shelter for West coast rock lobster and a few abalone, amongst other invertebrates, and Hottentot seabream may be seen above the wreck and reef.
Wreckage of an early steamship of some historical interest. The wreckage is in two sections, separated by a few hundred metres of reef with dense kelp forest. The inshore section is the bow. It is smaller and more compact than the offshore section, and includes a reasonable amount of recognisable structure, including large cast iron mooring bollards, and some stanchions. The offshore section is the larger part of the vessel, and includes the triple expansion steam engine, which is in reasonable condition and many parts can be recognised. There is also the remains of a large windlass, and what may be a steam capstan with a long drive shaft. Most of the structural plating has been severely broken up and is mostly only just recognisable as wreckage. There are several long and apparently solid steel bars or pillars, but it is not clear whether these were structure or cargo.
Natural light photography with a wide angle lens is most likely to produce usable photos unless the conditions are bad, in which case it will be extremely uncomfortable if not dangerous to dive.
No specific route recommended. The main section of the wreck may have better visibility and less surge than the bow section.
The wreckage includes rusted metal plates and bars, a small number of which have thin and sharp points and edges. These present a cutting and piercing hazard to both diver and equipment, which may be increased if there is a stong surge and poor visibility, both of which are common at this site. The risk would not generally be considered high, but you should be aware of the hazard, as you dive at your own risk.
No special skills required. It is not possible to penetrate the wreck.
No special equipment recommended. A surface marker buoy should not be towed as it will be caught in the heavy kelp. There is no risk of decompression sickness due to the shallow depth, so ascent rate is not critical.