One of the most amazing projects what I did in a last few years was the sinking of Tito’s ship “VIS”. Recording history in any way always has special value. Working on this project for a few months was an absolute honor as I had the unique opportunity to photograph the ship and its exterior and interior while it was not yet submerged, and after the immersion itself, I was one of the first people to dive into and photograph it below water. This is first ship to be sunk in Croatia for the purpose of scuba diving tourism. “VIS” was made in 1956 and it was in operation as a commanding ship of the Yugoslav Navy, until the early nineties. Its length was 58m, width 8,7m total weight 670t. In the text below, I am posting an exclusive story with the ship owner with all the details that accompanied this unique historic project!
Vis boat: From the flagship to the diving attraction
The Admiralty ship Vis, once a command ship of the Yugoslav Navy, owned by Arsen Brajkovic of Pula, was sunk in Premantura in Polje Bay in Istra in May this year. It is the first legally sunk ship in Croatia and Vis will be a diving attraction on the seafloor, so through diving stories, photos and videos, it will continue to live, rather than end up in scrap iron.
It was built in 1956 at the Uljanik shipyard in Pula as a command, command ship. The story goes that Joseph Broz Tito was involved all the time in the course of the ship’s construction, as well as the selection of people who would work on it. In addition to the Seagull and the Adriatic, Vis was one of three status ships of the Yugoslav Navy. During his service there were 40 senior officers and an admiral who was a permanent member of the crew. Arsen Brajkovic also served on this ship.
– Vis was a command ship in full splendor, and I served on it in 1985 at the Lora War Port. As someone who possesses maritime skills and cultivates a love of the sea, I have learned a lot on that ship and it means a lot to me – the Brajkovic story begins.
Vis completed his “career” in 2002 and was shipped to Montenegro where he was put up for sale.
– Immediately, I wanted to get Vis in my possession. This boat was built as a naval yacht with all its details and features and my desire was to make it a luxury yacht to sail. However, when I bought it his condition was very questionable, but we brought it in for inspection and replaced the axles, propellers, rudders and everything that was needed, and I received a certificate from the Croatian Register of Shipping that the hull was intact. I had a plan, blueprints for all 12 booths that would get a whole new purpose, electric motors that were never built… – Arsen says.
Vis never set sail. Arsenic’s desire was marred by a major global economic crisis and the lack of finances. According to him, the purchase of the boat, transport and everything done on it costed about half a million euros.
– I believed in the product and knew that if it was completed the way I planned it would be of great importance in the charter business it was intended for. But in 2007, there was a crisis. The banking sector completely excluded Croatian shipbuilding from financing and it was an unpromising activity. And that is the moment that is crucial and where the whole thing turned and where I started thinking about other solutions – says Brajkovic.
Seven years since the purchase of the boat, so in 2009, Arsen came up with the idea to sink the boat and turn it into a diving attraction. But even that didn’t go as planned, and this time the law was a problem.
– I first mentioned the immersion to Željko Kamerli ( a diving instructor who submerged Vis), but he did not like the idea at first. The biggest obstacle was the lack of any regulation for this. Our first interview at the Ministry of Maritime Affairs ended in just 10 minutes where they explained that it was illegal – he says.
But he didn’t give up. His “struggle” to obtain all the necessary documentation lasted for six years and he was eventually granted a license. But before the ship was sunk, it had to be completely cleared of all potentially harmful substances for water and the environment. During the cleaning of the ship, seven tons of oil were found, which Brajkovic did not know was inside the vessel.
The engineers of Uljanik, the shipyard where Vis was built, drafted the plan of its sinking, a 28-page document that computes the calculations down to the smallest detail. In a complex operation with two strong detonations, the ship Vis, which is 58 meters long, was sunk on May 22, 2016, 250 meters from the coast of Premantura, at 32 meters depth.
– I am grateful to Uljanik engineers for this study. I knew that if we followed those instructions, everything would be alright and it was. I didn’t doubt it. But sinking mistakes do happen, Malta has sunk eight ships, and the first two have capsized and become unusable – explains Arsen.
Vis thus became the first legally submerged ship in Croatia, together with another 200 wrecks in various locations.
– We have chosen the ideal location for the sinking, and now it remains to be seen whether this will be shown in practice. All these underwater ships are the result of maritime accidents with casualties, damage, pollution and while this dramatic story gives it some charm, these are not optimal depths, nor are their locations ideal, visibility is not good … Vis is the only one ready to welcome divers, its located in the diving area in the place where the concentration of diving clubs is highest. It’s at a decent depth, so beginners can dive into the upper deck as well. Its internal volume is 650 gross tonnes, which is neither too large nor too small for diving – explains Arsen.
The sinking of Vis has opened a new chapter in Croatian diving history.
– Anyone who wants to sink their boat will now be able to do so because there is complete legal regulation. When you own such a thing in the sea, you think about it every day. For 13 years, I visited it and made sure that water did not penetrate it every time a storm occurred, in the end we tried to get the water into the boat. I think this is the best fate for it, it will continue to be talked about and will continue to live – says Brajkovic, adding that he did not immediately need to see Vis in that state.
As he says, he owns details from the ship, so he is currently looking for a site that would serve as a museum and would further tell the divers the story and complement the experience of diving in Vis.
Antrfile: Will the Seagull sail again?
The Adriatic is in Montenegro, and the Gull is stationed in Rijeka and is in very poor condition. Its owner is the city of Rijeka, and the mayor said he had no intention of sinking the ship, but to restore it and bring it back to service. But the question remains whether this will be realized.