The wreck of “M/V Vettor Pisani” (+1942) off Lepeda beach in Kefalonia
On 24 July 1942, the Italian motor  vessel “M/V Vettor Pisani” (built in 1939, tonnage 6,339, length 137.5m) departed from Taranto bound for Tobruk and sailing off Cape Gherogombo, the southwestern point of Kefalonia as part of a convoy, accompanied by torpedo boats “Antares” and “Calliope” and escort destroyer “Orsa”, was attacked by 6 British aircraft position 10 miles 240 degrees from said Cape 38 05N, 20 12E. See the history of the air raid here: http://aviationarchaeology.gr/?p=2249
There was an explosion, smoke and red flame.. the hit was at hold number 2 where fuel was transported in barrels and a violent fire broke out in the bow section. The severely damaged ship was towed by the “Orsa” connected by the stern, against the wind to prevent the fire from spreading to the stern section that had survived unscathed so far. Despite the efforts it was impossible to reach Argostoli harbor and in order to avoid sinking it ran aground in the shallows on the western shores of the Argostoli Gulf, specifically 1 km south of Lixouri town (pic. 1,2). It stayed ablaze until next day while a new airstrike with bombs and strafing caused even more damage. On 27 July its recovery and repair was deemed pointless and declared total loss.
Later that year, while the ship was stranded and in order to recover as much of the cargo as possible, dynamite was used to retrieve whatever could be salvaged. In photos taken from the land but also in aerial photographs of the year 1945 (Hellenic Geographical Service) the ship appears stranded (the aerial photograph also confirms the length of the ship), at a distance of approx. 300m from the coast (at the nearest point), with the bow facing southeast towards the entrance of the Gulf (pic. 3,4).
At this location the “M/V Vettor Pisani” remained until 1951 when it was refloated and towed to Italy where it was repaired to travel the seas again (fig. 5,6). Despite being destroyed by torpedoes, bombs, fire and dynamite and the long abandonment, the ship was modern enough and in relatively good condition to be left to rot, but also stranded in shallow water that could facilitate basic repairs to take it to the shipyard. Finally, after 20 years of service the ship retired in 1971 and was scraped.
The shipwreck today
What can be found today are scattered debris at a depth of only 10m, including a large number of metal barrels, batteries, parts of motorcycles, etc. all covered by sediment agglomerates. However, the most remarkable and perhaps useful for the confirmation of their destination and consequently of their origin, is a steel chain net composed of interconnected rings (pic. 7,8).
According to the “Net and boom defenses, Ordnance pamphlet 636A, 24 June 1944, U.S. Navy”, this configuration is typical for torpedo net (Type“T”net, Torpedo) (pic. 9), which were either installed in the port (suspended on floats, in a continuous barrier or partial barriers), or directly on a ship (suspended on horizontal booms, around the perimeter of the boat). The principle of operation is the following: The small cross section of a torpedo combined with its high speed exerts momentarily concentrated force on a single point, so each ring must be relatively small in diameter (about 40 cm) in order to intercept the object trying to penetrate but also attain a strong connection with the rest around it so the energy of the torpedo can be absorbed by a group of links (hence the lower end of the net was free to facilitate rotation around the horizontal axis and to diffuse the energy more efficiently). Another element of its particular usefulness was the anti-torpedo net’s ability to provide protection against aerial torpedoes, while the anti-submarine net only prevented the entry of such into an anchorage.
The above remarks make sense if we consider the destination of the ship that was Tobruk with its large natural harbour, which had just been occupied by Rommel (Deutsches Afrikakorps – DAK) a mere month ago. He was also already preparing a new offensive east into Egypt therefore this would serve him as an advanced resupply port but at the same time in close proximity to enemy naval and air forces. The Italians also had the recent traumatic experience from the raid on Taranto in November 1940, when the shortage of anti-torpedo nets (they were only 4 km installed instead of the 13 km required) led to severe damages to battleships from British aerial torpedoes.

Tilemachos Beriatos

CMAS 3 star Diver, PSS Technical Diver
Research 2012-2017

Pictures:

MV Vettor Pisani on flames

1. Vettor Pisani on flames (“Navi mercantili perdute”, Rolando Notarangelo e Gian Paolo Pagano, USMM)

Delfino in support of Vettor Pisani

2. The vessel Delfino in support of Vettor Pisani (Pietro Berti, naviearmatori.net)

Vettor Pisani grounded off the coast, Lixuri Kefalonia

3. Vettor Pisani grounded off the coast, Kefalonia (photograph Mike Georgatos)

Vettor Pisani grounded off the coast, Kefalonia aerial photograph

4. Vettor Pisani grounded off the coast, Kefalonia (aerial photographs 1945, Hellenic Geographical Service)

Vettor Pisani during repair in Monfalcone 1951

5. Vettor Pisani during repair in Monfalcone 1951 (Giorgio Parodi, naviearmatori.net)

Vettor Pisani after repair 1951

6. Vettor Pisani after repair 1951 (Ferruzzi-Venezia via Giuseppe Boato)

Metal barrels and wheels at Vettor Pisani debris field

7. Metal barrels and wheels (dive at the debris field 8-2010, Tilemachos Beriatos)

Metal torpedo net at Vettor Pisani debris field

8. Metal torpedo net (dive at the debris field 8-2010, Tilemachos Beriatos)

Rigging torpedo net (US Navy)

9. Rigging torpedo net (Bureau of Ordnance, US Navy)

Kefalonia has an amazing coastline, marine life and u/w landscape for one to discover. We may provide Guided Snorkeling by boat at Blue Manta Diving & Aquanautic Club, as certified operators, but there are lots of sites easily accessible for everyone to visit. So here are some tips or what we call “Snorkeling Paths”; some itineraries we have explored, and you can easily follow and discover the colorful u/w world.

So here are some:

  1. Mounda Beach (Skala). Enter the water where the road to Mounda ends and head left (North). The water is shallow, and rocks are the projection of the layers seen out of the water. At some point you see a small, unsealed road ending up at the seaside and putting this on your back head to some rocks rising almost up to the surface. Usually there are marked by buoys; around there you can find metal parts (look for the bathtub!) of a boat wrecked in the shallows, and on top of the rocks fragments of ancient amphora embedded on the rock. Carry on towards the tip of the cape (South) and follow the coast to return. Along your way will be seeing patches of rock and Neptune seagrass (Posidonia oceanica) – the equivalent of coral reef for Mediterranean as it supports all marine life and is a nursery for small fish and marine creatures. The site is full of schools of small black damselfish (or their neon blue juveniles!) families of graceful and colorful parrotfish, mullets and all kinds of wrasses shoals of all kinds of breams (look for the golden plated Cow breams) and …invasive spine-foots. Keep your eyes open for octopuses within the rocks and Loggerhead sea turtles in the distance.
  2. Limenia Beach (in between Skala and Poros). Enter the water at the right end of the beach, having the small dry stream on your back. Head right (South) following the coastline. At the footsteps of the rock there is Neptune seagrass (Posidonia oceanica). Damselfish, parrotfish, wrasses, breams and grey mullets are feeding on the algae and sea plants. Where there are shady holes on the rock, colorful sponges and false corals find …darkness to flourish, but you will have probably to skin dive for seeing them. However, small dusky groupers, bright red cardinal fish and moray eels stick their heads out of the shelters to watch the visitors. Most probably you will be able to spot an invasive lionfish as conditions at this site favor them. If lucky you may see a school of amberjacks sweeping the tip of the cape (especially in May and June) and if you go further around the cape and light conditions are good you may even manage seeing a broken small metal wreck that rests in a bit of deep water, there. Don’t forget that a bit further down the coast is Kako Lagadi small beach and you could even access, especially if you use flippers.
  3. Megali Ammos Beach (Minies, next to the airport). Enter the water at the right side of the beach and head right (North) until the opening on the rocks allows you to see the other beach. From there follow the rocky seabed across to the islet seen few hundred meters to the west- or you can skip this part and head directly to the islet. Explore around it and insist to the north side where the bottom is rocky and shallow to some extent. The shallows attract all kind of wrasses and breams, red mullets and damselfish, parrotfish, groupers and more. Keep your eyes open for octopuses and slipper lobsters camouflaged within the rocks and if lucky for some foraging Giant Triton shell. Sponges and sea urchins complete the Mediterranean u/w panorama.
  4. Lagadakia Beach (Lixouri). Enter the water at the right side of the small pebble beach and head right (West). Carry on past the next small beach and start exploring the rocky coastline. Keep an eye for a pile of stones on top of the rocks marking the entrance of a cavern- or it is easy to look for the entrance itself. You can safely swim to enter. The opening is shallow and in the middle of the wide cavern you also can step on the smooth rock. You are standing in the middle of an impressive dome, created by fresh water curving the limestone for millennia. On your way there and back, you will see patches of seagrass and rocks, inhabited by parrotfish, damselfish and wrasses. Water is a bit chill as fresh water is coming from the land, but this discomfort to small fish (and for you probably!) brings occasionally schools of Mediterranean barracudas or red snappers that take advantage of thermocline to surprise their prey.

Tips and warnings

  1. Make sure you don’t snorkel further that you could comfortably and safely return from. Also keep an eye on changing weather conditions. Although these itineraries are within areas with safe and smooth conditions, if you feel being drifted by current or winds picking up, play it safe and return.
  2. It is highly recommended to carry a highly visible swimming buoy with you so not only you are spotted by boats but also you have a buoyancy aid to use for rest. In general, is safer to stay close to the rocks of the coast. If you hear the sound of a boat, rise your head out of the water to spot the boat and do not hesitate to wave with the buoy, signal, splash or shout to state your presence if you feel the boat is coming close. Carrying a whistle on your buoy is a great idea and also wearing a snorkeling vest, especially if you are not too confident with your swimming endurance.
  3. There are no really dangerous marine creatures in the sea of Kefalonia, as long as you avoid touch or step on a sea urchin or touch a pink jelly fish. But having a mask on, not only gives you the opportunity to see in time the jelly fish but also to admire it. Another thing to avoid is stepping on a weever on a sandy beach, but is really very rare for them to come out where you can stand, as most sandy beaches form a step as you walk in. Last but not least, avoid getting too close and definitely do not touch a lionfish- although it will probably keep its distance from you anyway. For any of the above, in case of injury do not hesitate to seek medical advice.
  4. When buying snorkeling gear choose reputable manufacturers and do not hesitate to invest money for your safety and comfort. Special mention to Full Face snorkeling masks. There are comfortable and great for snorkeling, but if made with a poor design are very dangerous as accumulate carbon dioxide. Usually this happens with cheaply made replicas, where a manufacturer copies a mask without realizing the safety functions of the design. As for this issue, we would gladly provide further information in private communication.
  5. Keep in mind that removing ancient relics from the bottom of the sea is illegal and can get you in trouble. In most sites you will be able to spot parts of pottery or small clay fragments, curved by the waves. These belong to amphoras roughly 2500-1500 years old. You are most welcomed removing plastic garbage though – as long as you don’t put yourself in peril to collect.
  6. Always follow rules and best practices such as: stay horizontal at the surface to avoid contacting the reef, get safely in and out of the water without damaging marine flora, do not feed the fish, do not litter, do not touch, harass, or remove marine life, use a reef/marine plants safe sun cream (no parabens and silicones). In general, we recommend and follow the GREEN FINS Environmental Best Practice for Snorkelers.

Needless to say, you can ask for any information or tips you need in order to explore on your own and enjoy the breathtaking coastline of Kefalonia with safety. For us is important to raise awareness on the magnificent but fragile marine ecosystem and introduce people to the u/w world.