Great Wrecks of
The cold dark waters of the Firth of Clyde are a graveyard of shipwrecks.
The mighty Swedish motor vessel Akka is the largest diveable wreck in the Firth of Clyde.
A combination of factors places her high on the list of Scotland's greatest wrecks. She is still largely intact, and the visiting diver can swim along corridors with cabins leading off, drifting from one deck to another up and down companionways. Lying in a barren mud desert, the wreck has become an artificial reef, and a profusion of sealife has colonised her.
She is covered in deadmen's fingers and is ablaze with orange and white plumose anemones. Large shoals of fish school around her, living off the wreck and finding refuge in its nooks and crannies.
The Akka was built in Gothenberg in July 1942 and registered in Stockholm. She was 135m in length with a beam of 17m and a draught of 8m. Apart from her engine rooms amidships and the store rooms and accommodation at her stern and bow, most of her below decks space was taken up by six cavernous cargo holds.
The crew cabins were located in the stern deckhouse above, and beneath, at shelter-deck level, were messes, stores and toilets.
Her main superstructure was situated amidships above her engine rooms. At shelter-deck level were the hospital room, crew's mess rooms, galley, pantry and toilets. Also here, conveniently close to the engines, were the first and second engineers' quarters.
On the main deck, a flight of steps at either side led up to the promenade deck, which housed the lounge and saloon at the front. At either side of the motor casing (through which the funnel rose) were lines of officers' cabins, bathrooms, the pilot's cabin and linen rooms.
Another flight of steps led up to the boat deck where, looking out over the foredeck to the bow, were the captain's dayroom, bedroom and toilet. Immediately above this, right above the captain's accommodation, was the navigating bridge deck that held the wheelhouse and radio room. At the very bow, the fo'c'sle housed store rooms and the chain lockers at shelter-deck level.
On Wednesday, 4 April, 1956, the Akka cast off her mooring ropes at her home port of Oxelosund on Sweden's eastern Baltic Sea coast, her holds full of iron ore bound for Glasgow. After five days at sea, the Akka rounded the Mull of Kintyre and entered the Firth of Clyde. At 8.15pm she passed Small Cumbrae light, and by 9pm was abeam of the Cumbrae islands.
Soon the Isle of Bute had slipped by on her port beam and she was approaching Innellan, where the Firth narrows considerably. At 9.22pm her master Captain Sundin rang down to the engine room, requesting half-speed. The Akka slowed and made ready to take on the pilot, who would guide her on the final approach to her berth further up the Clyde. A light was visible some distance ahead, warning of the treacherous Gantock Rocks that rise up from a depth of 24m to break the surface about a mile southeast of Dunoon.
Captain Sundin ordered a course change but the Akka responded very slowly to her rudder. At 9.26pm, unable to steer his ship away from the approaching rocks, he ordered the engines to be stopped. The forward momentum of the ship was considerable and all eyes fixed on the rocks as the Akka bore down on them.
Unable to stop in time, her momentum carried her onto the Gantocks. Many folk ashore in Dunoon and Gourock reported hearing the tearing and grinding as her hull was rent open to the sea. The quiet stillness of the evening was shattered by the sounds of the ship's torture.
People rushed out from their homes and looked on helplessly as the Akka went through her death throes. The Gantocks had torn her hull open along almost half her length from hold no 2 aft, and tonnes of seawater started to flood into her.
Captain Sundin rang for engines astern in an attempt to get his ship into shallower water where she could be saved. It soon became clear, however, that she was sinking rapidly, so he gave the order to abandon ship.
Within a period of only three or four minutes, she had keeled over onto her port side and settled quickly into the waters of the Clyde. Blasts of steam shot waterspouts high into the air, and as the cold sea water made contact with her boilers there was a large explosion. She went down so quickly that the lifeboats did not have time to get clear of the suction and surface turmoil created by her passing. The waves from the explosion sank a number of them, pitching the crews into the numbingly cold water.
Within a few minutes several rescue vessels arrived at the scene. Sadly three of the crew went down with the ship and three more died on their way to hospital, but 27 survived.
Dawn the next day revealed the topmost 3.5m of the Akka's two masts sticking out of the water. She had come to rest on an even keel at 55 56.750 N; 004 54.417 W (GPS position), on the western edge of the Dunoon Bank, a shallow bank of rock and mud that rises up from a general depth of 70-100m to just 30-40m. Three months later a passing fishing vessel hit the wreck and this led to urgent clearance work.
In September 1956, divers using explosives were able to remove the top two levels of her bridge along with her funnel and masts. Once the wreck had been made safe for small vessels to pass over, salvage work stopped. She started to be colonised by sealife, and over the intervening 40 years has been transformed into an artificial reef, now one of Scotland's greatest wrecks.
It is quite common to get clear conditions on the Akka. As divers descend through the upper murky surface layers of the Clyde the visibility improves, and at depth it can be very clear, although still quite dark. Average visibility is 5-10m, compared to the Wallachia's 2-3m, but a good torch is still required.
The Akka is a tremendous wreck to dive. She is still structurally intact, and her 135m length makes her an intimidatingly large vessel. If your dive starts at the stern, then you will do well to make it along the whole length of her before having to ascend.
At the stern a deckhouse, which formerly housed the crew cabins, still rises one level above the main deck. If you move down to shelter-deck level - being careful not to snag your gear as you enter the wreck - you will find the seamen's and first engineer's mess rooms and toilets and, at the stern itself, the steering gear.
A walkway curves around the circumference of the stern, with doors and portholes giving fascinating glimpses inside the wreck. Two kingposts and their derricks stood forward of this deckhouse and have been brought crashing down onto the deck by the clearance work. Standing on the deck here and peering over the side, the seabed is still some 15m below.
The Akka has six cavernous holds, two aft of the bridge superstructure and four forward. The aftmost holds still have their covers on them, but the foredeck holds are open - bottomless black voids complete with their cargo of iron ore. The midships superstructure originally comprised the main deckhouse, promenade deck, boat deck and, at the very top, the navigating bridge deck. The 1956 clearance work, however, removed the top levels of this four-level superstructure.
Beneath this deckhouse at shelter-deck level you find the galley, hospital, crew's mess, cook's quarters, pantry, and engineer's accommodation. Many items of crockery bearing the Akka's shipping line logo have been recovered from this area.
On the main deck, walkways run along either side of this superstructure with gaping doorways opening into cabins and portholes. This is perhaps the most accessible area of the wreck.
Forward of this superstructure, it is possible to drop down into the holds and pass through the gaping hole that was ripped out of the Akka's port side as she struck the Gantock Rocks in 1956. Scramble nets, flung over the side as the ship went down, are still draped over the port side amidships. At the very bow the fo'c'sle has two aft-facing doors allowing access to storerooms in its dark interior.
At shelter-deck level below you find the carpenter's shop, storerooms, the chain locker and the fore peak tank. On top of the fo'c'sle among the rich covering of deadmen's fingers, mooring bollards and deck winches, traces of the white paint that once coated the superstructure can still be made out despite 40 years in the depths.