Chris Demetriou finds the red carpet waiting on a truck on the lower deck.
Chris Demetriou finds the red carpet waiting on a truck on the lower deck.

MUM USED TO SAY: 'If you want to see in the dark, eat your carrots.' As I bumped and shuffled my way through another tight hatchway that led into yet another pitch-black corridor, I realised that she had been right!
Freaking out this far inside the Zen would put me in a world of hurt.
Chris Demetriou, the ops manager at Dive-In, led us through a labyrinth of claustrophobic passageways and stairwells. Our final destination was the control-room, located at the very heart of the ship.
This was my first visit to sunny Cyprus, and an added treat was this, my deepest wreck-penetration dive to date.
It has been almost three decades since the Zenobia ferry sank beneath the waves. To this day, the vessel's demise is steeped in controversy and intrigue.
The manifest included 104 fully laden articulated lorries. No salvage work has ever been carried out. Much of the cargo still lies undisturbed within the hold.
Each year thousands of divers pay homage, but very few venture inside. This is beyond the realms of recreational scuba. Proper training is essential, otherwise the wreck will kill.
Technical divers, tooled up with hammers, chisels and jacks, have been chipping away at the Zen's secrets for years. One by one, each compartment has fallen to the tomb raiders. But it is only now that they have reached the final stronghold.
At the end of July 2008, a small team of dedicated divers broke into the auxiliary engine-room and entered the control-room. Chris had invited me along to get the first ever pictures.
Only six divers had been this far inside. I would be 'lucky' number seven!
At least I was in experienced hands. Chris has carried out more than 5000 dives on the wreck.
'Going inside the auxiliary engine-room is a real leap of faith,' he told me. 'If the door closes, you're dead.'
Gaining access to the control-room had been the culmination of eight years' work. Each penetration dive is fastidiously planned. Chris's bible is a blueprint of the original ship's drawings.
The Zenobia and her two sister-ships, Ariadne and Scandinavia, were designed and built by Kockums of Malmo in Sweden. Chris uses the drawings to find new routes and access doors. He draws out each room on squared paper to check for space and manoeuvrability before going inside for real.

CHRIS, ORIGINALLY FROM LEYTON in London, is a team-player and quick to praise the efforts of fellow-divers Andy Auckland, Scott Ayrey and Chris Fox. Sheri Keeble is often left as 'the doorman'.
For extra safety, Sheri waits by the hatchway and shines a light inside the cramped compartments. Rust flakes disturbed by exhaled bubbles and fin-kicks can quickly reduce visibility to zero. Sheri's torch-beam acts as a guiding light for divers to follow.
'You have to treat the Zen with respect,' says Chris. 'If you can't find the way out, it's see-you-later time.'
The final quest began when Chris met Neil Black and Adam Florio. Over weeks of filming, they found new entrances and passageways deep within the wreck.
After checking the plans, Chris discovered a new access route to the control-room via a door on the middle car-deck. Neil and Adam cut through two iron bars welded across the entrance and, over 18 months, removed another door leading to the electrician's workshop, engineering workshop and electrical store.
At the end of a corridor they found a watertight bulkhead door. For some reason it had been left about 10cm ajar during the evacuation of the ship, and the Dive-In team managed to jack it open and clear any blocking cables and debris.
This was accomplished over a series of dives, clocking up hours of underwater time, but it was well worthwhile. The doorway led to the auxiliary engine-room and control-room.
The Zenobia is a diver's dream. Boat journeys from the Larnaca dive centre to the wreck site take literally a few minutes. Permanent marker buoys are attached to the stern, amidships and bow. Trapeze set-ups make any deco-stops more comfortable.
Chris has mapped out 10 core routes through the Zenobia. 'The wreck starts at around 16 to 18m but the really good stuff lies at 24m,' he says. 'We do a lot of tech training by the lifeboats at 18m.'

MORE THAN 90% OF DIVERS who visit are quite happy to stay outside the wreck. The 165m ro-ro ferry has more than enough interesting features for a multitude of dives. Articulated lorries are still chained to the deck, and I was pleased to see that grouper, barracuda, damselfish and shoals of saddled bream thrive inside this 'no take' zone.
My first dive, with Scott Ayrey, was an easy penetration dive, conducted in the accommodation block and upper cargo deck. We passed through the bridge, restaurant, rest-rooms and laundry-room, and there were plenty of exits giving easy access to blue water.
Some of the internal partitioning walls had collapsed, but Scott didn't seem too concerned. The restaurant carpet was still in surprisingly good condition. The only 'cramped' area was in the laundry-room.
Chris advises that divers should have at least a 30m depth ticket. 'I've taken instructors inside the Zen, and after a while it's quite obvious they're not happy,' he says.
Relic-hunters have removed steering wheels and radiator badges from the more accessible articulated lorries. 'You shouldn't take anything off the wreck,' says Chris. 'When it's attached, it means something. Lorry badges, steering wheels etc lose their identity when they're detached, and what do you do with it? It just ends up as scrap metal in somebody's garden. Anyway, the Zen is too new to take stuff off.'
The remaining 10% of divers venture no further than the middle cargo-deck. 'Some divers think they can dive anywhere, but it all depends on their experience,' says Chris.
He guided me through narrow corridors and stairwells that turned out to be surprisingly difficult to navigate under water. Even my low-profile twin-set kept banging against metal. It's plain to see why DIN fittings are essential, as A-clamps could easily become dislodged.
This area was totally enclosed, with no natural light or easy escape routes. Features included a fork-lift truck lying on its side, Bomag road-crushers, container-loads of sweets and children's toys. Piles of sleeping bags were strewn around the hold. It looked as though some cheeky diver had been sleeping on one! Chris prefers divers in this part to have a deep wreck and nitrox cert and some experience with stage cylinders. Redundancy is essential.

ONLY A SMALL MINORITY of hardcore tech divers venture deeper inside to explore the lower cargo-deck and engine-room. Here the depth drops to
a maximum of 44m and the water temperature is much cooler. Chris always wears his drysuit, even during high summer.
There is little water movement this far inside the wreck. Most of the lorries are still intact, their paintwork surprisingly colourful. A bright yellow Baghdad truck sign stood out in the gloom.
Hundreds of expensive Persian rugs had spilled from one broken trailer. The patterns and colours were clearly visible and seemed unaffected by sea water.
In some areas a white layer of mist reduced visibility to as little as 3-4m. 'It's a live wreck,' said Chris later. 'Things are changing all the time. It could be oil or diesel seeping out of the tanks.' Divers here need an advanced wreck qualification and full redundancy, with considerable experience of using twins and stage cylinders.
Chris always 'dives' visiting tech divers to check that they have the appropriate experience and right frame of mind. 'If they dive on their own, they have to tell me where they're going just in case we have to recover the bodies,' he says bluntly.
One of his most memorable moments was a 'light out' in the middle of the wreck. Three torches went down on one dive! 'In this situation you have to methodically back-track. Panic will kill all day long. The key is never to give up.'
Access to the auxiliary engine-room and control-room is out of bounds unless it's a special guided dive.
In these confined conditions, safety lines would be more of a hazard than an aid, becoming entangled around fins or snagging on gauges.
Chris knows the Zenobia's internal layout intimately. Scott Ayrey had told me: 'I trust Chris with my life.'
I didn't have the same level of confidence. For all I knew, he could have been a mad axe murderer! But at every hatchway or turning point, Chris stopped and made a big circle with his torch-beam to let me know everything was OK. I returned the signal.
The wreck lies on her port side, which can make life quite confusing and disorientating, especially when what's up should be down. As I followed Chris inside the auxiliary engine-room, he shone his torch-beam upwards.
The steering lube tanks loomed overhead, graduation marks still easily readable. Bright red rusticles hung like stalactites, a sure sign that the wreck was slowly dissolving.

THE CONTROL-ROOM LAY just ahead, but thanks to my flapping fin movements the visibility had reduced to near-zero.
It was easy to see how divers could become disorientated and lose their way. 'We're going to put a notice on the auxiliary engine-room door that says 'What's in this room is not worth dying for',' says Chris.
Chris Demetriou's first dive on the wreck was more than 20 years ago, and what was once a passion is now an obsession. 'It's a real privilege to dive the Zen,' he says. 'It changes every day. There's always something new
to see.'
Chris used to do more than 500 dives on the wreck each year. These days paperwork and other office tasks have reduced this to around 300. He says the best time to dive the Zenobia is at five in the afternoon, 'when she looks like a sad wreck'.
'You don't own the Zen, you just borrow it for a few years,' says Chris. 'This just happens to be our time.' For me the whole experience was intense, but the chance to explore where very few divers had ventured was the overriding factor. I hope the pictures are worth it!
As tomb-raider Chris prepared his rebreather for yet another extreme penetration dive he said to me: 'A diver recently asked me if I believed in God. I told him, it depends on how far I go inside the Zen!'

Dive-In, Larnaca runs TDI Advanced Wreck, Trimix, Rebreather and Gas Blender training courses year-round, but flights and hotel prices are cheaper in spring, and in autumn, when the water is warmest, www.dive-in.com.cy



Highlighting a Bomag road-crusher sign, also on the lower deck.
Highlighting a Bomag road-crusher sign, also on the lower deck.
Baghdad truck on the middle deck.
Baghdad truck on the middle deck.
The Dive-In team, which has been working hard to access the most remote areas of the Zenobia.
The Dive-In team, which has been working hard to access the most remote areas of the Zenobia.
Steering gauge in the auxiliary engine-room, penetrated by the Dive-In team for the first time.
Steering gauge in the auxiliary engine-room, penetrated by the Dive-In team for the first time.
Chris at the lubrication tanks inside the engine-room.
Chris at the lubrication tanks inside the engine-room.
At the door to the auxiliary engine-room.
At the door to the auxiliary engine-room.
Back on the trapeze.
Back on the trapeze.