|The Bianca C, an 18,000 tonne passenger liner of the Italian Costa line, registered in Genoa, had taken on a complement of 400 passengers, together with her crew of 300, and was about to weigh anchor and set sail for Europe.|
At the Grenada Yacht Club on the eastern side of town, yachtsmen were gathered for a morning of dinghy sailing. Their attention grabbed by the siren, they also noticed that the Bianca C was flying an unusual flag. Deciphered, it conveyed an alarming message. She was on fire and needed immediate assistance.
It seems that at the moment of starting one of the liners great engines, an enormous explosion had wrecked the engine room, killing one engineer and mortally wounding two others. The ensuing fire had begun to engulf the vessel.
An heroic rescue mission was instantly put into operation. The authorities were informed and every available vessel was put to the task of ferrying passengers and crew away from where they had gathered at the stern end of the stricken Bianca C.
The evacuation was orderly, with women and children descending first the rope-ladders that hung precariously from her. Everyone was rescued, albeit in a confused and undressed state.
The fire spread and intensified. Black smoke billowed from the liner and explosions could be heard rumbling deep inside. A raging inferno was by now sweeping through her. Burning debris hurtled high into the air. The paint began to peel. The hull began to glow a dark red and the sea around the ship started to boil.
The Bianca Cs master, Captain Crevaco, a man with more than 40 years experience, was reluctant to leave his doomed vessel. He and a few officers were forced to quit the bridge and retreated to the bow. This could have been their undoing, because the fire trapped them there, but a rope-ladder was found and they too were eventually able to scramble to safety.
A special camp was set up by the authorities to accommodate the dazed and ill-equipped passengers and crew, but with more than 600 people to care for, space was at a premium. The local community rallied round and people took them into their own homes. Local farmers, shop-keepers and fishermen provided food at no cost.
Monday morning saw the Bianca C still burning and obviously settling lower in the water. The harbourmaster became alarmed that she might block the harbour entrance, and was eager to have her moved.
Captain Crevaco refused to allow her to be moved until the fire damage was verified for the purposes of insurance. A British warship, HMS Londonderry, arrived and it was agreed that the Navy would inspect Bianca C before towing her out and beaching her at the southern tip of the island.
Alas, this plan was thwarted by a wind and strong current, added to which the liners rudder appeared to be jammed. Outside the harbour the towing cable parted. Almost immediately the great vessel began to sink by the stern and those aboard Londonderry could only watch as the formerly magnificent vessel slipped, bubbling and boiling, beneath the surface. Today the wreck of the Bianca C sits more or less upright on the seabed, a short distance from the popular tourist beaches of Grenada. In about 50m of water, she is about 30m deep at her bridge. It is not an easy dive. You must pick your time well, as she is often swept by strong tidal currents. Different dive centres approach the wreck in different ways. Some like to anchor and ask their clients to make an arduous descent down the anchorline against the flow, returning the same way. Others more sensibly use a surface marker buoy and drift down on to the wreck from the bow, often arriving at the swimming pool at her aft end.
Divers then make their way forward using features of the ship for protection from the current, and use the nearby Whibble reef as a way of controlling their ascent. In the usual tradition of holiday diving, all operators seem to insist on keeping to a dive without decompression stops.
At 200m this ocean liner is the largest diveable wreck in the Caribbean. Encrusted with hydroids and black corals, it is surrounded by schools of jacks and barracudas.
The Costa Line presented the people of the island of Grenada with a replica of the statue of Christ of the Deep, the original of which is said to be sunk in the Bay of Naples, in recognition of the important part Grenada played in saving those on board the Bianca C. You can see the statue on the esplanade at the head of St Georges harbour.