The shipwreck

Side scan

Sonar image of S/S Burdigala (ex. S/S Kaiser Friedrich) shipwreck, as rendered by a University of Patras side scan sonar. (KFB Collection).

The S/S Burdigala shipwreck sits upright on her keel, cut in two sections, at a depth of approx. 70 meters, with the bow and aft masts broken and fallen to the starboard side. The longitudinal axis of the vessel (stern to bow) has a northeast direction. Possibly such is owed by a change of her heading after the impact with the mine and the Captain’s attempt to steer toward the near-by safe harbor of St. Nicholas, Kea island. The bow section of the ship has a length of around 100 meters, while the aft of about 80 meters. The explosion caused opening between the two hull sections is about 12 meters wide. The two sections are tilted to the right, the fore listing by about 10 degrees and the aft by approximately 25 degrees. The overall length of the wreck, including the hull gap, is approximately 200 meters, while the depth ranges  from 74 to 50 meters, where one finds the upper sections of the ship’s superstructure.

Kaiser Friedrich - Plan

Side drawing of the ship at the early period when steaming under the name  Schnelldampfer Kaiser Friedrich. (Sammlung Rothe)

The fore section is 40 m long , characterized by a large and long forecastle which extends from the tip of the bow until hatch number two, just before the point where the main superstructure begins. Along the fore deck, which is also part of the upper forecastle, thick anchor chains extend from their bow holes to the twin large sized winches which still hold in the raised position the two massive anchors. On either sides of the fore deck along the vertical axis two large-caliber cannons are in place, facing towards the sea. Also, just behind the fore peak a small-caliber gun sits on its base. The whole area is dotted by used cannon shells. As throughout the ship, so here the deck railings have collapsed, but their stanchions remain upright which like the entire wreck are covered by sponges and other marine organisms. Most of the wooden deck planking has disappeared leaving open access to the crew cabins and some of the store rooms in which several objects like storm lamps and some tools are visible. As a distinguished feature of the area is a small crane visible at a distance of about 8 meters from the bows peak.

At the end of the bow deck there is a deepening, which interrupts the smooth form of the main deck, structurally separating the bow section by the main superstructure. In this area of about 10 meters in length, is the fore mast, broken at its base but with the internal wiring intact while the crows nest is in position and in good condition. In this area hatches for the number two hold are found as is the forecastle entrance with two ladders leading to the forecastle deck. Two other ladders are also right and left of the main superstructure leading to the upper deck.


Out of the 36 life boat davits, most of them are in good condition. Many are extended facing toward the sea, a fact which indicates that after the “Abandon Ship” order, the majority of the life boats were successfully launched. (KFB Collection).

The ships main superstructure consisting of the superstructure main deck (first row of the superstructure), the upper deck (second row of the superstructure) and the areas where the bridge, radio room, senior officer’s lounge and mess room extend until the ninth davit, from which point is the hull breakage, separating the bow section from the rest o the ship. The main deck area (first row of the superstructure) hosted luxury cabins (cabines de luxe) and the first class cabins (premières classes). In this area are also two interactive internal stairs, which lead to the upper deck (second row of the superstructure) and steerage . In the area of the upper deck, where only the luxurious cabins (cabines de luxe) and passenger lounges were situated, such as the music room, smokers and reading lounges e.t.c., some have collapsed in certain areas. From the second row of the superstructure, most of the accommodation areas, except the wheelhouse (bridge) and the directly under it saloon, is also partially collapsed. The bridge dominates this area because of its characteristic shape with the seven separate windows which have helped us to identify the ship. Another item which greatly assisted during the identification process, via comparing of old photographs is the port side navigation light which after 96 years is in very good condition. In the vicinity of the three funnels which are gone, are the remains of large airways, arranged in groups of four. Throughout this area there are large bronze plates with crystal probably derived from the skylights of public accommodation spaces such as lounges, smoker’s rooms’ e.t.c. This assumption is based on the accommodation plans, where the upper part of the superstructure is clearly seen.

The hull breakage that separates the wreck in two distinct pieces, as already mentioned measures about 12 meters, is almost amidships right after the after the 9th life boat davit (counted from bow to stern). It is at a point right after the second funnel. The vertical gap, looks like a knife cut that separates the vessel into two parts, allowing for diver’s penetration inside the wreck at all levels, as for example to the second boiler room (bow section), the steerage, the two rows of the superstructure and the engine room (aft section). At the two vertical sides of the hull breakage, cabins with their various accessories for everyday use, such as sinks and bathtubs as well as pieces of machinery such as rollers and shafts are visible.


Remains of the superstructure and of the ventilators in the aft section of S/S Burdigala. The dive line of the Kea Dive Expedition is clearly visible. (KFB Collection).

The aft hull section consisting of holds number 3 and 4, the engine room, the rest of the superstructure, the aft deck area, the rudder room, and the quarterdeck, has collapsed between the decks of the vessel, from the top with a stern-wise  direction, from the roof of the engine. The six square openings of the roof, once occupied by skylights, allow for easy diver penetrations to main areas of the engine room. In the area of the third funnel, where its round opening still remain littered with of metal debris, to its left and right are loos, which are not shown in the original accommodation plans of the ship. Probably these were added after the requisition of S/S Burdigala, as a convenience improvement for serving the needs of large numbers of soldiers transported. Immediately after the third funnel opening, two staircases leading to the deck of the aft-peak region are the first ones encountered as is the broken and fallen to the starboard side aft mast, plus the mouths of  the hull. The aft deck with a length of 45 m, is covered by debris of the poop, which measures 22 m. long and 18 m. wide, having collapsed completely. Just aft of the poop are two cannons, of same caliber as to those at the bow, also perpendicular to the longitudinal line of the ship and facing towards the sea. Behind the two large aft winch capstans at the end of the stern is a single hole at the middle of the upper part of the transom, where the ship’s name was inscribed in duplicate, now heavily coated by multiple layers of benthic marine growth. The characteristic transom central hauser hole has also greatly helped us to identify the shipwreck. The entire area of the stern deck is likewise scattered by cannon shells and ammunition boxes. At the underside of the ship laying at a depth of 74 meters, the two large three bladed propellers can be clearly seen. From the port side prop one blade is missing, while the starboard side prop is immersed in the sand and fully covered by the listing hull. A distinctive long, U-shaped structural hull ending at the stern, above and below the waterline is visible, as it can also be clearly seen in all the old photos of  S/S Burdigala.

Copyright © 2009 by D. Galon and the S/S Burdigala Project Team

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