Surviving officer recalls the Dara's final voyage

Peter Jordan, who was first officer on the Dara, would like to see the site of the shipwreck protected from tourists and looters as a sign of respect for those who died aboard.

The MV Dara, after it sank while being towed to Duabi. Courtesy Royal Air Force
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The most senior surviving British officer on the Dara has spoken to The National of his sorrow that the wreck of the ship is treated as a tourist attraction by diving companies in the UAE.

Peter Jordan, who was first officer on the Dara, lives in retirement in Frinton, a seaside town in the English county of Essex. He will celebrate his 80th birthday on Wednesday, two days before the 50th anniversary of the explosion that cost the lives of almost 240 people.

"There must have been a hell of a lot of bodies in that ship when it went down, and as a mark of respect to those people who lost their lives I don't think it should be used as a dive site," he said. "It should be respected for what it is: a sea grave."

After organising attempts to fight the fires and get lifeboats away, Mr Jordan finally jumped into the churning sea. With no life jacket, he clung to a piece of wood for more than two hours before he was picked up by a boat from a Norwegian tanker.

Within hours, however, he and other officers, including the captain, went back on board the ship, climbing a rope ladder that was hanging over the stern. "She was still burning like fury. We tried to start the emergency pump at the stern but there was no pressure, there was nothing we could do."

It was then, he says, that he noticed the charred bodies lying all over the deck, where the majority of passengers had been sleeping.

Many dive websites feature the wreck, which is in reasonably shallow water 8km off the coast of Umm al Qaiwain, about 37km from the mouth of Dubai Creek. Much more appealing than the other sunken vessels in the area - a handful of barges, a coastal tanker used by UAE armed forces for target practice and an oil-rig tender that sank in bad weather - the Dara is a popular destination for diving excursions from hotels in Dubai.

One dive website features photographs of some of the "many souvenirs" taken from the Dara by expatriate divers based in Dubai in the 1970s and 1980s, including "portholes, lanterns and anything brass". A photograph shows four of the divers who pillaged the Dara; each is holding a porthole brought up from the wreck.

Mr Jordan isn't the only one who thinks the site should be protected. In a 2009 discussion about the site on the website Dive Site Directory, a man who signed himself only as "Justino" wrote: "The dive site should be made a memorial resting place for the crew of our village who died on this ship. Mostly they were from a village in Goa."