Perhaps one of the greatest nautical tragedies on the Adriatic was the sinking of the Baron GAUTSCH. The ship was built in England in 1908 for the Austrian Adriatic Lloyd Shipping Company. It was 84.5 m long and 11.8 m wide with steam engines of 4600 HP, and reached speeds of 17 knots. Once a modern ship and pride of the Aus- trian commercial passenger fleet, it sailed the sea from Kotor to Trieste. On 11 August 1914 it sailed out from Kotor for the last time. The war had just broken out and it was full of passengers heading north. The captain of the Baron Gautsch had a register of all sea mines at the entrances to major ports and harbours. The afternoon of 13 August 1914 was ideal – warm, sunny and calm, and passengers were out on deck. No bulletins had been received on new mines planted two days earlier in front of Rovinj Harbour. The ship hit a mine on the open sea near Rovinj and sank within minutes, taking passengers with it. Those who survived were faced with a new peril – the Gautsch was one of the first ships running on bunker fuel. After the initial explosion the bunker fuel leaked out across the surface, preventing survivors from swimming to safety. Although seen from Rovinj, no rescue could be offered, as only the military knew mine locations. War ships came to the aid, but 274 (or even twice as many) people died. Captain Winter was accused but not charged due to insufficient evidence.
Diving tipsThe site is on the open sea, 6 nm southwest of the Island and lighthouse of Sveti Ivan na Pučini. Anchoring is at a buoy and divers drop directly down to the ship. The top deck appears first at 28 m, whereas the ship lies vertically at 40 m. A viewing of the ship starts from the stern and up to the bow and into the wreck through the top deck, where the steel construction is still clearly visible. This is a spacious area and this part of the dive is not too strenuous for more advanced divers. The ship and hull are well-preserved, except for the hole caused by the explosion visible on the left side, making for an interesting dive. Visibility and currents vary. The ship is cultural heritage protected by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Croatia and diving is only organised through registered diving centres.
Marine lifeThe Baron Gautsch is now an artificial reef and home and habitat for numerous species of flora and fauna and a variety of sea creatures: schools of picarel, poor cod, blotched picarel, damselfish, scorpionfish, white bream, squat lobsters, various corals, sea squirts and sponges.