Famous Sygna wreck fading from view

FOR almost 40 years thousands of sightseers from around the world have made the pilgrimage to Stockton beach to see the Sygna’s rusting wreck.

Now, those who have been monitoring its slow deterioration agree the famous landmark will soon disappear from view.

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Video by Dean Osland

Since the Newcastle Herald last reported on the wreck’s condition in January 2010, a large section of the stern has fallen away.

‘‘My guess it will be at the waterline in about two years, given what we have seen disappear in the last two years,’’ Newcastle Maritime Centre president Peter Morris said after visiting the wreck this week.

‘‘It’s now getting the force of the sea over the broken edges and the metal seems to be crystallising and becoming brittle.’’

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Click on the image above for more pictures from the archives.

The 53,000-tonne Norwegian bulk carrier attracted international headlines when it was beached 10kilometres north of Stockton during a cyclonic storm on May 26, 1974.

The most noticeable evidence of the wreck’s recent deterioration is part of the boiler that came off in heavy seas last year and now rests on the sand about 300 metres north of the wreck.

‘‘It’s virtually unrecognisable from what it looked like back in the 1980s,’’ National Parks and Wildlife Service Hunter Coast area manager Mike Murphy said.

‘‘The whole northern section has collapsed in the past couple of years.’’

A large section of steel plate on the southern side of the wreck has come loose in the past month and visibly flaps around in the swell.

Also of note is an abandoned salvage rig and wire rope left on the dune in front of the wreck that has become exposed in recent times.

A key to the wreck’s rapid deterioration is the steel used in the ship’s construction.

Unlike earlier ship structures, that were made from wrought iron, the Sygna was made from high-tensile shipping steel, similar to mild steel.

Although stronger and lighter, shipping steel has a shorter lifespan.

‘‘The Adolphe wreck [which ran aground in 1904 and now rests on Stockton break wall] was made of wrought iron. It doesn’t deteriorate anywhere near as quickly as steel,’’ Ray Pattinson, a former Newcastle-based senior surveyor with Lloyd’s Register of Shipping, said.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service is considering erecting a permanent reminder of the ship in preparation of the wreck’s looming demise.

‘‘We are looking at putting some interpretive material on the dunes to remind people of what used to be there,’’ Mr Murphy said.

The Maritime Museum holds a collection of artefacts from the Sygna including a salvage diver’s suit and lead boots, life rings and cutlery.

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