The Säntis operated for 40 years before it was sunk in 1933 — and it's so well-preserved that you can still read its name on the side of the ship.
Ninety years ago, a steamship called the Säntis was sunk in the middle of Lake Constance. Like the more famous Titanic, its stern lifted as water rushed in. The Swiss flag at its tip gave one last rustle, and then the ship slipped beneath the waves. Now, plans are afoot to raise the vessel.
But time may be running out, as invasive mussels have started attaching themselves to the historic shipwreck known as the “Titanic of the Alps.”
The Sinking Of The Säntis
By the time the Säntis was sunk in 1933, it had been in service for 40 years. The steamship ferried passengers back and forth throughout Lake Constance — a freshwater lake in Europe that borders Germany, Austria, and Switzerland — often taking loads of 400 people.
But in the 1930s, the Säntis encountered financial difficulties. The ship had swapped its coal engine for a new oil engine, which proved to be an economic disaster. The Swiss Lake Constance Shipping Company, which owned the steamship, decided that scrapping it would be too expensive. Instead, they decided to sink the vessel in the middle of Lake Constance.
After the ship had been picked clean of useful material — its wooden deck was removed for firewood and some locals took the ship’s doors — it was taken to the lake. With a Swiss flag flying at its stern, it was sunk.
The Säntis earned the nickname “Titanic of the Alps” in part because it resembled the ship, and in part because it sank in the same way. Like the RMS Titanic, the Säntis had a three-cylinder steam engine. And like the Titanic, its stern lifted as it sank into the waters of Lake Constance.
But unlike the the Titanic, which is some 12,000 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, plans are in motion to resurface the Säntis.
The Plan To Resurface The Ship
The Säntis was more or less forgotten until 2013, when the Daily Mail reports it was rediscovered at a depth of 690 feet during an underwater survey.
The shipwreck, which was purchased by the Ship Salvage Association (SSA), is in astonishingly good shape despite spending nearly 100 years at the bottom of the lake.
“It’s in really good condition,” SSA president Silvan Paganini told The Sun. “We have here a freshwater lake, it’s really deep at [690 feet], it’s very dark there, it’s not much oxygen, so it’s really [well] conserved.”
Incredibly, he added: “You can still see the paint on the side and read the letters on the side of the ship.”
However, lifting the ship will be challenging. Paganini told the Daily Mail that his company plans to use “lifting bags,” which are like giant underwater balloons. In March, divers will attach the bags and inflate them in order to bring the ship up off the seabed and to a depth of about 40 feet. Then, in April, a second round of lifting will bring the Säntis to the surface.
The plan to resurface the ship is especially urgent because divers found evidence that invasive quagga mussels have already attached themselves to the ship’s chimney. The mussels, which were first documented in Lake Constance in 2016, could come to cover the entire ship.
But hopefully the Säntis will see the light of day before that happens. Once the ship is brought back to the surface, it will be taken to a shipyard in nearby Romanshorn for repairs. Paganini expects that it will be displayed in a museum somewhere in Switzerland.
“We want to present to the public what we have here; what a monument we have from our predecessors,” Paganini said. “That is the main goal.”
After reading about the sinking of the Säntis and the plans to resurface the historic steamship, discover the stories behind nine of the world’s most famous shipwrecks. Or, look through these fascinating facts about the Titanic that illuminate the full scope of its tragic sinking.