So anyway the divers go down and its dangerous but these are divers and they love this kind of stuff and they are filming and sending back spectacular images of the outside of the ship but the whole idea of the trip (and the show) is to find out why the ship sank in just 55 minutes. You remember in the movie
Titanic how the watertight compartments actually had no ceiling so once the water went to the top of one it would spill over into the next one and one after
the other until the ship could do nothing but sink. Well the improvement to the Britannic is that they made the first 6 watertight compartments actually watertight by closing the top. The designers said that all 6 of these could fill with water and the ship would stay afloat. Unless of course somebody left the door open in which case they were useless. So the object of the dive was to go into the wreck and go through the first compartment and past the boilers to a small hallway and see if someone had left the
door open and this would solve the mystery of the Britannic. The problem was they only had a certain number of days to do it, probably because the Greek government would only give them a certain number of days for some pointless reason. I mean if you were the Greek government and you had an incredible unexplored shipwreck in your backyard and someone wanted to go down, using their own money and equipment that you could not begin to afford, to explore and take photos, wouldn't you say sure, take all the
time you need? Of course you would. But why should they have to even ask the Greek government if they can dive the Britannic. The Greek government does not own it. Its owned by Simon Mills. He should be able to go see his ship any time he wants and if he feels like staying on board the dive ship while some of his friends go down and explore they should have the right to stay as long as their air holds out.
But we are talking about Greece where nothing is simple, especially if it has to do with the Government bureaucracy and in the end that's what this show turned out to be about. After a couple days of diving were lost because of bad weather the divers go down and make their way around the boilers (the ship is laying on its side so trying to find
your way around it is like the Poseidon Adventure by half). Suddenly their way is blocked by a wheelbarrow. They try to swim over it
but it stirs up so much silt that they can't see a thing. Its the most dramatic part of the show with swirling silt and someone shouting "abort, abort!" into the intercom. You can just imagine what the history channel did with this part. But the divers make it to the deck of the dive boat and they are shaken but not deterred and they now know that tomorrow they will take an alternate route and avoid the wheelbarrow and discover the secret of the Britannic. Of course they cut to a commercial break and
after ELO singing "Hold on Tight to Your Dreams" for Honda, and a counter attack by the local Toyota dealership and several dramatic trailers for upcoming History Channel shows, we are back in the swirling mass of silt while the announcer tells us what is happening for those tuning in late. But at last we are going to find out the mystery of the Britannic.
Well, actually not. Someone from the Greek Department of Antiquities comes and tells them they are not permitted to film underwater. He does not speak English and the explorers don't have anyone who speaks Greek (bad move). End of show. You even see the director telling the cameraman to turn it off. Later they interview some of
the divers and scientists and they are looking for the silver lining and redefining the success of the mission. Yes, they never solved the mystery
of the Britannic but at least they know about the wheelbarrow.
So what is the moral of this story? It has to do with the Greek bureaucracy on display for all lovers of the History Channel to see. What was the point of stopping these guys from filming? There was none. There may be some vague law about needing permits to film underwater antiquities but unless the Britannic had miraculously sunk amidst the submerged ruins of ancient Atlantis, not allowing them to film was the decision of one Greek civil servant, saying no because
he had the power to say no. And that is the key to understanding why Greece is the way it is. Because the only power some people have is to deny something to someone who wants it. And they use this power and they abuse this power. If Simon Mills had taken the guy aside, walked over to the Lagoudera Restaurant, bought him a couple ouzos and offered him some money to allow them to finish what they had begun then who knows how the story would have ended? That's what a Greek would have done.
When the show ended I sat in my living room in Carrboro, North Carolina thinking. The show had put everything into perspective for me. When I saw the island of Kea and the beautiful Aegean Sea I was filled with homesickness so much that I had tears in my eyes. But the final scene with all these scientists and all their millions
of dollars worth of equipment standing helpless in the port being told by a Greek civil servant that it was not permitted to dive with cameras
brought back every humiliating trip to the tax office, to immigration, and every lazy, chain smoking, Greek bureaucrat who tells you no because it makes things easier for them (less paperwork) and because saying no is the only power they have.
In fairness I have to add at the end of the show the Greek Government told Simon Mills and his crew that they had an open invitation to dive the Britannic any time they wanted to for as long as they wanted to. In other words "We're sorry. You should have been allowed to finish your dive but somebody in antiquities screwed
up". But my advice to Simon Mills (who I actually met on Kea in 2003) is that when you do your next dive make sure that whoever gave you permission
is on the island with you and outranks anyone who might possibly stop you. Also a briefcase full of cash might be useful.
For the rest of us who have to deal with the Greek bureaucracy and don't have a briefcase full of cash there is always Dorian Kokas.
PS. To the History Channel narrator: Its Kay-ah. Not key-ah. And the boat is not the Ap-a-lon. It's the A-poll-on. Like Apollo, the God for whom the ship is named. And its not the Kea Straits. Its the Cavo d Oro.
For more on Kea see www.greektravel.com/greekislands/kea and you can also read my
article about the Britannic