By Tom Gillespie @TomGillespie1

MORE than 74 years after it was sunk by German bombers, the shipwreck of a British merchant navy vessel is one the most famous diving spots in the world

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Divers swim near part of the SS Thistlegorm - a British Merchant Navy ship that was carrying a huge load of cargo to Egypt

With its well-preserved remains and abundance of coral-crusted cargo, the SS Thistlegorm is a majestic spectacle for divers seeking a window to the past.

The 419ft vessel was carrying motorbikes, machine guns, trucks, armoured vehicles, and even two steam locomotives - when it was hit by the Luftwaffe on October 6, 1941.

Fish swim past one of the many motorbikes that have sat at the bottom of the Red Sea for more than seven decades

It's remains are now popular with seasoned divers and tourists alike - which has partially threatened the preservation of the historic wreck.

Diving boats have moored directly onto the Thistlegorm, which has put its rusting remains under immense strain.

A diver swims above cars in the SS Thistlegorm, which was also carrying armoured vehicles and two locomotives to Egypt

But last month the sunken ship was offered a lifeline when Hepca, an NGO which protects the Red Sea, announced the wreck will be closed for 15 days at the beginning of January.

This will allow for 18 mooring blocks to be dropped around the SS Thistlegorm, so that diving boats no longer need to tie themselves to the wreck itself.

Rubber tyres look only slightly crusted, despite have spent more than half a century below the surface

Just a couple of weeks ahead of the closure, wildlife and underwater photographer Franco Banfi has captured stunning images of the vessel's remains.

The ghost of the Thistlegorm is now bristling with life, and can be seen covered in coral and with fish swimming around its walls.

Swiss photographer Franco said: "It's funny, when I was diving on the wreck around all the different cargo holds, I was imagining the boat sailing and hearing the motor.

Fishes swim around a coral-crusted motorbike as the divers explore the dark of the vessel

"It was very interesting to swim near and into the wreck because there is a lot to see, many other wrecks don't have so many things."

His images show well-preserved rubber tyres and stacks of motorbikes, as well as the remains of cars that were on their way to Egypt.

Divers swim up to the Thistlegorm to observe its multi-coloured coral

The size of the enormous vessel is clear when we see a group of divers swimming up to observe the multi-coloured coral.

The SS Thistlegorm set sail from Glasgow to Egypt on June 2, 1941, and was delivering a huge supply of cargo to the Allied forces there.

German forces had suspected that a large troop carrier was bringing additional soldiers to the area, and had despatched two Luftwaffe planes to blow it out the water.

Although their search failed, they spotted the moored Thistlegorm and sunk it with two bombs.
The attack killed four sailors and five members of the Royal Navy gun crew who were on board.