The broken edge of the wreck where it split in two

Dive sites (Malta): Um El Faroud (part 1)

Our Malta diving holiday is a bit of a distant memory, and we’re closer to the next holiday than to the last one… But I can’t neglect to finish my series of posts about the dive sites we visited there. We dived several beautiful wrecks: the Rozi, the P29, the Imperial Eagle, and the subject of this post: the majestic Um El Faroud.

The anchor winch drum
The anchor winch drum

The Um El Faroud was a single screw motor tanker, built in 1969 in England and was owned by a Libyan transport company. She generally operated between Italy and Libya carrying refined fuel. In early February 1995 she was docked in one of the dry docks in Valletta, when an explosion occurred that damaged the vessel and killed nine dockworkers. The damage to the ship was sufficient to render it a write-off. It was decided – after she had languished in the docks for three years reminding all and sundry of her tragic past – to scuttle the Um El Faroud to make an artificial reef. She was duly sunk in September 1998, on the sandy bottom to the south west of Wied iz Surrieq, a small village on the south coast of Malta. This was an absolute stroke of genius, and she is now one of the most famous wreck dives in the Mediterranean.

Explosion damage, where the wreck snapped in two
Explosion damage, where the wreck snapped in two

After a bad storm in winter 2005-6 the ship broke in two pieces, around the location of the original explosion damage. The two pieces of the ship are slightly offset from each other.

The Um El Faroud measures about 110 metres in length, with a beam of 15.5 metres. From funnel to keel she is about 25 metres high. The wreck is too large to explore in a single dive, so we did two dives on her in succession (on Nitrox). After that we still don’t feel that we’ve got a grasp of the wreck, but until we move to Malta and dive her weekly, it’ll have to do!

The broken edge of the wreck where it split in two
The broken edge of the wreck where it split in two

The wreck is located close to a tourist attraction called the Blue Grotto, and the entry point for the dive is in a narrow channel used by pleasure boats transporting tourists to the Grotto. She is accessible via an easy shore entry: giant stride in, ladder out. It’s a swim of about 200 metres from the inlet to the Um El Faroud. Tony and I were absolutely gobsmacked that a vessel of this size could be so easily accessible without having to charter a dive boat.

At times strong longshore currents sweep over the wreck, and it’s important to be aware of these so as not to overexert or get swept off the wreck. The second time we dived the Um El Faroud such a current had come up, and under Sergey’s guidance we simply took the most direct route to the drop off against the coast, and swam back that way to avoid having to labour into the current on the return leg of the dive. There is very useful information on this site in Peter Lemon’s book on diving in Malta.

A fireworm on a railing
A fireworm on a railing
Sergey perches on top of the funnel
Sergey perches on top of the funnel

This isn’t really a wreck you dive for the marine life, but more for the incredible privilege of exploring such a large structure in three dimensions. It’s possible to penetrate the wreck (with appropriate training), and even dropping into one of the open, exposed holds gave us a taste of how cold the water inside this great big refrigerator can get! In the next post I’ll provide some more wide angle photos of this wreck.

Dive date: 5 August 2011

Air temperature: 31 degrees

Water temperature: 22 degrees

Maximum depth: 30.2 metres

Visibility: 20 metres

Dive duration: 51 minutes

Winch drum on an upper level of the deck
Winch drum on an upper level of the deck
Ladder next to the superstructure
Ladder next to the superstructure

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Clare

Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

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