Malta with its sister island Gozo is a popular diving destination in the Mediterranean, south of Sicily. It has the usual pluses and minuses of Med destinations, key pluses being lots of budget flights from mainland Europe, good facilities for diving and general tourism, and short distances between accommodation, dive shacks and other attractions. See Malta for general information; a frequent car ferry makes the short run to Gozo, which doesn't have an airport. The little intermediate island Comino has far fewer facilities but has local dive sites.
It's the Med. Best diving conditions are early summer through autumn, when a thick wetsuit should suffice, but use a drysuit if you're going deep. Winter the sea gets cold and rough, and dive operations may hibernate. Malta does not have major industry, rivers or agricultural run-off, so visibility is usually 20-40 m. Obviously you'll enjoy less near to shore if heavy wave action has churned up the seabed.
The underwater attractions of Malta and Gozo are the limestone scenery, with caverns and swim-throughs, and many wrecks. Marine life is somewhat sparse. The islands are famously windy, but as they're small with many coves you should be able to drive or boat to a sheltered spot. Tidal range is barely a metre, so currents are seldom strong, but you need to think about your exit before shore-diving off the rocks.
Many wrecks stem from the Siege of Malta 1940-42, when Italy then Germany sought to capture the island to support their campaigns in North Africa, and to gain the same strong hand in the west Med that the capture of Crete had given them in the east Med. It was an intense air bombardment of shipping and docks, plus mining and torpedo raids, but there were no big sea battles, and landings were never attempted. By autumn 1942 North Africa was lost to them and the war in Russia was a bloody stalemate, so the Axis had other war priorities and the siege was ended. The wreck legacy is therefore mostly Allied merchant and auxiliary shipping and a few larger warships. Many are at technical depths so around the turn of the 20th / 21st centuries several cleaned-up vessels were scuttled to create attractions for resort-level divers.
Towns and villages
Those described here are only those where divers are likely to base themselves; see Malta for a fuller list
- 1 Sliema is the main all-round resort and has the best access to the waters around Valletta Grand Harbour. Malta's wartime wrecks are mostly in this area, some in technical depths. Shipping traffic around Grand Harbour is a hazard.
- 2 Cirkewwa is near the north tip of Malta: you might also base in Mellieha or Bugibba. This has more scenic diving, with limestone bays, drop-offs, and fairly shallow wrecks. The ferry to Gozo runs from here.
- 3 Gozo is the most scenic. Most divers just day-trip over by road or dive-boat, but Marsalforn on the north coast is the main resort.
Around Sliema and Grand Harbour
- HMS St Angelo may only be dived when Grand Harbour is closed, as it's only 1.5 km out and right in the shipping lane. It's a small tug and minesweeper that itself hit a mine in 1942, to lie at 54 m.
- HM Drifter Eddy was a minesweeper that itself hit a mine in 1942, 1 km off Grand Harbour and very close to the busy shipping lane. It lies at 56 m.
- Le Polynesien was an ocean liner torpedoed in 1918, 3 km east of Marsascala. It's 152 m long, leaning to port, with a depth range of 45-65 m.
- Schnellboot S-31 may only be dived under permit. It was a fast torpedo boat that in 1942 was mine-laying around Grand Harbour when it hit a mine, possibly one of its own. It lies in 70 m; the wooden structure has rotted leaving only the aluminium frame.
- The Fireworks Barge lies in 10 m within St Julian's Bay. It was a platform for firework displays: guess what happened in 2009? As it's so shallow and there's little marine life or other interest, it's seldom dived.
- A Lockheed P2V Neptune aircraft was sunk in the 1950s near Bahar ic-Caghaq as an underwater movie set, then forgotten until 2015. It's little more than a fuselage shell, in 32 m amidst an eel-grass meadow.
- The Junkers Ju 88 bomber may only be dived under permit. It was only discovered in 2009 and the details of its downing are not known, but it was obviously part of the 1940/42 siege. It lies in 57 m, 3 km off Bahar ic-Caghaq, with the tail 50 m from the fuselage.
- The Fairey Swordfish biplane may only be dived under permit. Used as a torpedo bomber, in 1943 it had engine trouble and ditched 5 km off Sliema. It lies in 70 m and was only found in 2017. The metal frame and single-prop engine remain, the fabric of course is long gone.
- HMS Hellespont was a paddle steamer tug sunk by an air raid in 1942. After the war it was lifted and dumped in 35-40 m, 1.5 km from Grand Harbour.
- HMS Maori is a large wreck yet can be shore-dived by novices. It was a Tribal class destroyer, sunk in harbour by an air raid in 1942. The wreck was raised post-war, and the forward half scuttled in 14 m of water in Marsamxetto Harbour.
- A Bristol Beaufighter ditched shortly after takeoff in 1943. It lies in 37 m in the mouth of St Julians Bay near Dragonara Point, Sliema.
- Levant II was a cable-layer. In 1952 it was beyond repair and under tow towards a scuttling area, but sank prematurely 1.5 km off Grand Harbour, to lie in 59 m.
- HMS Nasturtium may only be dived under permit. In 1916 this minesweeper hit a mine and sank in 68 m, 15 km east of Grand Harbour.
- HMS Aegusa was a luxury yacht converted into a patrol boat. In 1916 it was caught in the same minefield as Nasturtium and lies in 70 m.
- Cirkewwa Arch (north west of the lighthouse) is what remains of a collapsed cavern. The top of the arch is at 12 m depth and the sand below is at 20 m.
- Anchor (or Popeye) Bay: a barge was used as a camera platform for the 1980 filming of Popeye, and they left its big anchor lying in 6 m; would Popeye or Bluto have approved? This is a good sheltered spot when the north coast is blown out, and even novices can explore scenic Scorpion Cave. Paradise Bay just north is an alternative.
- Scotscraig was that barge; it was previously the Dundee-Newport car ferry in Scotland. It's been scuttled 500 m north of Anchor Bay, to lie on a sandy bottom at 19 m, too far out for a shore dive. So it's seldom dived and the marine life is good.
- L'Ahrax Point is the very north tip of Malta. Quite a long trek to the water if you shore dive.
- MV Imperial Eagle was one of the Malta-Gozo ferries, scuttled in 1999 as a diver attraction. It lies 500 m off Qawra Point in 40 m depth.
- Rozi was a tugboat scuttled in 1992 off Cirkewwa for divers. It sits upright with the mast at 20 m and most of the wreck at 30-34 m.
- P29 was an East German Kondor Class Minesweeper, sold to Malta as a Patrol Boat. It was scuttled in 2007 some 170 m off Cirkewwa near Rozi. The base is at 34 m and the top at 12 m, with open interiors and suitable for mixed abilities.
- HMS Stubborn P238 was an S-Class submarine 66 m long, and scuttled in 1946 as a submarine sonar target. It's at 50-56 m, 2 km off Qawra Point.
- Blue Hole is a sinkhole in the limestone at Dwerja, on the west coast of Gozo. The entry point is reached via a walk over the rocks.
- The Azure Window nearby was a limestone arch, created thousands of years ago when two limestone caves collapsed. The arch itself collapsed in a storm in 2017, but you can still dive the "wreck", the great drowned rock segments.
- The Inland Sea also nearby is a seawater lagoon, connected to the Med through a 100 m natural tunnel. Mind your head, lots of tourist boats putter through the tunnel.
- MV Xlendi was the ferry that formerly plied between Malta and Gozo, scuttled in 1999 as an attraction for divers. It's upside down on a sandy slope, so the keel lies shallowest at 30 m, and the deepest is 40 m. It's unstable so you can't penetrate the wreck. Also nearby are the wrecks of MV Karwela and MV Cominoland.
- Um el Faroud was a single screw Libyan tanker. Whilst docked in Malta in 1995 there was a gas explosion aboard which killed nine workers and deformed the structure. In 1998 the wreck was scuttled as an artificial reef southwest of Wied iz Surrieq, on the south coast, to lie in 36 m. Originally 115 m long, it broke in half in winter storms in 2005 / 06 and the two sections are hinged back on each other.
- X-127 (Carolita) was a fuel lighter bombed and sunk in 1942 off Manoel Island near Marsamxett Harbour. It lies upright on a slope with the bows at 5 m and stern at 22 m, so it's suitable as a novice wreck, and easily shore-dived.
- Għar Lapsi at Siġġiewi is a rocky inlet with many reef, wall and cave sites. Għar Lapsi means "Ascension Cave", a 40 m long tunnel with max depth 8 m and lots of light shafts. Don't attempt it if the waves are up, there's a nasty surge. Other nearby spots are Finger Reef, Middle Reef and Black John; The Crib is a metal life-sized nativity scene at 22 m beneath an overhang. These sites are often shore dived, but beware currents, and the hump down and back up the cliff is tedious.
- Zonqor Point is the peninsula north side of the entrance to Marsascala Bay. There are reefs both sides of the peninsula down to 20 m. Zonqor Point South is usually combined with a visit to two scuttled tugs, St Michael and Tug 10. Zonqor Point North is entered 300 m away, to descend over large boulders and gullies.
- HMS Southwold may only be dived under permit. This Hunt Class destroyer hit a mine in 1942, to lie in two sections 4 km off Marsascala Bay. The larger, from the bow to the engine room, is in 70 m on its starboard side. 300 m away, the stern section is upright in 72 m.
- HMS Russell may only be dived under permit. This Duncan class battleship hit a mine, to lie upside down at 115 m with the stern section missing. The site, 6 km east of Fort St Elmo, is littered with guns and gun cases.
- SS Luciston may only be dived under permit. It was bringing Welsh coal to Malta when torpedoed in 1916, 7 km off Delimara Point, to lie in 100 m.
- A Bristol Blenheim bomber was shot up in 1941 and ditched just off Xrobb l-Ghagin on the east coast of Malta. It sits upright in 42 m; this area has strong currents.
- A Mosquito Fighter Bomber DH98 was in 1949 making a peacetime mail run, but had engine trouble and crashed near the Bristol Blenheim site. It lies upside down in 42 m. The wooden superstructure is gone leaving the metal frame, engines and cabling; the tail is buried.
- A Liberator Bomber B24 of the USAAF was shot up over Italy in 1943 and crashed 5 km southeast of Benghisa Point. It turned over, and the scattered wreck lies in 57 m.
First of all remember A-B-C: airway, breathing, circulation. A high proportion of people on a dive boat will be first-aid trained and eager to help, so the casualty risks being trampled under a stampede. The dive marshal or boat skipper needs to coordinate this ruckus into an organised response.
Always channel any appeal for emergency assistance through your diver operator (or ashore, your accommodation). They'll know which services are worth calling and which are useless. They can also call assistance from nearby boats, eg for patient transport, or for loan of an oxygen cylinder as their own becomes depleted.
Similarly, always make an early call to your medical insurance emergency number. They're plugged into the global DAN network and can make a sensible initial remote assessment: "treat the patient not the bend". They've seen too many examples of casualties been driven past a competent local hospital to reach some distant, flaky "recompression chamber" that fails to recognise an obvious diabetic coma. For that reason they don't publish locations of chambers, whose status often changes. If other approaches fail, call the worldwide DAN emergency centre on +1-919-684-9111.
Training, dive operators and technical back-up: see individual resort pages.
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