You can find several famous wreck dives scattered around the Maltese islands. But, most recreational divers regard the 10,000 ton Libyan oil tanker as being one of the best Malta wrecks.
This guide contains interesting facts and information about the Um El Faroud dive site near Wied iz-Zurrieq, as well as photos, a map, and a list of marine life found at this deep artificial reef.
In fact, deliberately sinking an oil tanker (scuttling ships) is rare, But that's exactly what happened!
The official title is MV Um El Faroud, yet this ill-fated sunken vessel is also known as:
In a nutshell, it was undergoing maintenance work before a dockyard accident occurred back in 1995. The supertanker suffered severe damage, as a result of a gas explosion, while it was in dry dock at the Port of Valletta.
The tragedy also took the lives of nine dockyard workers who were inside the accommodation area. On February 3rd 1995, a massive explosion ripped through the ship as it sat upright inside Dock number 3.
The Um El Faroud oil tanker was built in 1969 in Middlesbrough, England. In 1995, the General National Maritime Transport Company (GNMTC) of Libya were the new owners. They sent the vessel to Malta to undergo extensive repair works.
For many years, the tanker had been transporting refined fuel between Italy and Libya. As a result, the scheduled repairs included the blasting of its cargo tanks and having the pipework re-done.
Seven workers died instantly and two more died later at Saint Luke's Hospital, in Pietà.
They held an inquiry to determine the cause of the explosion. Local news reports stated that one of the workers was cutting through a valve at the manifold above the tank.
Welding sparks entered an open manhole, which ignited flammable vapour inside the tank. It had not been 'gas freed'.
The on board explosion shook nearby houses. People also heard house windows breaking as the blast ripped open the ship - like it was a sardine can.
The victims' families received compensation from the government on behalf of the Malta Drydocks in an out-of-court settlement.
Following the conclusion of the inquiry in 1998, the Um El Faroud was declared a total write-off and scuttled off the coast of Wied iz-Zurrieq. Since then, recreational divers have used the sunken shipwreck as an artificial reef. It has now become one of the famous wreck dives in Malta.
Interesting Fact: Divers fixed a brass plaque and a diving helmet statue near the ship. These landmarks serve as memorials to the nine workers who lost their lives in the Um El Faroud dockyard tragedy.
The majority of the dive sites around Malta are only accessible by boat. But, the Um El Faroud wreck offers divers easy access from the shore. Swim for a few minutes around 150 metres southwest of the entry and exit point and you will see the sunken vessel.
Divers will find the wreckage sitting parallel to the West Reef and Caves dive site nearby. The stern sits upright on the sandy bottom close to the Valley dive site at Wied iz-Zurrieq. The starboard side faces the reef situated in this natural deep harbour.
The winter of 2005 delivered a bad storm to many diving destinations in the central Mediterranean. As a result, the ship has broken up into two separate structures with large open spaces created between them.
Pro Tip: The port authorities in Malta prepared the stricken oil tanker for scuba diving before they scuttled it into the sea. They removed the doors and windows and they also cut large entry and exit holes (e.g. making it safer to conduct wreck penetration courses).
In fact, Malta deep wrecks don't come much deeper - and bigger - than this one. Thus, these rusty ruins represent an opportunity not to be missed by anyone interested in famous wreck diving adventures around the world.
Furthermore, the location for the scuttling of this artificial reef means there is an abundance of fish life, including:
Pro Tip: Our Sea Life creatures and animals guide contains a comprehensive list of vertebrates and invertebrates, including fun and interesting facts, pictures, and videos.
Despite being regarded as an easy shore dive, the Um Ei-Faroud wreck tour is not offered as scuba diving without certification (e.g. for beginners). Nonetheless, it is an ideal spot for conducting specialty diving beyond entry-level scuba courses, such as:
Note: The short video [5:59 seconds] presented by Malta Airport Foundation explains how the submerged Um El Faroud became one of Malta's first artificial reefs that is now teeming with rich marine life.