Scuba Diving the Um El Faroud Wreck in Malta

When my grad school roomie James turned 30, he invited a group of us from my master’s program to go diving in Malta with him. While the whole trip was a blast, the absolute highlight was scuba Diving the Um El Faroud wreck.

I had dived at a few wrecks before, but this was a whole other level. At 115 meters long, the thing is a vast underwater playground for the intrepid aquanaut. If you’re a certified wreck diver, you can go inside the ship but honestly, it isn’t necessary. There’s so much fun to be had just swimming around it and through the unenclosed swim-throughs that require no official wreck training. If you’re diving in Malta, do not miss the Um El Faroud!

woman does scuba giant stride off stairs in malta

Essential Dive Site Info

Name: Um El Faroud

Location: Żurrieq, Malta 

Type of Dive: Wreck, deep

Level: Advanced Open Water

Average Depth: 27 m

Max Depth: 40 m

memorial plaque on the um el faroud wreck
The plaque commemorating the lives lost when the Um El Faroud had its explosion

About the Um El Faroud Wreck

In its prime, the Um El Faroud was a Lybian-owned oil tanker. In 1995, a gas explosion claimed the lives of 9 workers, and the decision was made to scuttle the ship for use as a man-made reef and scuba diving attraction. It serves its new purpose well. As one of the largest and most visited wrecks in a country known for its wreck diving, it’s a main character of the show. 

um el faroud wreck malta scuba divers
It’s a big boat

The wreck lies off the southern coast of the main island of Malta so if you’re staying in Valletta or St. Julian’s like we were, it’ll be about a 20-minute drive. Our dive shop, DiveWise Malta, had vans that brought us all down as a group which was great. When you reach the tiny town of Żurrieq in the south, you’ll have sweeping views of the Mediterranean from atop the rocky cliffs.

You’ll park somewhere along the road and then walk downhill to the water which seems like a short way until you have a cylinder on your back. After a big giant stride and a short swim through the blue, you’ll reach the Um El Faroud wreck.

woman scuba diver in blue over seagrass and sand

The ship’s size is the first thing that strikes you. At 115m in length and over 20m high at its highest point, you’ll have more than enough to explore in the time you’re down there. A couple of things you can’t miss are the memorial plaque on the outside of the ship and the tunnel-like swim-through along the length of the wreck.

Conditions were good on the day we went with perhaps 20 meters of visibility and no surge of currents to speak of. When we dove there in October, the water was around 75 degrees Fahrenheit and I was toasty in a 5mm wetsuit.

My Experience Diving the Um El Faroud Wreck in Malta

From the moment I started to descend, I felt like I was in a flipped reality where the cliffs above had been reflected in a mirror to stretch into the depths below. The bottom was covered with seagrass swaying gently in the current and small. Independent fish darted around crevices in the rocks and reeds.

scuba diver with diving bell statue underwater smiley face seagrass
Cute statue on the way to the Um El Faroud

Swimming to the wreck was a bit trippy. As we finned our way along, the depth decreased while we stayed at a shallower depth to conserve air. The result was a feeling of flying over the barely visible seabed some 20 meters below and a bit of disorientation from having essentially no point of reference in the big blue.

Before long, though, the Um El Faroud wreck was looming out of the underwater fog. Although the visibility was good, I wasn’t able to see the entire ship from any given view which made it all the more mysterious. We approached the bow which was pointed straight at us and observed tons of smaller schooling fish around the Um El Faroud wreck. Jacks and barracudas are known to collect nearby if you’re lucky, but I didn’t see any that day. To be honest, I was a bit preoccupied with the wreck itself.

swimming through a shipwreck tunnel with schooling fish

The coolest part of the entire dive for me was swimming through the covered walkway on the starboard side. I don’t have a wreck certification, but this walkway would have been completely open to the air when it was still above water, so I felt very safe swimming through it. It was a large walkway that could have easily allowed a 6 ft human to walk vertically, but we swam through horizontally taking care not to kick up dust.

Tips for Diving the Um El Faroud Yourself

woman scuba diving with smile in malta
Photo by the amazing James Harris @a_british_scuba_diver

Use Nitrox

We were lucky to dive at a center that gave us nitrox for every dive (and we also did our nitrox certification there!) Especially for this wreck where my average depth was 27 meters, I was so happy to have nitrox to help extend our dive time around the Um El Faroud wreck.

um el faroud wreck with scuba divers

Only Swim Where You’re Comfortable

A couple of people in our group seemed somewhat less comfortable around the wreck and opted not to swim through any of the tunnels or arches. Don’t do anything you don’t feel safe doing, not because others are doing it or for the ‘gram or any other reason. If you are taking on the swim-throughs, make sure your trim is nice and tight so you don’t have any dangling gear getting caught on anything.

And of course, don’t penetrate the wreck if you haven’t been trained and feel confident doing so!

scuba diver at um el faroud wreck malta with small schooling fish

Don’t Forget Your Camera

The Um El Faroud is one photogenic lady. The metal of the ship is now almost completely covered in underwater growth giving it an eerie appeal and lots of great corners to photograph. Even with my GoPro, I was able to capture some great photos and videos.

Another great snap by James Harris @a_british_scuba_diver

I used to think I wasn’t really a big wreck person, but the Um El Faroud and Malta itself proved me wrong. This dive was some of the most fun I’ve had underwater to date and I can’t wait to explore more wrecks around the world.

June 2, 2023

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