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!
Name: Um El Faroud
Location: Żurrieq, Malta
Type of Dive: Wreck, deep
Level: Advanced Open Water
Average Depth: 27 m
Max Depth: 40 m
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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