The Maori. A name that should bring images of strong New Zealand warriors, a fearsome tribe that the world still recognises today. This historical tribe is the namesake of the World War Two shipwreck that now lies just outside of Fort St Elmo, Valetta. The Maori was a Tribal-Class Destroyer that served under the Mediterranean Fleet (one of sixteen) in World War two, all of the Tribal Class Destroyers were named after indigenous tribes. Built by a Scottish company, Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company LTD on the 6th of June 1936, it was only launched on the 2nd September 1937, the next year and only commissioned in January 1939. At the start of the war it was used for convoy escort duties, alongside other destroyer vessels up until October that year, however after that it defended the North Sea until April 1940, before going to Iceland to patrol for German warships. For those who know their Wartime history well, you may be interested in knowing that The Mori successfully served in the battle of Cape Bon in December 1941. Her career came to an end however, in 1942 whilst harboured in Valetta’s Grand Harbour, and she was shot down by a German plane, thankfully only one crew member lost their lives, however this technically makes the original Maori shipwreck a grave.
In July 1945 she was raised and moved to where she lies now, just off the coast of Fort St Elmo, however in the move only her bow survived, meaning that of the 115m vessel, only 45m of it is now available to dive. Thankfully of the part that survived, it is still possible to see the two front gun bases (although the guns themselves were actually removed and put in Fort St Elmo soon after she sank), though they may not be in the best condition. Due to the location of the Fort St Elmo shore, The Maori has been subjected to years and years of harsh weather, and as such is in quite a state of disrepair, which makes it all the more exciting that the two front gun bases and still distinguishable. As an example of just how bad the storms can get, there is actually a car wreck just to the side of The Maori, which was dragged in (around October 2016) from one of the roads, well above sea level, that surrounds the outer fortress. An interesting addition to an already fascinating wreck.
So, some information about the dive itself. The Maori is one of only two shipwrecks available in Malta for all levels of diver (the other being the X-127 in Manoel harbour). With a maximum depth of 16m on her port side, and 13m on the starboard, even open water divers can get a taste for the rich history surrounding the little island of Malta. Due to the location, visibility isn’t always the best at this site, however one can follow the wreck its whole length with no fear of getting lost. There are several entry points, all along the edge of the harbour, so depending on weather and waves it can be accessed safety from different points, with about a 200m swim from shore over large rocks.
These rocks are home to many rockfish, eels, nudibranch and of course crustaceans, but the real excitement starts once you reach the sand that surrounds the wreck. In season one can find rays, but otherwise you can frequently find flatfish, cuttlefish, burrowing starfish, red mullet and even weaver fish using their disguises against the sandy bottom. If you’ve very lucky you may even find a seahorse, and it is also possible to find the odd octopus, well camouflaged and hidden, where the rocks meet the sand. On the wreck itself, Macro photographers rejoice! A large range of different types of Nudibranch have made their homes, and are (almost) always found, especially on the BLAH BLAH. It is also possible to see many hermit crabs, tube worms and cardinal fish, thanks to the wreck acting as an artificial reef.
To the portside of the Maori it is still possible to see ammunition, with the inscription of 1941, a true piece of history, however as you work your way from the bow of The Maori towards the rear, the condition deteriorates steadily, until at the end it is just the bare bones of the wreckage. Around the wreck in the sand are the remnants of several bikes, several large tyres and the odd oil barrel, which all offer refuge for marine life.
Sadly, due to the amount of time The Maori has lain dormant being battered by storms, the structural integrity of the wreck is questionable, meaning it’s not the best to penetrate. There are also many sharp edges and wires within, so its better for divers to stick to the outside of the wreck, where they can enjoy the to swim through arches either side of the BLAH BLAH. Overall a stunning wreck to dive, and a fascinating piece of history to explore and observe.