THE WRECK OF THE S.S. MALAKOFF

PART 2 - THE SHIPWRECK TODAY


General view of the remains of the hull
Although the Malakoff does not look much like a ship anymore, the wreck sits upright on a sandy bottom of between 38 and 40 metres depth from bow to stern. With the exception of the crumpled bow, the central section where the boilers used to be and the completely destroyed stern section, much of the lower hull and cargo holds remain in place, from which hundreds of large twisted metal ribs rise up into the water column, attracting myriad shoals of fish.
The reason for her condition today, is that on the 2nd of July 1954 a salvaging operation began that was to last over 4 years, until it was abandoned on the 10th of October 1958, apparently because of a fatal accident to one of the divers.
Ex Cabo Dartuch lighthouse keeper, Gabriel Pons; the son of the lighthouse keeper who helped save six of the crew in 1929, explained that divers working on this operation had described the scene as an 'Aladdin's Chest'. There was no end of valuable goods on board, together with much of the crew's personal belongings.
After having recovered almost every accessible item, explosives were then used to break up the superstructure, in order to ease the recovery of the iron and steel components, including the removal of the engine and boilers.

Upon reaching the wreck and beginning to swim slowly over the remains of the cargo holds from bow to stern, one immediately realizes how much marine life there is here. Along the entire length of the wreck, Blue damselfish Chromis chromis, form huge shoals over the cargo holds, around and above the hundreds of metal spars and even out into the surrounding open water.
Often mixing with the Damselfish, the beautiful orange, pink and purple coloured Swallowtail sea perch Anthias anthias, equally form dense colonies, their numbers here far greater than of any other wreck site around Menorca.

In the water column above, Saddled seabream, Oblada melanura are also usually present in varying numbers, as are tiny anchovy, which at times may form huge shoals, great swirling clouds of silver circling high above, diving for cover into the wreck at the slightest sign of danger.

A Marbled electric ray (Torpedo marmorata) rests
beneath the remains of the bow at a depth of 38 metres.
Taking a closer look at the wreck itself, it is quite obvious why the ship has become such an aquarium. The remains of her cargo of bags of cement which had filled most of the cargo holds, had solidified into round blocks, forming a perfect artificial reef, this naturally providing endless hiding places for all types of marine species. The smaller Golden grouper Epinephelus alexandrinus will often hover over the wreck only to quickly dart under one of these blocks as divers approach. Although the larger species of grouper, the Dusky grouper, Epinephelus marginatus will often be found lurking at the base of the hull, the smaller juveniles often will play the same game of hide and seek over the cargo holds.
Of particular interest, is the overwhelming number of Moray eels Muraena Helena and Red scorpionfish Scorpaena scrofa which are to be found here. At times there may be dozen of Morays across the wreck, poking their heads up out of the reef, some even substantially larger specimens may be seen free swimming or just resting in the open on top of the hull plates. The Red scorpionfish, which are also particularly abundant, may also be of considerable size, some reaching over 50 centimetres in length. Also to be seen are many of the smaller 'Small red scorpionfish' Scorpaena notata.

Mediterranean Barracuda accompany a
diver near the bow of the wreck.
Certain species which are never usually seen around Menorca are often to be found on or around this wreck, such as the Marbled electric ray Torpedo marmorata, which may often be discovered resting within the debris at the base of the remains of the bow. The Sunfish, Mola mola, are also seen from time to time as are the Grey or Oceanic triggerfish Balistes carolinensis. With their characteristic bold curiosity they will circle divers very closely and should be treated with caution since they can at times become aggressive and bite.
Later, after mid August, the amount of marine life around the wreck reaches its peak as pelagic predators such as Mediterranean barracuda Sphyraena sphyraena and Greater or Yellowtail amberjack Seriola dumerili, become regular visitors. Barracuda often take up residence on the wreck and may stay for many weeks, often forming dense shoals numbering many hundreds. In contrast, Amberjacks are very strong swimmers and tend to be constantly on the move. They will often suddenly appear 'out of the blue', swiftly swooping in on the wreck and attacking the unsuspecting shoals of Anchovies, Damselfish and Swallowtail sea perch, before disappearing again, the best time to see these being September to November.
Continuing with the exploration of the wreck itself, and reaching the central section, this part is almost completely missing, this being where the boilers and engine were located. Forward of this section a considerable amount of coal remains from where the coal bunkers would have been. At this point there is also a lot of broken glass, possibly from the destruction of the wheelhouse. Within this area are also many remains of broken pipes, a good place to find Moray eel and the occasional European conger Conger conger, who at times may even share the same hideout with the Morays.
Further aft are two more cargo holds, the first just behind the engine room containing again blocks of cement together with iron bars and rolls of wire, this followed by the remains of a bulkhead (bulkhead nº 5) which separated the aft holds 3 and 4. This bulkhead is quite prominent and being broken up in places, offers a number of large hideouts, where it is quite usual to find some larger specimens of Grouper.
Along towards the stern, the last of the cargo holds is quite well demolished, with the stern section of the ship totally gone. Within this last hold there is a treasure chest of ceramic tiles of various sizes, which were being transported to the French colonies; it would be assumed for use as floor tiles and smaller ones for the walls of luxury homes of those days. In the early days of diving this wreck there were still china dinner plates, cups and saucers to be found although it is not known whether this was part of the cargo or was the ships own kitchen equipment. The many sewing machines brought from Belgium have also long since disappeared.

Scale drawing of the Wreck of the Malakoff as she is today. Clic on drawing to enlarge.
Again the stern section has always been a good place to find Grouper, where at times there have been quite a number of large specimens swimming around above the wreck, only to quickly swim into the remains of the cargo as divers approach. Further out, over the sand, large shoals of Doublebar sea bream and the occasional Stingray may also be seen.

This is only to mention some of the marine life to be found at this wreck site, since many, many other species are either resident, or occasional visitors here, not to mention the countless species of Algae, Sea mosses (Bryozoans), sponges, ahermatypic corals and crustacians, that have over almost 80 years now, colonized this concrete and metal structure. For the very reason that the ship was partially salvaged and torn up, the wreck of the Malakoff is a truly spectacular dive site. At 105 metres in length, today she forms an artificial reef with an exceptional abundance of marine life. She is undoubtedly by far the most interesting dive site anywhere around Menorca and possibly one of the best in the western Mediterranean. At times, it may be so 'busy' that it almost resembles a tropical reef.
Some divers have even reported seeing sharks around this wreck site, without any positive identification though. This is quite possible as the depth, offshore position and abundance of fish may very well attract them.
Many people are convinced that there are no sharks in the Mediterranean, this is not so; there are (or were) over 40 species in this sea, some of these having had their 'type locality' named from the Mediterranean, that is to say this being from where the species had first been identified. Now, sadly, due to over fishing, their numbers together with other species such as Dolphin, Loggerhead turtle and Tuna, are in great decline, some shark species are now close to local extinction.
Therefore, the chances of seeing any of these species here are highly unlikely, however do keep a good lookout into the big blue around the wreck and one day you may be lucky to see something really unusual.


GENERAL DIVING INFORMATION

WRECK POSITION
Situated off the south west coast, in between Cala Tale and Cala Turqueta, the wreck lays some 820 metres offshore in an approximate north-south alignment and on a slightly sloping sandy bottom of between 38 metres at the bow and 40 metres at the stern.
The absolute minimum depth on the wreck is 29 metres over the metal spars rising up from close to the bow section, although it should be considered that the true minimum depth be of 32 metres on the wreck itself, this being on the remains of the cargo of bags of cement within the forward hold.

THERMOCLINES & WATER TEMPERATURES
As with the other deep water wrecks of Menorca, mid summer thermoclines may become quite pronounced at depths below 25 metres (82 feet), resulting in a cold, nutrient rich, 'green' water surrounding the wreck for 8 to 12 weeks at a time. Although the duration of this phenomenon varies from year to year and is impossible to predict accurately, one may consider this to occur between mid June and late August. Having said this, this does not mean that the diving is unpleasant, as although the visibility is not good sometimes dropping to as little as 20 metres and the water relatively cold, the abundance of nutrients


The beautiful Swallowtail sea perch Anthias anthias are particularly abundant on this wreck.

General view of the remains of the foreward cargo Hold.


Red scorpionfish Scorpaena scrofa are very abundant on this wreck, growing to over 50 cms in size.

and plankton also means that many species of fish are also extremely abundant. Between late August and mid September the thermoclines tend to weaken and eventually disappear, resulting in the entire water column becoming very clear and of an almost constant temperature.

Blue damselfish Chromis chromis form huge shoals around the wreck.

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Greater amberjacks Seriola dumerili, suddenly arrive upon the wreck to feed voraciously on the thousands of Blue damselfish Chromis chromis.


The propshaft tunnel


Mediterranean barracuda Sphyraena sphyraena,
often take up residence on the wreck and may stay
for many weeks, often forming dense shoals
numbering many hundreds.

WINDS & CURRENTS

Although there may be many days when the waters are totally calm from the surface to the bottom, currents are rather more complex and unpredictable compared to the thermoclines mentioned above and may be found at this site at any time of the year.
Since there are no tidal flows, both currents at the surface and counter currents at the bottom are driven by the winds and/or by atmospheric pressure gradients over the western Mediterranean. These currents may at times flow like a river, making diving very difficult. Surface currents always flow from either east or west and never from north or south. Regardless of the direction of the surface currents, at the bottom they are usually from the east, although very rarely, there may be a slight flow from the west.
There may be days when a weak to moderate surface current is present whether the wind is blowing or not, these may either rapidly diminish to almost nothing with depth, or continue all the way to the bottom with diminishing strength.
At other times, completely calm conditions in the mid to upper water column, or conditions of surface currents that diminish with depth, may give way to very strong easterly currents only at the very bottom, these cold, green, nutrient rich waters may be the result of deep offshore currents upwelling over the insular shelf, as a result of large atmospheric pressure gradients and are quite distinct to the mid summer thermoclines, although both may occur together.

AND FINALLY………….

Taking the above into consideration, the wreck is suitable for divers with a more advanced level of experience, but who should however always be accompanied by an experienced dive guide, who has a good knowledge of the wreck site and local conditions and the proper equipment to conduct such a dive.
The Malakoff is a large wreck with very much of interest to discover on her and around her, whether it may be the marine life or the remains of the ship itself. Whether one wishes to explore her cargo holds or the base of her hull, remains of her bow or even the sandy bottom surrounding the wreck, it is impossible to see all this in one dive. Plan at least 3 or 4 dives at this site and explore her slowly and meticulously and go home with a good memory.

RETURN TO PART 1 ........THE HISTORY and SINKING OF THE MALAKOFF

 

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