WRECK OF THE S.S. MALAKOFF
2 - THE SHIPWRECK TODAY
view of the remains of the hull
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.
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.
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
electric ray (Torpedo marmorata) rests
beneath the remains of the bow at a depth of 38 metres.
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.
Barracuda accompany a
diver near the bow of the wreck.
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.
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.
of the Wreck of the Malakoff as she is today. Clic on drawing
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
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
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
GENERAL DIVING INFORMATION
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.
& WATER TEMPERATURES
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
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.
Chromis chromis form huge shoals around the wreck.
Seriola dumerili, suddenly arrive upon the wreck to feed voraciously
on the thousands of Blue damselfish Chromis chromis.
barracuda Sphyraena sphyraena,
often take up residence on the wreck and may stay
for many weeks, often forming dense shoals
numbering many hundreds.
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
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.
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
TO PART 1 ........THE
HISTORY and SINKING OF THE MALAKOFF