Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Valletta's HMS Maori

30 May 2010
The HMS Maori will always be one of my favourite dives. I remember it was the venue for the third skill set dive in my Open Water Course. The dive site is not far from the Watercolours Dive Centre, which is located within the Excelsior Hotel in Valletta and is located just underneath the Gun Post Bar – quite obviously the converted remains of a WWII turret. It was my first dive this season.
The Maori is an easy dive and it is accessible for most of the year, due to its sheltered position in Marsamxett Harbour. Considering it’s a harbour area, the visibility is fairly good and the wreck is always teeming with wildlife. Some the examples include star fish, fire worms, nudibranches and various species of fish. There was a large grouper there for some time and although he was a permanent fixture last year, he has not been seen much this season.
The Maori lies on a bed of white sand at a depth of 14 metres – nice and easy. The wreck site consists of the bow section of the ship. History tells us that the Maori was bombed in 1942 in the Grand Harbour with the loss of one crewman. She was then towed out beyond the breakwater where she was repeatedly hit by Italian bombers. There was not much that could be saved and as a result, she was towed to her present position where she eventually sank. Most of the aft section of the ship was lost during the towing operation.
Being at 14 metres, the Maori is never a blue water dive. Oh but she has plenty of character. You can still see some of the large gun fixtures and you can penetrate parts of the wreck quite easily. Unfortunately, last winter some of the bridge superstructure gave way and collapsed. But there is still plenty to see. I will never forget her as she was my first wreck. I was barely able to keep neutral buoyancy, yet we went through a tiny section of the wreck which was, at the time, the most exhilarating experience I have ever had.
I have dived the Maori four times now and I never get tired of doing it. It is a nice leisurely swim to the wreck and there is so much wildlife to enjoy on the way. Skate and sole are in abundance and if you are really lucky, you might even get to see some seahorses. Sole are especially fun to ‘play’ with as they skip across the surface of the sand, kicking up silt – guessing where it might have buried itself after its ‘escape’ is a game in itself.
Fish egg sacks are to be found all over the place and there are plenty of crabs and fish around, especially on the Maori herself.
While the Maori is an easy dive in terms of access and depth, you should always be careful of the jagged bits of metal. She lies in fairly shallow water, and is in quite a state of decomposition. Some people say she is not safe, but like all wrecks – treat her with respect and you will be just fine. The swim back to shore is also very leisurely and the sloping sands turn to rocks once you begin to approach the shore.

A few words of advice:
  • Although the situation has improved since last year, the kitting up area is notorious for thieves who break into vehicles while divers are underwater. Take nothing of value with you and always lock your vehicle.
  • Marsamxett Harbour is home to a fair amount of scorpion fish. Their camouflage works well against the rusting hulk of the Maori. Always watch where you are putting your hands and be careful of jagged metal.
  • The Maori lies half buried in sand. Be very careful if you plan to penetrate the wreck. Portholes allow some light into the hulk, but always make sure that you know where you are going.

Technical details

HMS Maori (L-24/F-24/G-24) was a Tribal-class destroyer laid down by the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, Limited, at Govan in Scotlandon 6 June 1936, launched on 2 September 1937 by Mrs. W. J. Jordan and commissioned on 2 January 1939.
Maori served with the Mediterranean Fleet, was involved in the pursuit and destruction of the enemy German battleship Bismarck in May 1941, and served with the 14th Destroyer Flotilla during the Battle of Cape Bon in December 1941. Maori, commanded by Commander R. E. Courage, RN, was attacked by enemy German aircraft and sank at her moorings in the Malta Grand Harbour on 12 February 1942 with the loss of one of her crew. She was raised and scuttled off Malta on 15 July 1945.

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