With more than 2500 shipwrecks having occurred along the coast of South Africa since 1500, and Cape Town sometimes being referred to as ‘The Graveyard of Ships’ – Southern Africa offer wreck diving opportunities in abundance. Here is a list of the best (and sometimes lesser known) wrecks found in the waters around Southern Africa.
- The Maori
Where: Hout Bay (Kronkelberg), South Africa.
Highlights: The Maori, sunk in 1906, is one of the oldest wreck diving sites in Cape Town. It lays on a rocky reef and is about 122m long. Among other things, divers can see the railway lines that the vessel was carrying when it sunk as well as bits of porcelain and bottles. The ship was also carrying explosives, sewing machines, water piping and musical instruments when it sunk – much of this can be seen scattered around the wreck. The wreck is penetrable with the appropriate qualifications.
Dive conditions: The wreck lays between 13-25m in water ranging between 12°C (57°F) in July to around 18°C (64°F) in January. There could be strong currents and/or surge and poor visibility on top of the cool water temperatures so this dive is recommended for experienced divers.
- The Paquita
Where: Knysna Heads, South Africa.
Highlights: The Pequita is a German Iron barge that sunk in 1903. It is in excellent condition with its iron plates still intact and anchors clearly visible. The wreck is covered in soft coral and divers can see many nudibranchs, blacktails, Cape Stump noses and the famous Knysna seahorses.
Dive conditions: The wreck lays between 2 and 20m with an average depth of 12m. The best time to dive The Paquita is before the turn of high-tide when the water is clearer. It is not recommended to dive the wreck during mid-tide as he current can be very strong during this time (up to 9-knots or 5m/s!). Water temperature ranges between 16°C (62°F) in July to 20°C (69°F) in January.
- The Produce
Where: Durban, South Africa.
Highlights: The Produce sunk in 1974, after striking Aliwal Shoal. The vessel was 119m long but the wreck now lays in three pieces on her starboard side. The stern is the largest, with the bow lying about 20-30m North from it, and the mid-section in between. Both the bow and stern can be penetrated by qualified divers. Divers can see her spare prop, giant brindle bass, Harlequin goldies (endemic to the Produce and the nearby Nebo) and sometimes even Mantas.
Dive conditions: The Produce lays between 16 and 33m in water that ranges between 19°C (66°F) in July to October to 24°C (75°F) in February. There could be strong currents and bad visibility and no natural light penetrates the inside of the wreck. All of this, mixed with the depth makes this a dive for experienced divers with deep and wreck qualifications.
- The Klipfontein
Where: Zavora, Mozambique.
Highlights: wreck condition/penetration possible. The Klipfontien sunk off of the coast of Mozambique after hitting a reef in Zavora in 1953. The vessel was 160m long but broke in two when she sunk. Humpback whales could be seen between July and October with August and September being peak whale season. Peak Manta season is between November and March.
Dive conditions: The Klipfontien is a deep to technical dive, laying between 34 and 52m in water that ranges between 20-26°C (68-78°F). Advanced nitrox and technical divers with a recognised decompression diving qualification (min 45m) can do this dive.
- Rio Saiñas (also spelled Sainos)
Where: Zavora, Mozambique.
Highlights: The Rio Saiñas sunk in 2013 but already has a large amount of coral growth. The wreck has not yet been cleared for penetration but it is fully intact with a large resident grouper, schools of batfish and many nudis and scorpion fish to see. Humpback whales could be seen between July and October with August and September being peak whale season. Peak Manta season is between November and March.
Dive conditions: The Rio Saiñas lays upright between 20-35m, in water between 20-26°C (68-78°F), making it a perfect dive for advanced qualified divers.
- SS Paraportiani
Where: Pemba Island, Zanzibar.
Highlights: The SS Paraportiani was a 100m long cargo vessel which sunk in 1967. The stern is mostly still intact and covered in coral. Divers can see lionfish, anemones, yellow spotted scorpionfish and starfish. Qualified divers can penetrate the wreck.
Dive conditions: The SS Paraportiani lays between 15-20m in water ranging between 25°C (78°F) and 29°C (82°F). There could be strong currents at times, making this site a bit more tricky to dive.
- Ennerdale wreck
Where: Mahé, the Seychelles.
Highlights: The Ennerdale sunk in 1970 after striking two uncharted granite pinnacles off of Mahé Island. The wreck is a British oil tanker and is surrounded by an abundance of tropical fish and marine life including leopard rays, nurse sharks and whale sharks if you’re lucky! The stern is mostly intact and divers can see the bronze propeller and the pilot house. The wreck provides easy penetration.
Dive conditions: The Ennerdale lays between 20 and 30m, making it an ideal dive for advanced divers. The water temperature ranges between 26°C (78°F) to 30°C (86°F).
- Djabeda Wreck
Where: Coin de Mire(Gunner’s coin) Island, Mauritius.
Highlights: The Djabeda wreck is a Japanese fishing boat that sunk in 1998. The wreck is well-preserved but some debris can be seen scattered around the vessel- the anchor is especially impressive. The wreck is covered in hard and soft coral and surrounded by an abundance of marine life including leaf fish, sea slugs and even dolphins if you are lucky.
Dive conditions: The wreck lays between 24-35m and is best for advanced divers. Water temperature ranges between 24°C (75°F) and 28°C (82°F).
- Stella Maru
Highlights: The Stella Maru is a Japanese trawler that was scutted in 1987 to create an artificial reef. She lays upright and is almost completely intact. The wreck is covered in algae, sea urchins and soft coral and is surrounded by marine life. There is a rocky reef nearby that can also be explored.
Dive conditions: The Stella Maru lays between 20-27m in water that ranges between 20°C (62°F) and 28°C (82°F).
Where: Nosy Be, Madagascar.
Highlights: wreck condition/penetration possible. The Mitsio was a Madagascan trawler that was scuttled in 2006 as an artificial reef. The wreck is now covered in colourful coral. Divers can see many lionfish, arrow crabs and honeycomb moray. The Mitsio is highly recommended for a night dive for divers with the appropriate qualifications. Penetration is not recommended at night.
Dive conditions: The Maximum/min Water temperature. The Mitsio lays between 19 and 28m in water that ranges between 26°C (79°F) and 29°C (84°F). Although there is usually little to no current, the depth of the wreck makes this an advanced dive.
Southern Africa has an abundance of wrecks waiting to be explored. The underwater scenes are rivalled only by those on land. It is perfect for those with a sense of adventure and thirst for exploring these magnificent vessels that time has all but forgotten.
- A version of this article first appeared at www.scubadiverlife.com