The Triton

Where in the World

Malta offers great diving, deep harbors

Last summer, I had the privilege to captain the catamaran Ranger on its Malta expedition as part of the ocean advocacy organization Oceana (oceana.org).

I was lucky to be surrounded by brilliant marine biologists and ROV pilots as well as talented underwater photographers, videographers and experienced divers. We spent two months around the Maltese archipelago doing research down to 1,000 meters deep.

Malta is a southern European island country comprising an archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea. It lies 50 miles (80 km) south of Italy, 176 miles (284 km) east of Tunisia, and 207 miles (333 km) north of Libya. The country covers just over 122 square miles (316 square kilometers) and has a population of just under 450,000, making it one of the world’s most densely populated countries.

The capital is Valletta, which, at 0.8 square kilometers, is the smallest national capital in the European Union.

Malta’s location has historically given it great strategic importance as a naval base, and a succession of powers, including the Phoenicians, Romans, Moors, Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, Knights of St. John, French and British. Malta was admitted to the United Nations in 1964 and to the European Union in 2004. In 2008, it became part of the Eurozone.

Malta is a popular tourist destination with its warm climate, numerous recreational areas, and architectural and historical monuments, including three Unesco World Heritage Sites, and seven Megalithic temples, which are some of the oldest free-standing structures in the world. If old churches are of interest, Malta has 365 of the most exquisite churches, one for each day of the year.

Malta has three large natural harbors on its main island:

  • The Grand Harbor at the eastern side of the capital city of Valletta, has been a harbor since Roman times. It has several extensive docks and wharves, a cruise liner terminal, as well as a number of marinas. Grand Harbor Marina accommodates the largest yachts. It also has a terminal that serves ferries that connect Malta to Pozzallo and Catania in Sicily.
  • Marsamxett Harbor on the western side of Valletta has a number of yacht marinas, Manoel Island Yacht Marina being the largest, able to accommodate yachts to 80m. It is centrally located in Gzira so chandlery shops, shopping malls, supermarkets and tourist services are all accessible within a short walking distance. In the vicinity, one also find numerous restaurants, bars and convenience shops.
  • Marsaxlokk Harbor (Malta Freeport) at Birżebbuġa on the southeastern side of Malta, is the island’s main cargo terminal. Malta Freeport is the 11th busiest container port in Europe and 46th busiest in the world.  

There are also two manmade harbors that serve a passenger and car ferry service that connects Ċirkewwa Harbor on Malta and Mġarr Harbor on Gozo. There is a marina in Mgarr that accommodates smaller yachts to about 22m. Although on this trip we didn’t use an agent, there are three prominent yacht agencies there: FL Yachting, Vella Marine and Nautica Yacht services.

Depths are not an issue in and around Malta. Anchoring is difficult, though, as depths reach 40m and more just 4.5m from shore.

Malta is a huge dive destination for Europeans. There are many artificial reefs made by sunken ships and numerous cave dive sites. Although the waters are extremely clear, do not expect as much coral and sea life as one would see in the Caribbean. Many seaside resorts in crystal clear water-bays surround the islands.

The food generally has an Italian influence and in most places, one can order in Italian language, as it is the third unofficial language, after the official languages of Maltese and English.

Fishing is not one of the islands’ advantages, as we found out on our research. Most fresh fish is from multiple floating farms strategically placed around the islands. Beware of them as they are moved around and may cause navigation hazards.

There are plenty of other things to do and one should tour all three major Islands, as each has different things to offer.

This was my second trip to Malta, and I have found the Maltese people to be friendly, warm and eager to share their islands with visitors. Visitors total about 1.5 million a year, so traffic can be unpleasant. Local transportation, on the other hand, is organized and affordable.

Capt. Gianni Brill has been in yachting more than 35 years. Comments are welcome at editorial@the-triton.com.

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