Beneath a chain of 1,200 islands known as the Maldives, deep in the heart of the Indian Ocean lies a fascinating underwater world. Many a ship has met a watery grave on its shallow lying reefs, meaning some spectacular wrecks lie on the ocean floor of this tropical diving paradise.
Wreck diving is for many divers the ultimate in underwater exploration. Divers can witness first-hand how marine ecosystems adapt to and takeover these sunken rusty relics of human civilization seeing the symbiotic relationship which allows them to co-exist.
The warm, clear, calm waters of the Maldives also offer a fantastic opportunity to observe this process; as coral reefs grow over the hulls of wrecked ships, creating a magical home for local marine flora and fauna.
Magnets for an amazing variety of aquatic life, the story behind such ghostly sunken vessels and its forgotten-cargo can be as much a part of the diving delight as the colourful coral which colonises these eerie echoes of the past. Some of the coolest reefs are actually wrecks that have been transformed by marine life into amazing underwater habitats.
This handy guide of exploration-worthy vessels in the Maldives is the ultimate bucket-list guide to diving in this paradise.
1. Maldives Victory
Location: North Male Atoll, SW of Hulhule Reef, Hulhule Airport Island
Depth: 15-35 metres
Fish life: Average
On Friday 13th February 1981, a Singaporean cargo ship carrying goods to the capital met an untimely fate and slammed into the sea bed.
The Victory was carrying tourist goods to the island when it ran aground that fateful day. Desperate attempts were made by local divers to salvage its treasures, which were already spoiled. On the plus side the Maldives gained an excellent dive site, which has slowly become encrusted with corals and fans that provide shelter to a colony of marine life and fish.
As a dive site, the Victory provides good enough underwater visibility to spot scorpion fish and honeycomb moray eels. Bannerfish, mantis shrimps and turtles have also made their home in the hull.
Inside the wreck, bottles, cigarettes and a selection of small mosaic tiles are strewn around – the only reminder that human life once inhabited this vessel. Apart from fellow divers, expect to see nothing but fish and corals.
Descend down the line to the ship’s main deck and shelter from the current while investigating the myriad of marine life that have made this wreck their home.
Encounter large groupers, batfish and big puffers. You may also run into a turtle or two resting on the ledges within the wreck. Schools of fusiliers and jacks have permanently set up residence in the stern and bridge area, while the bow houses lion fish, soldier fish and hawk fish.
Make your way back to the stern of the ship along the outer hull where nudibranchs and pipefish nestle in the wheelhouse. As you ascend be sure to gaze beneath your fins to get a view of the entire wreck.
2. Kuda Giri
Location: South Male Atoll, some 22km south of Male’
Depth: 31 metres
Fish life: good
Coral: good with soft coral
An artificial reef known as Kuda Giri has grown around a small fishing trawler scuttled more than a decade ago. Lying west of Dhigufinolhu in the South Male’ atoll it is the perfect spot for intermediate divers trying a first night dive. What is more, it is accessible all year round.
Navigate this ship from its bow, which points towards the pinnacle at 18 metres, all the way down to its stern at 30 metres and discover the vast colonies of sea life that now call the captain’s cabin, cargo hold and machine room home.
The wreck itself is covered by stony staghorn and table corals as well as colourful sponges. Large schools of glass fish and bat fish have made this sunken ship their home. Divers can expect to see turtles, napoleon wrasse, jack fish, trigger fish, shrimp, lobsters, frog fish, blue fin trevally, fusiliers and leaf fish to name but a few species.
After exploring this wreck, swim back to the reef and check out the thilla and its overflowing overhangs of soft coral where Napoleon wrasse, parrot fish, oriental sweetlips playfully flit.
3. Halaveli Wreck
Depth: 20-28 metres
Fish life: Average
This wreck was sunk by the Halaveli Diving Centre in 1991, from whence it gets its name. It was originally known as “Highly 18”. Located just 2km North West of the Halaveli Resort Island it is easily accessible by boat and suitable for intermediate level divers.
A couple of decades of submersion have enabled the abundant growth of coral to grip the ship and some pretty soft coral has colonised on the telegraph. Small turtles and a couple of large morays have taken up residence in the hull and divers encounter groupers and stingrays on the sandy floor.
4. Fesdu Wreck
Location: SW of Fesdu Resort Island, 15 mins, or 30 mins from Maayafushi
Depth: 24-29 metres
Fish life: good
The Fesdu wreck is located in the centre of the Ari Atoll, one of the most famous dive spots of the Maldives and a protected dive site area. In its former life as a fishing trawler, the 30 metre long wreck was sunk to form an artificial reef. After a slow start it has now become fully colonised with dense clouds of glassfish, anthias, butterflyfish and slow-moving lionfish.
Moray eels and red-mouthed groupers and blue-fin trevally have moved in the engine room while the bow of the wreck is now characterised by a sprinkle of good sized black coral bushes. The surface of the wreck has become encrusted with sponges as well as hard and soft corals, tubastrea and feather-stars. Nudibranchs just love feeding from the sponges.
All passages are very narrow allowing for a limited number of exits. Therefore, most dives consist of a full circle of the wreck and an exploration of its shallowest sections before moving over in a westerly direction to a nearby thila. You will probably explore around this pinnacle until you arrive at its shallowest section at around 12 metres, and then ascending to your safety stop. The thilla is abundant with soft corals, glassfish, moray eels and groupers.
5. British Loyalty
Location: Addu Atoll, an hour long flight from Male’
Depth: 16-33 metres
Fish life: Good
Coral: Good, not affected by El Nino coral bleaching.
Divers in search of history will love the British Loyalty, which was originally a cargo ship made in Newcastle, UK. The 140 metre long vessel lays claim to being one of the only wrecks in the Maldives to be sunk in active battle after being torpedoed by the Japanese at the end of World War 2.
It did not sink immediately but rather lay lapping in the waters close to the Royal Navy’s former base on the island of Hitadhoo in Addu atoll until it was eventually scuttled by a British warship for target practice in 1946.
The torpedo made a big hole in the side of ship which enables divers to enter and explore the vessel. Since it has rested in a watery grave for so long, a lot of coral has established itself both inside and outside the wreck.
Living symbiotically among the coral which has had years to take hold are parrot fish, clownfish, wrasse, angelfish, triggerfish and turtles.
Addu Atoll is home to over 700 species of fish including the rare frogfish, ghost pipefish, leaf fish, and nudibranchs. Manta rays with wing spans of over five metres have been spotted in the atoll which thankfully escaped the coral bleaching phenomenon known as El Nino.
6. The Liffey and the Utheemu 1 and 2
Location: Dhaalu Atoll, Kudahuvadhoo Island
Depth: Not recorded
Fish life: Abundant
Dhaalu Atoll is the watery grave of the schooner “Liffey” that sank in 1879. This now ghostly wreck was once famously part of the British Empire’s “Flying Squadron” that undertook the last circumnavigation of the world conducted by warships under sail.
The 116ft long vessel was built in 1870 by Potters in Liverpool and was powered by steam engine. It was captained by G.H.Rake when it ran aground while on a voyage from Mauritius to Calcutta on 3 August 1879. Her remains lie somewhere in this area, but have long since succumbed to the ocean bed.
The other wreck, known as Utheemu sank in 1960. Unfortunately, little is documented about her history. However, both wrecks have been preserved due to Dhaalu Atoll’s remoteness. Consisting of only 56 islands this natural atoll has only recently been opened up to mass tourism. Seven of the islands are inhabited by local people and just two islands have been developed as luxury tourist resorts, only accessible by a short seaplane voyage.
In terms of diving, both wrecks are contained within a natural paradise. Green sea turtles grace the reefs and Napoleon wrasse, manta and devil rays plus reef sharks are common sights on and around the coral pinnacles that rise from the sea floor.
Giant clams can also be seen on the seabed in some shallow areas and clamped onto the wrecks. It is a great place to spot macro objects and with little-no water current is an idyllic place to start for the novice diver and a depth range of 3-12 metres.
7. Khuda Maa, South Ari Atoll
Location: South Ari Atoll, near Angaga Island
Depth: 28 to 31 metres
Fish life: good
The waters below the island village of Machchafushi in the south east of South Ari Atoll, mark the watery grave of a purposely sunk wreck. Kudhi Maa was a Japanese freighter some 52 metres long and with a beam of 9 metres and was purposely sunk in 1999.
Starting at about 28 metres, the vessel is firmly rooted against the sandy bottom where stingrays like to bask, and nurse sharks nestle under the port side.
The main ship is some 31 metres below and her magnificent masts rise to within 10 metres of the surface. The body of the wreck is festooned in marine life from bow to stern. It is particularly attractive to large shoals of horse-eyed jacks and snappers. The Galley, helm radio mast and funnel are all interesting features.
One continuous hold runs towards the bow – home to many lobsters. Set within the confines of the Ari Atoll this dive is relatively sheltered from oceanic currents, making it an intermediate spot and a known area for whale shark spotting.