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Off the beaten track in Spain

In this week’s travel feature Shaun Yeo stays closer to home and explores underwater wrecks in the coast of Murcia.

Situated off the Costa de Calida, in the province of Murcia in Spain, we find a small village called Cabo de Palos. A unique Mediterranean village, almost frozen in the 1970’s. The buildings and culture is that of a 70s feel.

An iconic landmark in Cabo de Palos is the lighthouse and it has been declared a site of Cultural Interest. The village is on a strip of land called ‘La Manga’ which means ‘the arm’ in Spanish. The area is littered with volcanic seamounts, some penetrating the sea’s surface, forming small islands, others just metres below the surface, some rising as much as 60m from the bottom of the Mediterranean sea.

SS Sirio Wreck

The seamounts are part of a marine protected area called Islas Hormigas Marine Reserve. Due to its protective status, the area is full of marine life. The once Neptune Grass which could be found in Gibraltar, which is thought to have been lost during reclamation works many years ago, is found here all over the seabed.

The seamounts are also home to huge Groupers, some as large as a small child, and circling the top of these mounts, barracudas forming ‘bait balls’ an action in which a large group of schooling fish form a tightly circular formation in a defensive stance, when threatened by predators.

The seamounts are not only well known in Cabo de Palos for its marine life, unfortunately some of these mounts are just 5 metres below the surface, in an area where the sea is 50 to 60m deep, 3 miles off the mainland coast. These have proved hazardous too many ships. The remains of 3 large wrecks are found in the ‘Bajo de Fuera’ seamount.

Grouper

An Italian Ocean Liner called SS Sirio, an Italian Freighter called Nord America and a Cargo Ship called Minerva. All three ships hit the seamount and sunk to their final resting place on the seabed. There are also remains of a few other wrecks at the bottom of the same sea mount, but these are what looks like partly salvaged parts of wreckage which are unrecognisable anymore.

The most famous wreck on the ‘Bajo de Fuera’ seamount is the SS Sirio, described by locals as the Titanic of the Mediterranean.

El Naranjito Wreck

She was carrying almost 800 immigrants aboard, destined for a better life in Argentina. SS Sirio was navigating close to Cabo de Palos when she struck the seamount, and her stern sunk in just 4 minutes!

Local fishermen and boats near the area tried to save as many people as possible but in total 300 people died. It is said that the vessel was navigating in close range to shore because it was conducting unofficial stops along the Spanish Coast where illegal immigrants were taken aboard for a steep price. These easy profits were enough to convince owners and captains to take the extra risks.

Just a short distance away is the wreck of the SS Stanfield, a large cargo vessel operating during World War I. The vessel was sailing to Italy with a cargo of coal, under a Greek flag when it is said she was torpedoed by a German U-Boat and now sits in a seabed of 60 metres. Rumours suggest she was a British Ship in disguise and for this reason she is sometimes referred to as the SS Nitza.

A Sea Mount in Cabo de Palos

Records show that no submarines were in the area at the time of her sinking, a more logical explanation is that she was navigating at night without lights to avoid been spotted and either struck another vessel in convoy or the nearby seamount.

Closer to the shore we find a wreck frequented by local dive centres; El Naranjito. The ship was carrying a cargo of Oranges when it came into trouble during a storm in April 1942, her cargo shifted and fuss made the vessel list and take on water. The true name of the ship is ‘Isla Gomera’ but due to her cargo, she is nicknamed and commonly called ‘El Naranjito’ meaning ‘The Orange’ in Spanish.

Cabo de Palos is Spain’s best kept secret, an incredible place for any type of diver. I would highly recommend the place to anyone. It is only a 6 hour drive from Gibraltar.

To read more about Shaun’s travels and diving expeditions check out his blog: www.shaunyeophotography.com

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