Get to know the hidden underwater history of Cabo de Palos
Diving in the shipwrecks at Cabo de Palos is submerging yourself in alive history. As of today, more than 50 shipwrecks rest on the seabed, many of them victims of the relentless effectiveness of the german submarines during World War I and II.
There are also many ships that wrecked accidentally (due to collision with the underwater mountain formations) making the routes with passengers from Italy to America. And many others intentionally wrecked to create artificial reefs. Giant steel structures rest between 30 meters (98,4 feet) to 70 meters (229,6 feet) deep, making up one of the most important shipwreck cemeteries in the Mediterranean.
Cabo de Palos’ waters were a strategic point for allie ships that brought supplies and arms for their soldiers, which is why German troops placed ships and submarines to block their way and sink them. The most famous are the Nadir (El Naranjito), the Carbonero… o Thordisa / Lilla Stanfield, Sirio and a long list of steel giants.
The quality of the landscape of this underwater mountain formations, shallow rocky formations, the rich biodiversity of the flora and fauna and the spectacular nature of the shipwrecks like the Sirio, Minerva and Nord América; make Cabo de Palos one of the most emblematic settings in the Mediterranean for any passionate diver.
The Hormigas Islands form an underwater mountain range that is extremely dangerous to sail through. The Hormiga and the Hormigón are the only ones of these mountains that emerge over the water. The rest of them remain underwater, sometimes just 3 meters (9,8 feet) below the surface, like the feared Bajo de Fuera, a mortal trap for many large ships.
Today more than 50 vessels rest on the seabed in this area, though many of them shipwrecked in these waters victims of the relentless effectiveness of the German submarines during World War I and II. There are also many shipwrecks that sank accidentally (because they crashed against the hidden peaks of rock). They were covering the route from Italy to American continent. Many ships were also deliberately sunk to create artificial reefs. Giant steel structures rest at between 30 and 70 meters (98,4 and 229,6 feet) deep forming one of the most important shipwreck cemeteries in the Mediterranean.
The waters of Cabo de Palos were a strategic point for allie ships carrying provisions and arms to their soldiers, which is why the German decided to place ships and submarines to block their way and sink them. One of the remains of these activities is the Nitsa (originally named S/S Stanfield) an English merchant of 120 meters (393,7 feet) of length that stays in the sailing position at 63 meters (206,6 feet) deep. On the prow and starboard area we can still see the impact of the torpedo shot by a German submarine in World War I. This is the best-preserved shipwreck and one of the most spectacular in the area.
The remains have transformed into artificial reefs with the passing of time, colonized by algae and crustacean up to the point where the vessels are almost hidden. Between all these ships the legend and tragic story of one of them stands out: the S/S Sirio, the biggest civil navigation accident that ever happened in Spanish shores. The Italian ocean liner sunk in 1906 when it ran aground at the Bajo de Fuera, in front of Cabo de Palos.
Diving among the remains of the old ocean liner we discover just how exceptional our submerged spaces are, and helps maintain important episodes of our history alive. Divers from all parts of the world come to this part of the murcian shore attracted by the extraordinary underwater heritage.
At Balkysub we are true specialists in the “Naranjito” and we call this immersion NADIR in honor of it’s true name. Between 2007 and 2010 we carried out an investigation about it’s history and, thanks to the collection of official documentation we made a documentary about this shipwreck and we told the world it’s real history 67 years after the sinking.
LOCATION AND ACCESS: It’s approximately a mile and a half away from the port of Cabo de Palos in open sea, very near the SW buoy that delimits the Marine Reserve but outside of it. Right now there is an anchoring on the prow that will lead us to the anchor winch at -28 meters (-91,8 feet) and another one that will lead us to the navigation bridge at -32 meters (-104,9 feet). It is only accessible by boat.
DEPTH: -28 meters (-91,8 feet) / -45 meters (147,6 feet)
SAILED: 1928 -1943
LENGTH: 51 meters (167,3 feet)
MINIMUM DEGREE: ADVANCED DIVER / B2*
HISTORY OF THE SHIPWRECK: On the 13th of November of 1918 the company “Echevarrieta y Larrinaga” launches the “Nadir”, a steamer freighter of 50 meters (164 feet) length and 665 tons of load, at Cadiz’s shipyard. It was the first of a series of cargo ships named “IR” that were built without having a buyer. The end of World War I causes the prices of all vessels to drop and soon there is an excess of cargo ships of all kinds. The “Nadir” is offered to the shipowner Martinez Pinillos for a price of around one million pesetas, which he thinks is excessive in that moment in time and declines the purchase, as did some other shipowners. The “Nadir” can’t find a buyer and is finally bought by the shipyard itself to transport construction materials from England for some years.
In 1926 the whole “IR” series (the “Nadir” and it’s brothers “Amir”, “Gadir”, “Menhir” and “Ophir”) is bought by the company Maskor, affiliated of the just created CAMPSA. They are all transformed to carry oil and the name of the Nadir is changed to “Magurio”. In 1935 it acquires it’s final name, “Isla de Gomera”, after being sold again, this time to the shipowner Padrón Saavedra that uses it to transport diverse cargo all over the Spanish coast for years until it’s sinking in 1943.
The night of the 13th to the 14th of April of 1943, while doing the route from Cartagena to Barcelona, with some rough water and fog, the “Isla Gomera” sinks quickly because of a leak on the port side. Like the captain declared: “The ship keeled over roughly and suddenly. Immediately the port side started to sink and, finding myself at the bridge with helmsman Valentín L.G., I only had time to grab a life vest. I jumped in the water when everything from the bridge to the port side was already underwater. It disappeared in less than a minute. I was left in the water holding onto orange boxes that were floating, hearing the voices of some crewmembers that stayed afloat thanks to other orange boxes. We stayed adrift until, with daylight, a fishing boat rescued us and took us to Cabo de Palos, where we received assistance from the coast authorities.”
The ship took of from Cartagena heading to Barcelona transporting a shipment of oranges already a bit unbalanced according to some witnesses. The rough waters caused the shipment to move and made the ship crash and turn around, sinking very quickly less than a mile away from Cabo de Palos port. Only some wooden remains of the bridge and the shipment of oranges remained afloat. One of the sailors braved the cold waters and swam to the port, which was completely empty. He then walked to the lighthouse and finally warned the lighthouse keeper about the sinking. Meanwhile the other crewmembers stayed in the water holding onto the wood of the bridge.
It is said that the rescue in the morning was delayed because there was no motorboats in Cabo de Palos port in those years and it was all done in small rowing and sailing boats, in very harsh conditions due to the rough sea that had moved the cargo and sunk the “Nadir” in the first place. The cold was the cause for most of the death victims, the wife of the engine driver among them. She had gotten on the ship behind the captain’s back in what was going to be her first time sailing, eager to visit Barcelona. For weeks there were oranges arriving at the shore. They served as nourishment for all those post-war hungry people and that made the shipwreck be known as “el Naranjito“ (the little orange).
CONDITIONS: The “Nadir” is in navigation position on a sandy seabed at -36 to -45 (-118,1 to -147,6 feet) meters depth and it’s in very good state of preservation. It’s structure is complete, in spite of some bulkheads and sheets that have broken with time. The current from South to North is frequent and depending on visibility (that maintains almost all year round at 25 meters/82 feet) the immersion is not complicated in spite of the depth.
CURIOUS FACTS: At Balkysub we are real experts on the “Naranjito” shipwreck. During 2007 and 2010 we did a hard job investigating it’s history and we made a documentary about this shipwreck that we showed to the world 67 years after the sinking. In honor of this investigation and all the new data, we call this immersion by the original name of this singular ship: “NADIR”.
Every 13th of April we organize an event at Balkysub Diving Centre where we celebrate the anniversary of the sinking and we show the official documents of the accident as well as unpublished images of the documentary.
As of today there is a lot of mistaken information about it’s sinking, especially about the date. Six years after our discovery the exact date is still put to question. We have showed a series of photographs we took of the official documents about the sinking. These photographs are of the report made by Cabo de Palos’ Guardia Civil (Spanish Military Police), signed by the Sergeant on the 13th of April, 1943.
LOCATION AND ACCESS: It’s at approximately 6 miles in open waters, very close to the N/E buoy that delimits the Marine Reserve, but outside of it. There is no anchoring, so we can descend freely or we can also throw the anchor of out boat. It is only accessible by boat.
DEPTH: -44 meters (-144,3 feet) / -60 meters (-196,8 feet)
SAILED: 1899 – 1916
LENGTH / SIZE: 120 meters (393,7 feet)
MINIMUM DEGREE: Technical diver from any organization / PADI TEC 50
HISTORY OF THE SHIPWRECK: Alicante, 25th of June of 1916. A bit after 5 in the afternoon the steamer “Alba” entered the port with 29 crewmembers of the Greek ship “Nitsa”, that had been torpedoed that same morning at 11:00 h by a German submarine, 10 miles away from Cabo de Palos. The “Alba” picked up the survivors from their 3 boats just moments after the attack. The Greek ship “Nitsa” was transporting 5.183 tons of coal to Savon (Italy).
The steamer “Nitsa” set sail on the 5th of July from Nortfolk with coal for the Italian army. A steamer of 110 meters (360,8 feet) of length, 16 meters (52,4 feet) of beam and 8 meters (26,2 feet) of depth captained by Jeorges Yannanghas with 28 crewmembers. The captain of the steamer “Alba”, Don José Carrascal Jorca says his ship and the “Nitsa” were sailing in each other’s company all morning and that at 10:30, the Spanish ship was passing through the underwater mountain range of Cabo de Palos and the Greek vessel went on the outside at mile and a half from Isla Hormiga.
Suddenly the “Alba” saw the “Nitsa” stop and release the boats which is why he decided to get closer at about 200 meters (656,1 feet) and send men to tow the survivors’ boats.
Once on board, the captain of the “Nitsa” said they had been torpedoed and that the crew was uninjured. From the “Alba” they saw how their ship finished sinking. The prow sunk first, then the boilers exploded and the captain Yannanghas said goodbye to the vessel with tears in his eyes. The officer on guard spotted the submarine on the same moment the ship felt the impact of the torpedo.
Another version says the radiotelegraphy station at Cabo de Palos receives the news that at 3 miles northeast from Islas Hormigas, the Greek vessel “Nitsa” has sunk and all crewmembers have been saved by the Spanish steamer “Alba”. The cause of the sinking is the crashing with the underwater mountain range of La Loza, which is close by.
CONDITIONS: The Stanfield is on navigation position with the prow aiming West approximately. The state of preservation is very good, it is complete even though there are some broken boards on some parts. It’s in the middle of a sandy patch at -60 meters (-196,8 feet) and the highest side, where the navigation bridge remainings are, is at approximately -44 meters (-144,3 feet).
The currents are frequent, especially South to North.
CURIOUS FACTS: Sometimes we can get to know the speed of growth of some corals if we know the date of the shipwreck. The red and yellow sea whips growing on the Stanfield, sunk in World War I, stand out specially. The impact of the german torpedo submarine pierced the ship from starboard to port side, allowing a current to flow through the hull at 55 meters (108,4 feet) deep. This helped the growth of the sea whips that have actually grown to more than one meter high (3,2 feet). Which means they grow a bit more than a centimeter (0,39 inches) per year. The great number of sea whips stands out and there are also conger eels and swallowtail seaperches.
– This is not an immersion we frequently plan. We only plan it with trustworthy divers who have a TEC degree.
– If you would like to plan this immersion, call us or send us an e-mail.
LOCATION AND ACCESS: It’s situated about 3,5 miles from Tomás Maestre Port at La Manga, or about 6 miles from Cabo de Palos Port. There is no anchor point so the descent can be done freely or using the rope of the anchor of our own boat. It is only accessible by boat.
DEPTH: -36 meters (-118,1 feet) / -45 meters (-147,6 feet)
SAILED: 1888 – 1917
LENGTH / SIZE: 88 meters (288,7 feet)
MINIMUM DEGREE: PADI DEEP DIVER / B3* or advanced diver with experience in deep immersions and more than 250 immersions
HISTORY OF THE SHIPWRECK: Built in 1888 with the name “Thordisa”. When F. Degrossi acquired it in 1913, he renamed it “Lilla”, though some sources say it was named “Lilla Dubild”.
A 2.819 ton, 88 meters (288,7 feet) long, 11 meters (36 feet) of beam and 6 meters (19,6 feet) of draft Italian steamboat with a machine of 219 N.H.P. It was torpedoed in an interchange of shoots with a U35 german submarine on the 13th of October, 1917, just as it was going to rescue the steamboat “Doris” that had been attacked previously. Finally it sank at 11.00 PM 5 miles away from the coast, according to the Kapitänleutenant Lothar von Arnauld de la Perière submarine’s KTB.
Arnauld de la Pèriere started working in Kaiserliche navy in 1903. He served on the battleships SMS Kurfürst Friedrich Wilheim, Schlesien and Scheswig-Holstein carrying out the role of torpedo officer on the light cruise SMS Emden from 1911 to 1913.
When World War I was declared, Arnauld de la Pèriere served as admiral assistant to Hugo von Pohl in Berlin. After, he was moved to a more active position where he served the Luftschiff-Abteilung Navy. In 1915 Arnauld de la Périere was transferred to the submarines. He was given the command of the U-35 in November 1915. He made 14 trips with the U-35 in which 189 merchant ships and two warships were sunk and made a total of 446.708 tons of gross tonnage. He was transferred to the U-139 on May of 1918 and sunk 5 more vessels with a gross tonnage of 7.008 tons. His gross tonnage record is still the same since then. He was awarded the Iron Cross, second and first class, and the Pour le Merité for his merits and his service in 1916.
The Kapitänliutenant Lothar von Arnauld de la Pèriere became the most successful submarine captain of all time since in the time this war lasted he sank 194 ships with a total of 453.716 tons, a record that still remains. Most of the times he archived this with an 88 mm. deck cannon. His work of patrolling in the Cabo de Palos area was exceptional and in a period of just five weeks in April and May of 1916 he sank 23 ships with a total of 68.000 tons, and in a period of four weeks in July and August of that same year he sank 54 ships with a total of 91.150 tons using only 4 torpedoes. He died in a plane crash in Le Bourget airport near Paris, France, in 1941.
CURIOUS FACTS: Nowadays it is best known as “Carbonero” because of all the coal found in one of its holds, although it is not certain it was part of the load it was carrying or it was used to fuel the ship’s engine.
– This is not an immersion we frequently plan. We only plan it with trustworthy divers with enough degrees or experience.
– If you would like to plan this immersion, call us or send us an e-mail.
LOCATION AND ACCESS: It’s approximately 4 miles away from the coast in the “Bajo de Fuera” or “Roca del Vapor” (Steamboat Rock), as it’s also named after the shipwreck. There is no direct anchor point, but it’s accessible from the anchor point at “Bajo de Fuera”. It is only accessible by boat.
DEPTH: -40 meters (-131,2 feet) / -65 meters (-213,2 feet)
SAILED: 1883 – 1906
LENGTH / SIZE: 115 meters (377,2 feet)
MINIMUM DEGREE: PADI DEEP DIVER / B3* or Advanced Diver with experience in deep immersions and more than 250 immersions
HISTORY OF THE SHIPWRECK: the transatlantic “Sirio” was a 4.141 ton Italian ship. The “Sirio” was built at the Robert Napier & Sons shipyard, in Glasgow in 1883. The ship is 115 meters (377,2 feet) long, with a 12 meters (39,3 feet) beam and a 7 meters (22,9 feet) draft. The “Sirio” could sail at a maximum speed of 15 knots.
The launching of the “Sirio” was on the 26th of March of 1883 in Glasgow (Scotland). The company that owned it, the Italian Society of Marine Transport Raggio and Company, moved the ship from Glasgow to Geneva (Italy). The first transatlantic trip the “Sirio” made was from Geneva to Buenos Aires in 1883 or 1884. The route made stops in Barcelona, Cádiz, Canary Islands, Cabo Verde, Rio de Janeiro and Santos.
The Italian Navigation General Company bought the vessel in 1885. This company organized the transoceanic trips of passengers destined to the “new world”. The destination points were Buenos Aires (Argentina), Montevideo (Uruguay) and Rio de Janeiro (Brasil). The company was founded in the Mediterranean city of Geneva in 1881.
The 4th of August of 1906, the “Sirio” was sailing in front of the coast of La Manga in the direction of America. The captain, Giuseppe Piccone, was resting in his cabin after lunch. Taking his place, a non-commissioned officer took control of the ship. It was a sunny and hot summer day, with a lot of visibility and a calm sea. The ship sailed very close to the coast, at about 1500 meters (4921 feet), in spite of the existence of underwater mountain formations marked by the Isla Hormigas lighthouse.
At around 4 in the afternoon the “Sirio” crashed at a speed of 15 knots against the Bajo de Fuera, at Islas Hormigas in Cabo de Palos. The ship ended up with its prow raised and resting on the sharp end of the rock that had torn its hull, with an inclination angle of 35 degrees. The hull and the stern broke apart and the boilers exploded.
Captain Piccone didn’t react and the passengers panicked and fought desperately to get on the lifeboats.
Among the distinguished passengers on the “Sirio” at the time of the catastrophe were the singer Lola Milanés (deceased), the bishop of Sao Paulo, José de Camargo (deceased), the Brazilian archbishop of Pará, José Marcondes (survivor), the Austrian consul in Rio de Janeiro, Leopoldo Politzer (survivor), Doctor Franco Franza (survivor) and the Director of the musical band of El Hospicio in Madrid, Maestro Hermoso (survivor).
The Argentinian student Martín Hailze tells the drama lived on board of the “Sirio” to the newspaper “El Eco” after the accident. “I was in my first class cabin writing a letter when a big jolt threw me to the ground and an immense shouting let me know some terrible disgrace had just happened. I soon knew we had crashed against underwater rocks. Hurt by the blow that I received when I fell to the ground, I dragged myself to the deck, and the terrifying picture I saw will remain with me all my life. The ship was quickly submerging from the stern and the passengers ran like crazy, screaming in anguish, some crying, some cursing and all of them full of terror. This was what caused the real savage scenes that happened. Men and women fought against each other, kicking each other, using their fists, fighting tooth and nail for the lifeboats. I even saw some people with knives.” The stern sank in just 4 minutes, and the prow remained over the water.
After the accident of the “Sirio” crashing against the Bajo de Fuera at Islas Hormigas in Cabo de Palos (Murcia, Spain), chaos and anarchy took over the crew and passengers of the steamboat in the fight for survival. The captain of the “Sirio”, Giuseppe Piccone, and his crew avoided the organization of the evacuation of the ship and got on a lifeboat, saving their lives.
The rescue of the “Sirio” is the biggest civil rescue operation at sea in Spanish history. The steamboat “Marie Louise” was the first boat to get to the “Sirio” after the tragedy. The vessel saved the life of 44 passengers and then changed course to Alicante.
The packet boat “Joven Miguel” was Spanish and was commanded by Captain Vicente Buiges. The nine lauds (typical Mediterranean steamboat) from Cabo de Palos that took part in the rescue were: the “Vicente Lacamba” with Captain Agustín Antonio Valdivia; the “Cristo” with Captain José Salas Martínez, the “San Pedro” with Captain Ramón Parodi, the “Joven Vicente” with Captain Juan Bautista Rodríguez, the “Pepa y Hermanos” with Captain Manuel Puga Romero, the “Francisca” with Captain José Ruso Manzanares, the “Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles” with Captain Pedro Llorca Zaragoza, the “San José” with Captain Juan Valero Martínez and the “Pepe Hermanos” with Captain Miguel Puga.
The sailor Vicente Buigues was the responsible for the most heroic action of this tragic day when he was heading to Cartagena from Denia. The Captain of the packet boat “Joven Miguel” headed towards the “Sirio”, in spite of the crew’s disagreement. His first move was to drive the stern of his boat into the side of the “Sirio”. A very dangerous operation, due to the risk of causing the definite sinking of the “Sirio” taking also his boat and crew to the bottom of the sea. Once they gained some stability, they made a safe footbridge with wooden boards and ropes between the “Sirio” and the “Joven Miguel”s deck. And this is how he saved more that 400 people that were packed into the “Joven Miguel” until the disembarkment was made at the port of Cartagena. Also, the lighthouse keepers at Islas Hormigas, José Acosta and Manuel Jimenez helped more than 100 shipwreck survivors reach the island and looked after them.
Juan de la Cierva Peñafiel, ex-Minister of Public Instruction and Arts praised the heroic behavior of Cabo de Palos residents with the shipwreck survivors of the “Sirio”. “These rough, old men, some eighty or more years old, have a very big heart, made for the sea. And without anyone telling them, they prepared their fragile boats and sailed, using their oars. The wind was against them and made their advance difficult, but they fought against it… To save them these men and women marched, the whole colony, eager to simply comply with their duty.”
The “Sirio” tragedy cost hundreds of lives. The exact numbers of the human casualties change depending on the source. The municipality of Cartagena counted the death of 242 passengers of a total of 812 and the Navy Ministry talked about 283 deceased of a total of 920 passengers on board of the transatlantic.
The fishermen moved the survivors in their boats to Poniente Beach at Cabo de Palos. Most of the “Sirio” survivors reunited there. The tugboat “Arsenal” and Captain Vicente Buiges’ pack boat took the survivors to the Port of Cartagena. Among them was the Captain of the “Sirio”, Giuseppe Piccone.
Cabo de Palos’ residents donated clothes and food to the survivors. Also, Cartagena’s authorities sent tugboats to Poniente Beach at Cabo de Palos with food essentials. Most of the shipwreck survivors were sent to Cartagena. The “Sirio”s crew stayed at “La Piña” inn in Cartagena.
CONDITIONS: The “Sirio” is broken in two and some other parts due to the boiler’s explosion. The prow is on the SE face at between -40 meters (-131,2 feet) and -55 meters (-180,4 feet) deep, while the stern rests at NW at -40 meters (-131,2 feet). We can see other parts like the boilers at -32 meters (104,9 feet), part of the engine at -15 meters (49,2 feet) and supposedly one of the anchors at -30 meters (98,4 feet), and many more surprises and secrets that we discover in each immersion. Find one the toilets in the stern area!
CURIOUS FACTS: The captain of the “Sirio” died crestfallen and depressed in Italy two months after the shipwreck. The remainings sunk completely to the bottom of the sea on the 21st of August, 1906.
The pillaging and the extraction of scrap metal in the last century have let the “Sirio” with little structure but we can still see some things of interest.
– This is not an immersion we frequently plan. We only plan it with trustworthy divers with enough degrees or experience.
– If you would like to plan this immersion, call us or send us an e-mail.
Balkysub Diving School organizes diving tours at Cabo de Palos every day of the year at flexible times from 08:00 am in summer and 10:00 am in winter. The punctuality in our activities is something we care for so you don’t waste your time waiting.
We board at Cabo de Palos, just a few meters from the diving center and we dive at different spots on the coast, the Islas Hormigas Marine Reserve and various shipwrecks that lay in our depths. We have changing rooms and showers as well as a service of private “cages” for the next day at our confortable and spacious facilities.
All our immersions are guided by PADI Instructors and local expert guides, this way you’ll get to know the area better and the safety is reinforced.
Second Diving Guide. We plan two types of immersion in each tour, each guide adapts to the needs of the divers. Each guide will plan the most suitable immersion according to the diver’s degree, experience and/or preferences.
It’s important that you know that if more than 6 months have passed without diving or have done less than 10 Dives, you will have to do an Refresh Dive before diving in the Marine Reserve or in a shipwreck.
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