Two Polish divers die exploring Malta’s Le Polynesien wreck

By Guest Writer

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Author: Mark ‘Crowley’ Russell

The massive stern section of Le Polynésien’s hull (Photo: Dave Gration/University of Malta)

Two Polish divers have died following a dive to the wreck of Le Polynesien, a First World War shipwreck which lies at a depth of around 65m, some 2.5km off Żonqor Point, Marsascala, Malta.

The victims, both UK residents and experienced divers, were diving the wreck using closed circuit rebreathers (CCR) when they got into difficulty on the morning of Saturday, 6 July

According to local reports, the incident occurred when one of the divers, a 45-year-old man, got into difficulties at a depth of around 60m while diving in a strong current. His 48-year-old buddy went to his assistance, but both divers surfaced without fulfilling their decompression obligation.

One of the divers has been named as Krzysztof Białecki, founder of Diving Explorers, the largest Polish diving club in England.

The Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) were reportedly notified of the incident at approximately 10:30 am, and recovered the two men by rescue boat before transporting them to Malta’s Mater Dei hospital. One of the divers is said to have died shortly after arrival, while the other was placed into a decompression chamber but died later the same day.

The 152.5m-long SS Polynesien (or Le Polynésien) was launched in France in 1890, a steel-hulled, 3-masted sail-and-steam passenger vessel which plied the route between France and Australia before being requisitioned by the French Navy in the early days of the First World War.

She served as an armed troop carrier until she was sunk by a torpedo fired from a German submarine in August 1918, with the loss of eleven crew and six passengers. The wreck lies at a 45-degree angle in a maximum depth of 65m on the seabed and is prone to strong currents due to its exposed location.

The deaths are the third and fourth to have occurred in Malta this year, following the death of a 44-year-old Swiss woman at Dwerja Bay, Gozo, and a 45-year-old Dutch man who died after getting into difficulty with 17 other divers in strong seas near the wreck of the Rożi dive site at Ċirkewwa reef.

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