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Net removal project completed successfully

The Underwater Cultural Heritage Unit (UCHU) within Heritage Malta, in its continuing collaboration with the local ATLAM dive club, has completed yet another net removal project, at one of Heritage Malta’s underwater sites called the HMS Nasturtium.

Throughout the months of May, June and July of this year, the project concentrated on the HMS Nasturtium wreck site, which is located approximately 10km off the coast of Valletta. Divers from both the ATLAM dive club as well as Heritage Malta participated in a number of dives, freeing the site from a large burden of nets.

Around 12 million tonnes of plastic enter the world’s seas and oceans every year and ghost gear, which refers to abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear, makes up a whopping 10% of that waste. The dangers of ghost gear lie in its material durability and buoyancy, persisting in the marine environment for decades.

Historic wreck sites attract a variety of marine life but also tend to act as catchment areas for ghost gear, entangling and damaging historic remains and marine life. The threat also exists for visiting divers, who are often unaware of the risk of entanglement posed by nets, lines and other lost gear.

In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the threats posed by this gear, and a growing number of grass-root initiatives, both locally and internationally, have targeted this problem. On a local level, the presence of this gear on historic wrecks has been noted through diver surveys and as a result, Heritage Malta, in collaboration with ATLAM Sub Aqua Club, initiated a net removal project on its underwater sites.

HMS Nasturtium

Photo: PADI

The wreck site was an Arabis-class sloop, purposely built for minesweeping duties by the Royal Navy during World War I. The sloop was launched in December 1915 and was based in Malta.

On 24 April, 1916, HMS Nasturtium left the island, only to return on orders to sweep for mines and submarines, known to be in the area. On 27 April, HMS Nasturtium entered the same minefield that had sunk the battleship HMS Russell earlier the same day, and struck a mine. The explosion occurred below the waterline on the starboard side, resulting in loss of life.

The hole left by the explosion caused a large amount of coal to be lost. Consequently, the vessel listed heavily on its port side. In the early hours of 28 April 1916, HMS Nasturtium sunk, settling upright on the seabed at a depth of 67 metres.