Isla Gomera / El Naranjito
While the marine reserve at Cabo de Palos houses some of the best wrecks in the area, just over a mile outside the port lies the Isla Gomera, commonly known as El Naranjito due to its final cargo – thousands of oranges. It was actually this cargo that caused its demise – in a storm in April 1946, the oranges shifted violently, causing the boat to list and take on water. The crew swam to the shore while the 51-metre freighter slowly sank, and it now sits upright, with the stern in 46m and the top of the superstructure rising to 27m. It is covered in marine growth – and some trawl nets, so take care – but penetration is possible into the superstructure, engine room and now-empty cargo holds. The large prop is still in-situ, and makes a fine photograph.
The Lilla / Carbonero
The 120-metre-long Italian steamship Lilla, also known as the Carbonero due to its final cargo of coal, was torpedoed by a German submarine on 13 October 1917 some seven miles east of the La Manga strip. Split in two near the engine room, which you can swim through, the wreck sits in 44m with the deck at 35m and is home to a rich selection of marine life, with huge amounts of growth due to the amount of time it has been on the seabed. Jacks, barracuda and dentex are commonly seen feeding on the shoals inhabiting the Lilla, and large conger eels can be found in the interior. Due to its location so far offshore, the visibility is often excellent – you can expect 25 metres or more.
The SS Stanfield is a vast wreck with a length of 120 metres and a beam of 14m. Launched in Liverpool in 1899, it was torpedoed on 26 June 1916 by a German submarine and sank in a depth of 62m. It sits upright on the bottom, but the bow has sustained a lot of damage, and must have impacted the seabed first. It is split wide open and allows access into three deck levels and hold number one. The torpedo caused significant damage on the port side and effectively split the wreck in two. There are a further two cargo holds to explore, along with the main superstructure. There is even a spare propeller lying on the deck, which sits at 45m. Due to the depth, this wreck is perfect for open-circuit and closed-circuit technical divers. It is heavily encrusted in marine growth as it has been down over 100 years.
Bajo de Fuera
This pinnacle in the Isla Hormigas marine reserve has been a hazard to shipping for many years, as it lies a short distance from the shore yet rises from depths of 70m to just 3m below the surface. The remnants of at least four large shipwrecks can be found at depths of 40m and below.
The Italian freighter Nord America sank in 1883 after running aground while carrying a cargo of iron ingots, while the Minerva ended up on the rock during a massive storm in 1899. The remains of both are well dispersed, but several sections are still recognisable and open for exploration.
The most-infamous shipwreck is the 120-metre-long, 4,000-tonne Sirio, an Italian liner taking immigrants to the USA, which went down on 4 August 1906 after colliding with Bajo de Fuera. It was massively overloaded, though the exact number of immigrants on board is not known for sure due to improper passenger lists, but the tragic death toll was anywhere from 150-400, depending on the report you refer to. The survivors were rescued by local fishermen and other vessels, including French steamer Marie Louise and the trawlers Joven Miguel and Vicente Lilicano, the crews of the latter both being praised for their heroism. The Sirio gained notoriety not just because of the huge loss of life, but because the captain, Giuseppe Piccone, abandoned ship at the first opportunity, leaving his officers to try and deal with the panicking passengers.