SS Polynesien

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SS Polynesien

The SS Polynesien was one of four French Risbec-class passenger ocean liners, launched on 18 April 1890 by Messageries Maritimes and constructed in La Ciotat, France. Ocean liners were the primary method of intercontinental travel, and their large size and passenger capacity made them attractive commodities for repurposing into hospital ships and troop transport vessels by the French, British and German naval authorities of the First World War.

The SS Polynesien was requisitioned by the French navy as a troop transport vessel, transporting Serbian troops from Bizerte in Tunisia to Thessaloniki in Greece. Approximately 20% of the French merchant marine was occupied in the transportation of troops, horses and supplies and it is estimated that 630,000 troops were transported by French merchant vessels to the Dardanelles and Macedonian Front. SS Polynesien was torpedoed by a German submarine a few kilometers off the Maltese coast. The ocean liner was hit on the port side and sank within half an hour, resulting in the loss of life of 17 people, with survivors taken to Malta to recuperate.

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The Wreck.

The SS Polynesien rests at a depth of 68 metres off the south-eastern coast of Malta, lying at a 45-degree angle on its port side. The bow section of the deck structure is in good condition, with the front deck cannon and anchor clearly visible. The cargo bay contains motorbike tires and pipes, and the mid-section accommodates the engine room. This part of the wreck is badly damaged due to the impact of the torpedo, and the stern section has some structural damage but is mostly intact. The stern deck cannon and propeller are also in good condition. The passenger areas were located under the deck, and light fixtures, bed frames and bathtubs are still visible. The wreck of the SS Polynesien is one of the most well-known wreck sites in Maltese waters, known locally as the Plate wreck, and as a heavily looted site. Since 2019, the SS Polynesien has been under the protection and management of Heritage Malta, ensuring the continued authenticity and integrity of the site. 

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The Mast

Sailing masts continued to be included in ship designs during the early stages of development of steam engines. This was due to the large amounts of coal that were required and the space required to bunker it. The SS Polynesien had a triple expansion engine but also had three masts, on the aft, mid and bow of the ship, known as three-masted barque.

Ship's Hull

The hull of the Polynesien was put together using rivets and over the course of the last century these have corroded, impacting the structural integrity of the wreck.

Aft Gun

SS Polynesien was requisitioned by the French navy during the First World War as a troop transport vessel. This meant that the ocean liner was also outfitted with armaments. This gun was added to aft deck of the Polynesien. 


Screw propellers were first introduced in the 19th century and were considered standardized by the 1880s. The SS Polynesien has a single large propeller that drove the ship and an equally large rudder was used to steer the vessel. 

Auxiliary Anchor

The SS Polynesian had two main anchors. Any auxiliary anchors were stored on deck, and this particular one can still be found on the deck.