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.
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.