Updated 5.14pm

One diver has died and 17 others have been rescued after getting into difficulty in the sea during strong winds off Ċirkewwa, police have confirmed.

The victim, a 45-year-old man from the Netherlands, was certified dead on arrival at Mater Dei hospital. 

In a statement, police said they were called to the Ċirkewwa Rożi dive site at around 1.20pm on Tuesday after reports that several divers found themselves in difficulty while in the sea.

They found 18 divers in distress.

Divers at the scene. Photo: Chris Sant FournierDivers at the scene. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Four of the divers managed to get ashore on their own while police, the Civil Protection Department and the Armed Forces began a search operation for the others. 

All the divers have now been accounted for. 

Ambulances were on site to take four divers to Mater Dei Hospital, where one was later confirmed dead. The other three divers taken to hospital are understood to not be in a critical condition. 

Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri said that the incident involved "groups of divers".

Windy weather on Tuesday, with strong force six southwesterly winds reaching gusts of up to force nine in exposed areas, prompted the Met Office to issue a yellow weather warning at 1pm.  

An AFM search boat in the sea. Photo: Chris Sant FournierAn AFM search boat in the sea. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

One member of a diving school told Times of Malta at the scene of the incident that several diving schools were at the site at the time. 

He said he had been diving earlier in the day and that it was "just a normal day for divers". 

"But the waves got higher, making it difficult for the divers to get out," he said.  "That is when there was a call for help". 

Gozo Channel ferries paused operations for about two hours while the search and rescue was ongoing. Queues in Malta stretched as far back as Mġarr even after they resumed services. 

The Rożi dive site is one of the country's most popular dive sites, because it can be used by divers of all abilities and is accessible from the shore near the ferry terminal.

Gozo-based dive shops usually go there by boat and anchor on the Ċirkewwa reef.

First-level divers can dive off the reef while the wreck of an old British tugboat, the MV Rożi, lies west of the reef and is used by more qualified divers.

Magistrate Gabriella Vella is holding an inquiry. 

Sign up to our free newsletters

Get the best updates straight to your inbox:
Please select at least one mailing list.

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By subscribing, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing.