Just 250 metres off the coast of Morocco, directly opposite Jebel Musa (The Mountain of Moses) a small Islet, 480 metres in length, with a height of 74 metres is found here. The Spanish call it “Isla de Perejil” meaning Parsley Island, whilst it’s original Moroccan Berber name is “Tura” meaning empty, but it is widely called Laila by the Moroccan and International media.
Portugal took possession of the Islet in 1415, together with conquering Ceuta. In 1580, Philip I of Portugal who was also the King of Spain, created an Iberian Union under one king. Ceuta then remained under Spanish Sovereignty when the Union split in 1640.
The Islet is now a disputed territory between Morocco and Spain. Most Moroccans and Spaniards, had never heard of this Islet till the 11th July 2002, when a group of Moroccan Cadets set base on the Islet. Spain then launched Operation Romeo-Sierra on the 18th of July, to take over the Islet. The operations were successful, the Spanish commando attack force, consisting of the Spanish Navy and Spanish Air Force, captured the Moroccan Cadets, transferred them by helicopter to the Guardia Civil Headquarters in Ceuta, and later released them at the Moroccan Border.
Local Gibraltarians used to go out on day-trip excursions, on their own boats, to visit this Islet many years back. Some went fishing, others scuba diving. Since the last dispute that took place, I believe all activity and visiting the Islet has been stopped. As far as I am aware, the only people that can scuba dive off this Islet nowadays are the Guardia Civil, by permission of the Moroccan Authorities (as the waters belong to Morocco). A group of us in the Gibraltar Sub-Aqua Club (GSAC 888) have contact with the Dive Centre in Ceuta, and via them we managed to arrange a diving expedition to the “Isla de Perejil” together with the Guardia Civil divers.
It was a very interesting day. We met at 6:30AM at our club house here in Gibraltar to then make our way to the port of Algeciras in Spain, ready to catch the 8AM ferry for Ceuta. We started off with a 30 minute departure delay, followed by realising we were on the slow ferry which takes 30 minutes longer than the other one. In all, we arrived in Ceuta quite late, with all the other divers eagerly waiting for our arrival. After setting up all our diving equipment, we depart on the dive boat, headed to the Isla De Perejil, but leaving the port, the captain decided to turn around due to high winds and waves. We decided to travel to the Mediterranean side of Ceuta, to dive a deep wreck instead. I had already dived the Piscifactoria Wreck last year, and not having the adequate equipment and breathing gasses for this deep dive with me, I decided to give it a miss and take in the sun on-board instead.
Just as forecasted by the Met Office, the wind dropped on the Atlantic side of Ceuta later that afternoon. After returning to port to from the first dive, we changed tanks and headed off, this time to Isla de Perejil! There were still some waves and wind, making the journey a bit long. Reaching the Islet, we were approached by the Royal Moroccan Navy. We were asked where we were going and minutes after, we were let off to continue our journey. But five minutes later, the Naval Patrol boat approached us again, now asking us for documentation. After waiting eagerly for about 15 minutes, they came out from their cabins asking for some type of permits required to dive this site. Our Guardia Civil guard, together with the Dive Centre owner made some phone calls, which eventually released us from been held by the Moroccan Navy. I did wonder if we would all end up detained and towed into Morocco at some point!
Eventually we managed to get into the water. We dived on the western side of the island, where some impressive drops offs are found. The Walls peaks at some points to 3m and drops down to over 40 metres in this area. All covered in beautiful soft and hard corals everywhere. The purple Gorgonians making the most impressive highlight on the wall. On this drop off, we find lots of lost anchors, now heavily encrusted in corals and sponges, together with the remains of a wreck belonging to some fishermen. The propeller and engines are the main features which can be distinguished amongst the now very deteriorated wreckage. There are also many nets in the area. Towards the end of the dive I find some shrimp in a hole, a massive lobster and my dive buddy finds some Red Corals, which are endemic to the area. We also find a coral encrusted spear gun. In all, a very impressive dive, I’m privileged to be able to dive here, considering the difficulty in permissions required for this dive to take place.