According to tradition, the site of Paul’s shipwreck is usually placed on the northern shore of the island, about nine miles northwest of modern Valletta. Although the antiquity of the tradition is difficult to trace, the location has been known as Saint Paul’s Bay since about the 12th century.
There are geographical and historical clues given in Luke’s account:
Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight…
When daylight came, they did not recognize the land, but they saw a bay with a sandy beach, where they decided to run the ship aground if they could. Cutting loose the anchors, they left them in the sea and at the same time untied the ropes that held the rudders. Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and made for the beach. But the ship struck a sandbar and ran aground. The bow stuck fast and would not move, and the stern was broken to pieces by the pounding of the surf. (Read Acts 27:27-41 for the entire account)
The shipwreck site was described as land unrecognizable to the professional sailors, suggesting that it was not a location that ships normally passed on their way to Rome. Beyond the shore, there was a feature like a reef or sandbar at a place “where two seas met” (Greek wording). On the island, there was a bay with a sandy beach.
According to some scholars, the description of a place where “two seas met” and a bay with a beach appears to match the geography of St. Paul’s Bay. There is a channel of water between the small island of Salmonetta and the main island of Malta that creates the appearance of two seas meeting. Today, the uninhabited Salmonetta is also called St. Paul’s Island. A lone statue of Paul has stood out there since 1844.
There is also a beach at St. Paul’s Bay, with an outer shoal where a ship could have got stuck and battered by waves.
Probably most significantly, the ancient historians Lucian and Josephus describe the normal route of grain freighters from Alexandria to Rome as going past Malta on the eastern side, where the main harbor (known as Valletta today) and various structures such as the Temple of Juno were visible. According to Acts 27:39, the sailors on Paul’s ship didn’t recognize their location. This suggests the possibility of a shipwreck on the rarely travelled north side of the island, where St. Paul’s Bay now is.
Other locations for Paul’s shipwreck on Malta have been suggested based on geographical analysis and the discovery of Roman anchors. Although they lack the tradition of Saint Paul’s Bay, there are some fascinating theories and some adventurous tales. We just don’t know for sure.