Gneisenau served in the training of officer candidates, for which the ship undertook numerous voyages abroad. An incident of desertion by a crew member is alleged to have occurred in 1885 at Sydney. On 16 December 1900 the ship sank in a storm near the harbor of Málaga, Spain, after grounding at the harbor mole because a failure of the propulsion machinery. Forty crew members perished, including the captain and first officer. Several Malaga citizens died also trying to rescue the sailors. The German government built an iron bridge in Malaga as a recognition of their sacrifice. According to The Naval Annual, she "had on board 14 naval officers, including Captain Kretchmann in command, 49 cadets and 6 other officers, and about 380 men. The unfortunate ship was lying outside the harbour at Malaga, when a great storm arose, causing her to drag her anchors, and she was driven with much force against the Eastern Mole and completely wrecked."