Everything About The Largest Ship Graveyard In The World: Nouadhibou, Mauritania
Nouadhibou is the largest ship graveyard in the world. It was once a vibrant fishing village on the West African coast of Mauritania. Now, it’s home to abandoned ships of all sizes.
This is more than just an eyesore. It’s a huge environmental problem with serious consequences. When you’re done reading this blog post, you’ll know how it became an issue in the first place and what can be done to help save our oceans from this hazard.
As a result, the bay is filled with the hulks of hundreds of discarded ships that have been abandoned by their owners because they are now derelict and uneconomic to salvage or break up. This blog post will explore this unique environment and discuss the environmental effects it has had on the area as well as its contribution to global pollution.
Lying on the coast of northeastern Mauritania is the world’s largest ship graveyard. It consists of over 400 ships, most of which are oil tankers. The ship graveyard has been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
The Largest Ship Graveyard in the World: Nouadhibou, Mauritania
The coastline of Mauritania is littered with hundreds of rusting hulks that have been left to rot after lying abandoned for years. One third of these beached vessels are oil tankers, many of which are ill-equipped for their task and contribute to the country’s pollution problem.
These vessels are also too small for their cargo, leading to more frequent explosions and spills in the area. Nouadhibou, Mauritania is the largest ship graveyard in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. The area is also known as “The Smoke That Never Disappears.” This is due to the perpetual fog that rises off of the Sahara Desert and settles on Nouadhibou Bay.
The first ships arrived in Nouadhibou in 1957, after it was chosen by France as a trading port on Africa’s west coast. Their arrival left little room for tourism, which has persisted despite its solitude.
Today, it’s estimated that upwards of 2000 ships are being broken down on the shoreline. Littered with ships from all over the world.
History of the ship graveyard?
The Nouadhibou shipyard, where the majority of the vessels are anchored, is the largest in the world. Originally built in 1964, it was the centrepiece of the sultanate’s attempt to develop its newly acquired territory. But the empire crumbled soon after, and the shipyard soon became rundown and was allowed to fall into disrepair.
It is an ironic fact of life that the capital city of Nouadhibou, in the North African country of Mauritania, is home to the largest ship graveyard in the world. According to archaeologists, the area has been identified as the first known ship graveyard – which dates back to 300 BC.
Now over 1000 ships rest on the coast of the West African country of Mauritania, some dating back to centuries ago. These vessels came from all over the world, coming to seek their fortune in the Gulf of Guinea, in search of raw materials. Unfortunately, many of them never made it.
Today, the oil tankers, submarines, salvage ships, and motor vessels – many abandoned and half-sunken – lay off the shore in rows, visible from the city. Most are tilted at angles of 45 degrees and a number have begun to disintegrate. One vessel, the MV Tuah Tangara, went down in 1991, leaking 140 tonnes of fuel oil. In 2003, a year after Mauritania gained independence, the city of Nouadhibou banned shipyard work in an attempt to stop the degradation.
The basin of the Mauritanian city of Nouadhibou used to be a busy shipping port. However, traffic along the coast has fallen dramatically since the discovery of oil in the region in 1971. In its place, the oil-importing tanker market has shifted and now feeds a thriving illegal fishing industry.
The 25-square kilometre basin, mostly formed from the sands of the Mauritanian Coast, is a wreck cemetery that covers an area larger than Monaco. At least 2,000 of the 7,500 ships in this region are unable to sail away in any direction.
And these wrecks are often called “ghost ships” due to the way they vanish on the horizon leaving no trace. As one report from Ushahidi explains: “Some are vessels that have long since vanished, and their owners continue to evade their duty.”
Where is the ship graveyard?
The largest ship graveyard in the world is located in the city of Nouadhibou. The Mauritanian city, situated on the southeast coast of Africa, is now a ghost town after the departure of the majority of its residents for Europe in the 1980s. It has no permanent residents, but only a few residents have taken up residence in the city.
Due to its location, a good part of the city is built on the waterfront, which makes it the largest ship graveyard in the world. The largest proportion of the wrecks are located in a small, natural inlet, called Safi Bay, about 60 kilometres away.
The city is home to ships that have been stranded for years. During a visit in 2016, I drove along a mile-long stretch of the seafront and counted 157 decomposing, rotting cargo vessels.
The many little huts scattered along the waterfront also showed signs of decay. Despite the isolated, secluded location, it is very accessible. The ship graveyard is a popular beach destination for many people. However, the majority of the vessels were operating illegally when they ran aground, and this is something that will be investigated during a new mission in 2018.
How do you get to Nouadhibou, Mauritania Ship Graveyard?
Getting to the ship graveyard isn’t easy, but not entirely out of reach.
Ferry from Europe: In my experience, most people in the UK don’t consider the idea of crossing the Atlantic, and that’s a shame. The round trip from Southampton to Nouadhibou will set you back at less than £700, and the journey only takes a few hours. If you have a good friend in the African nation, this is also a great way to go.
If you’re looking to take the cheap route, or you have limited time to spend there, you could also take a motorboat to the wreck from within the marina. It will cost around $15 for a one-hour trip, although don’t expect to be allowed on to the rusting vessels for any extended periods of time. If you do plan on taking the boat from the marina to the hulking ship graveyard, you’ll need to make a reservation in advance and receive permission from security.
For the better value option, the day boat trips that are advertised
Air travel: If you’re based in Europe and want to take a trip, taking an AirFrance flight is the way to go. You can fly into it.
Usually, air travel is the only way to get to this part of the world, and it can be costly with a round trip flight from Casablanca to Nouadhibou costing over £500. However, there are a few different ways to get there, but you will need the right documentation.
Drive: The ship graveyard is a short boat ride away from the coast of Mauritania. The trip is pretty simple – the marina provides many small boats, which you can hire to take you out to the hulking rusting wrecks.
You will drive through 3 hours of absolutely empty, windswept, white sand beaches to Mauritania where you will witness the mass state of decay and decay of a once-bustling maritime shipping centre.
Why was Nouadhibou chosen for the ship graveyard?
The selection of the ship graveyard on the coast of Mauritania was based on a combination of the country’s geography and a request from a major oil company to build a ship graveyard. While no commercial oil rigs are present in the area, large ships do come to Mauritania to offload fuel. Shipping companies would also be more likely to use the ship graveyard if a large petroleum spill or incident occurs.
Initially, five oil tankers were proposed to be parked at the southern tip of the harbour, near one of the many wrecks in the area. However, a lack of funds meant that only three were to be included.
Nouadhibou is one of the more secure places to park oil tankers in Africa, with several military bunkers protecting the facility and reinforced security fences.
Nouadhibou is surrounded by agricultural land and wetlands and is thus an ideal place for a ship graveyard. However, the wetlands have led to complaints from local inhabitants that their homes and farms have been damaged as these oil vessels sink.
In response, the Mauritania Maritime Authority has tried to mitigate the environmental effects of shipwrecks by sending divers down to repair the damage. However, the diving missions are expensive and time-consuming, and thus the bodies of the sunken ships have to be left for
The coastal city of Nouadhibou sits on a strategic trading route for trade between Africa and Europe. The harbour was expanded and re-enforced in 1989, partly in response to the pollution problem. However, Nouadhibou’s once-famous markets are now falling apart and the fish and meat are not as fresh as they used to be.
Origin of the ship graveyard start?
This phenomenon is not an old ship graveyard, it started to appear around the 1980s and early 1990s. It is not a case of hoarding or dereliction, but rather the result of several factors. First of all, it is incredibly cheap to acquire old ships.
According to an estimate by the non-profit maritime group Marine Miners Association, there are some 350 vessels lying on the sand that are worth a total of less than US$5 million. For the seafarers who find them and want to return them to a new life as cargo ships, this is an enticing proposition, and the vessels are bought and sold as quickly as they are abandoned.
These young shipowners have nothing to do with the ships’ former lives as cargo ships. They have no previous experience with them and no plans for the vessels once they have them.
Ships started getting disused and abandoned in the 1980s as the oil boom in the country came to an end. In 2014, The Panama-flagged Fischauf sets sail for no apparent reason and break free of its moorings. A dozen other ships get dragged along by the strong currents and are either damaged or sink.
Coastal erosion and dredging at the mouth of the Senegal River have seen the collapse of the coastal landscape, leading to the loss of many good mooring areas. Fishing fleets were unable to pay the higher price for boats, so began leaving them to rot on the beaches when their value dropped and they were no longer of use.
Some of these ships were carrying fuel oil which was in plentiful supply in Mauritania, so the vast quantity of tankers eventually found themselves anchored in an ideal location to become a semi-permanent deadweight on the shoreline.
Over a period of ten days, over thirty ships end up on this abandoned coast of Mauritania, where they are reportedly rusting away.
The Jeanne d’Arc oil tanker (Arali Oil Tanker Co) exploded in April 2009. The rupture was caused by a sulfur leak from the tanker, which filled a large area of the sand dunes with dense black smoke. The oil that poured from the tanker was mainly consumed by vultures, seagulls and smaller animals that died without being able to handle the toxins in the water. Some seabirds were able to find refuge in the nearby marshland.
However, oil contaminated the animals living there and contaminated the birds’ eggs. What is happening now? The number of deaths caused by explosions and spills in the area of Nouadhibou has been increasing rapidly.
Is it a dangerous place?
The environmental damage from these abandoned ships far exceeds the harmful environmental effects caused by the oil tankers themselves. Almost a quarter of Mauritania’s land is below sea level, and the Mauritania government has been advised to abandon ship and move all coastal infrastructure to another part of the country in the future.
What is being done to prevent further environmental disasters? Despite their considerable environmental damage, most of the abandoned ships still remain on the coast of Mauritania. Officials have been trying to salvage as much of the shipwreck as they can and try to find new uses for the vessels. In addition to using the ship as a wharf for new ships, authorities are trying to establish shipping routes that won’t disturb the coast’s delicate ecosystem.
The statistics about the dangers to seafarers in this region are, to say the least, disheartening: In 2014 there were 89 capsized vessels, 6 of which resulted in fatalities.
In 2015, 8 people lost their lives and 11 others were injured. Most of the accidents and spills happen when the tankers are about to load or displace cargo or have been abandoned at sea, with little or no chance of anyone salvaging them.
Fortunately, the report by TRL describes other significant hazards the vessels suffer from. Some of the ships are said to be seriously overloaded. For example, one tanker carrying 18,000 tonnes of oil was carrying up to 30 times more than the load stated in the insurance contract for the ship.
The ship graveyard has contributed to the increase in marine pollution in the area is the high rate of cargo thefts. Each year vessels are left to rust after the contents have been removed, sometimes leaving the bulk of their cargo in the sand. These have attracted organised crime, who dig the remains up to obtain valuable metals.
Illegal fishing is also a problem in this area, with many large nets being cast to catch fish, when the nets are broken, it allows even larger and more predatory fish to feed. The stench from the rotting of fish can also pose a health risk to residents, who have to be evacuated at times due to the bad smell.
Can the ship graveyard be accessed by the public?
Absolutely, however, you will have to buy a tourist visa and travel to Mauritania yourself. The ship graveyard is located in Port-Louis, east of the capital Nouakchott.
While the international maritime law states that no one may touch an abandoned ship, locals can investigate the corroding wrecks and the pollution that they leave behind. However, these tankers and other vessels that are still mostly intact are fenced off, and visitors will have to obtain a permit before visiting.
The ship graveyard is officially under the control of Mauritania’s Fisheries Ministry. The pier nearest to the ship graveyard is only accessible at low tide, but there are ways to get to the ship graveyard during higher tide times.
Can I climb the shipwreck? Unfortunately, no. All the wrecks are unstable and it’s dangerous to go near them.
Can I watch the ship sinking? Yes! From a distance or online would be a better option.
Are there shipwrecks along the African coast with more integrity? No. The ship graveyard contains some of the world’s most corroded, rotten, and derelict vessels, which are in a perpetual state of decay. The shipyard owners who owned these vessels would remove all valuables from the vessels and
The United Malika
The United Malika is perhaps one of the most famous ships that have been abandoned on the coast of Nouadhibou. Carrier was the first of the country’s vessels to be left to its own devices. Located just outside the capital city of Nouakchott, it was wrecked in 1994 after a storm that made repairs impossible.
Built-in 1897, the United Malika was designed for inter-European trade but never reached its destination. After notching up some 20 years of service, it sank after being blown up by a crew disgruntled with cargo theft. The side of the ship was cut off and hastily patched up, and it has since been used as a location for film shoots and as a traditional fishing boat.
Without repair materials to build a replacement hull, the government ordered the ship to be abandoned. A tattered portrait of Mauritania’s first president, Mohammed V, is painted on the hull. The vessel’s rusting hulk can be seen from the air but remains inaccessible to visitors.
Its neighbour, the Mont Wabe, is the most recent wreck to be added to the list. It was left to fend for itself after the oil tanker MV Shahed had to turn back to its port, Nouakchott, in 2011 because of a faulty propeller. The Malika Carrier was built for the North African country in 1989 and was carrying 9,824 tons.
What can be done to solve the ship graveyard issue?
Unfortunately, not much. There are plenty of detailed and terrifying photographs of the Mauritanian wrecks, but no country has the funds to properly clean up all of them. This seems to be a good place to start: we need to develop an international plan to prevent thousands of shipwrecks from littering the oceans with rusting tanks.
Mauritania perhaps lacks the resources to inspect and clean up the countless abandoned vessels on a regular basis that is currently in its waters as the problem has been around for a long time.
What’s being done to protect the marine environment and shipwrecked citizens? We believe there is legislation that is being drafted to designate this area as a “shipping graveyard,” though the general lack of financial resources and the unwillingness of the local government to uphold international standards pose problems.
The shipping companies themselves are largely to blame for this, as they fear cleaning up the vessels that litter their yards. This is particularly true for smaller vessels that haven’t been declared “exhaustive,” which would allow them to be removed from the yard and salvaged by their owners.
There are also a number of development programs that have worked with local fishermen to relocate abandoned vessels, install state-of-the-art technology to prevent fuel leaks, and promote economic development in the country’s coastal communities.
Is it worth seeing the ship graveyard?
It depends on why you would like to visit. It’s not worth visiting unless you’re curious about the ship graveyard and want to take a few pictures. It’s been desecrated, overrun with feral cats and no one’s really sure how many of the ships there are.
You may find the beaches littered with tiny boats and old oil tankers, but other than a few tankers, nothing interesting and nothing to photograph. You may find this place beautiful or depressing, all at the same time.
Many of the ships are stuck in rocks and aren’t easy to reach, while others are submerged in the water, meaning they’re inaccessible. With the majority of the ships being impounded in 2009 by authorities to prevent pollution and oil leaks, few cargoes holds remain usable, and many have been vandalized and destroyed by vandals.
Volunteers regularly drop anchor on the ships, but the pollution in the area is a problem that’s best tackled with official government support, as Mauritania is currently ungovernable.
We hope you found our article interesting and helpful if you were looking for any information about the ship graveyard. This is one of the fascinating destinations that will make it worthwhile for any travel enthusiast to visit. It may not be the most beautiful place that you have visited but you may find it an interesting place that you want to visit once in your lifetime.