The view off the coast of Mauritania’s Bay of Nouadhibou is spotted with rusting hulks in every direction, ships that were cheaper to illegally abandon in the harbor than to correctly dismantle.
The city of Nouadhibou is the second-largest settlement in Mauritania, but due to limited employment, it is also somewhat poor. This economic hardship, as is often the case, led to widespread corruption in the local government. Dismantling large boats is a costly procedure, and many unscrupulous owners found that for a comparatively small bribe they could simply abandon their unwanted sea hulks in Nouadhibou’s bay. Ships were brought from all over the world to be left in the shallow waters, with a particular boom during the 1980s. Fishing trawlers, cargo vessels, and naval cruisers are just some of the varied types of boats among the more than 300 rusting ships that have accumulated over the years like coral.
Despite the environmental concerns of toxic oils, paints, and rust seeping into the waters of the bay, the rotting ships have produced a few surprising benefits. In addition to a continuing salvage industry that has sprung up around the wrecks, their deteriorating hulls have actually provided new habitats for fish and undersea life, giving the city’s vital fishing industry a much-needed shot in the arm.
With little economic reason to stop the illegal ship dumping, the Bay of Nouadhibou Ship Graveyard continues to grow to this day, creating an ever-evolving naval necropolis.
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