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 the limited employment activities, it is also somewhat poor. This economic hardship, as it often does, 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 1980’s. Fishing trawlers, cargo vessels, and naval cruisers are just some of the varied types of boats among the over 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.
Update November 2016: With an injection of captial from the Chinese, especially in the fisheries industry, the government has been cleaning out the ships. If you want to visit this obscura, now is the time to go. They will all be gone by September 2017.
Know Before You Go
Figure out how to get to Nouadhibou, Mauritania. There may be a road now from Mauritania's capital, Nouakchott and there are probably bush taxis and, possibly, occasional buses. Look out to sea from Nouadhibou City.