Mauritania? It’s that country full of sand dunes with no beer, right? Yip that’s what we thought too. But we’ve been very pleasantly surprised by this country that receives more coverage on Taliban threats to tourists than it’s real attractions, which have been some of the most interesting we’ve encountered on this trip.
It is surprising, as one enters the city limits of the northern Mauritanian town of Nouadhibou, to notice literally hundreds of shipwrecks lining the CALM side of the Cap Blanc peninsula. Seriously, hundreds…
Turns out Nouadhibou is home to the largest ship graveyard in the world. Our Rough Guide lists the main cause as fishing boats “scuppered for fraudulent insurance claims”. Of course it’s obvious – what better place to dispose of an unwanted vessel than in a picturesque bay in the middle of the Sahara desert?
Further reading we found here describes how it all started in the 80′s with some pretty dismal management of the nationalisation of the Mauritanian fishing industry and the abandonment of numerous uneconomical vessels in the bay. These were then “joined by ships downgraded following fraudulent insurance claims or the misuse of government loans”. A harbourmaster notorious for accepting bribes to overlook the normally hefty decommissioning expenses also often finds his way into conversation around here.
Nice parking Captain…!
But in the end, by whatever dubious means they ended up here, the result is a fairly spectacular shipwreck-fest. Walking along the shore alongside all these beasts of the sea is all a bit surreal and one starts to get the feeling you’re walking through a film set, as opposed to the economic capital of Mauritania: “this can’t be for real… surely?!!”.
You keep expecting a director to step out… “and ACTION!”
A closer look at the wrecks and you’re soon whisked back to reality – in classic resourceful African style some local fishermen have used the wrecks to construct at intricate web of fishing nets to try make a living from the sea. Clearly too poor to afford boats, these artisans service their nets by pulling themselves between ships along designated roping… on pretty much anything they can find that will float. Yip, you’re still in West Africa!
No boat or paddle? No problem for the shipwreck-fisherman of Nouadhibou…
It’s thus with mixed emotions that we read about a EUR340m EU-funded scheme to remove the wrecks over the next few years. Sure it’s a shipping hazard and probably not great for the environment. But like so many things we’ve found on our way up the continent from Cape Town – it’s all like nothing you will ever see anywhere else in the world.
Oh…one for the surfers… another reason why we’re not keen for the EU to move the wrecks!
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