Where do all these ships go after their service life?
This frequently asked question, however, was offered a number of answers, suggesting a variety of ship disposal methods that have been used for a quite long time.
Ship disposal methods have come a long way as several approaches have been introduced and discontinued since the beginning of marine transportation. Most of the time, especially a half-century ago, the ships ended up in vast graveyards only to slowly decay in the years to come.
Also called as ship cemetery, these graveyards would generally have a large number of ships, boats, or hulls of scrapped vessels left to decay and rust. Such graveyards were formed as a result of the deliberate disposal of the vessels, natural calamities and wars, among others. Thus, the phrase now refers to places that are created specifically for the purpose of a ship’s decomposition and also the oceanic parts where ships have been stranded without any chances of getting rescued because of natural occurrences.
In addition, the places where a number of vessels have been purposely scuttled together, and have been sunk during naval battles also known as ship graveyards. Contrary to its name, these kinds of graveyards on the seabed are now home to rich marine life, becoming an excellent destination for scuba divers and marine enthusiast. Sometimes, even ship breaking yards, where the vessels are dismantled or scrapped for recycling their metal parts, are also termed as ship graveyards.
Here is a list of such ten ship graveyards around the world. (Not according to any ranking system)
1. Bay of Nouadhibou
Located in Mauritania, this passage of water is regarded unequivocally across the world as being the world’s largest ship graveyard. It is said that more than 300 vessels can be found in this graveyard, both in the water and on land. However, unlike the other mentioned ship graveyards, the Bay of Nouadhibou was used as a ship dumping ground mainly on account of the avarice of the Mauritian authorities who allowed uncensored dumping of ships in the Bay after receiving bribes. Hundreds of ships were brought from all over the world to be disposed of in the area during 80’s following the nationalization of the country’s fishing industry. The popular wreck of the Bay of Nouadhibou ship graveyard is a reefer vessel named United Malika.
2. Aral SeaThe Aral Sea is a well-known graveyard of ships in the Eurasian country of Uzbekistan. Once a thriving hive of fishing activity, the Aral Sea was reduced to a graveyard after the Soviet government decided to divert two rivers that fed the sea to irrigate the desert for cultivation, particularly of cotton. The Aral Sea began to shrink in the 1960s and the body of water had split the lake into two separate bodies of water–the North and South Aral Seas- in 1987. Following this, many ships were abandoned by its owners, leaving the fishing towns to become a ship graveyards.
3. AlangShip Breaking Yard
The world’s largest graveyard with respect to ship breaking in the Indian sub-continent, Alang in Gujarat, India, oversees ship dismantling for almost 50% of the world’s vessels. Located on the Gulf of Khambat, over hundred yards along the beach in Alang dismantles vessels in different types and sizes, including car ferries, ocean liners, container ships and large supertankers, among others. According to reports, over 6,900 vessels have been dismantled in these yards during the last three decades. These ship-breaking yards in India have a capacity to break at least 450 ships annually and dismantled a record of 415 ships in 2011-12. On the other hand, as a storage facility for a variety of toxic wastes, these yards have polluted the beach and destroyed the marine life in the area.
4. Chuuk Lagoon
Chuuk Lagoon, also known as Truk Lagoon, is one of the largest ship graveyards under the water. A sheltered body of water in the central Pacific, Chuuk Lagoon represents Chuuk State within the Federated States of Micronesia. The result of an allied attack on Japan’s naval base in the South Pacific during World War II, Chuuk Lagoon has over 60 warships on the sea floor. The area surrounded by the wreckage has now become an array of marine life due to the presence of hundreds of species.
Mainly used by the French Navy, the ship graveyard in Landévennec consists of military vessels. The graveyard is basically a water cove created by the Aulne River about the Pen Forn point near Landévennec and has a depth of about 10 metres. The naval history of the region goes back to around 1840 when a naval station was first established there to house reserve fleet vessels. Currently, a number of naval vessels belonged to the French Navy, including the Soviet-built Komet and the cruiser named Colbert, rest in Landévennec.
6. Gadaniship-breaking yard
Located near Karachi, Pakistan, the Gadanibreaking yard is another biggest ship graveyard in the world. Stretches up to 10kn along the coast, this massive ship-breaking yard consists of over 130 ship-breaking plots. The Gadani Yard, which provides employment to around 6,000 people, has an annual capacity of dismantling up to 125 ships. According to estimate, the yard dismantles up to 100 ships a year into metal sheets and other re-usable parts. At the yard, ships are being broken after they are run aground on the beach and dragged further when the weight of the disposed of vessel lessens.
7. Skeleton Coast
Located in Namibia, the Skeleton Coast is a ship graveyard that features the ghostly remains of vessels resting there for years. The Skeleton Coast originates at the mouth of the River Ugab and extends up to the River Kunene located near the border of Angola.
Known as the Skeleton Coast National Park (named in the year 1973), the ship graveyard is regarded by many as the world’s largest graveyard of ships.The occurrence of impenetrable fogs and storms has led to various ships being stranded causing it to become a vessel graveyard.The name, Skeleton Coast, comes from the remains of the whale and seal bones that were littered in the coast by the whaling industry. In addition, the remains of stranded vessels in the coast also resulted in the popularity of the name.
8. Staten Island
The Staten Island graveyard in the United States is a well-known graveyard for tugs and barges. The most important feature of the Staten Island graveyard is that some of the tugs and boats’ salvage rest here belong to the 20th century and it forms one of the most sought-after places for scuba-divers. Founded by John J. Witte in the 1930s, this scrapyard has been recognised as an official dumping place for tugboats, barges and ferries in the US. Other notable names of Staten Island graveyard include the Witte Marine Scrap Yard, the Tugboat Graveyard, the Arthur Kill Boat Yard, and the Donjon Iron and Metal Scrap Processing Facility.
9. Bikini Atoll
Located in the Marshall Islands, the Bikini Atoll is known for the naval vessels resting in its lagoons. The Bikini Atoll was a location of the United States’ nuclear testing programme, which saw the sinking of 90 vessels between 1946 and 1958. The ships used for testing in the seven test sites in the Bikini Atoll region include USS Pennsylvania, USS New York, USS Saratoga and USS Arkansas. Officially designated a ship graveyard by the US Navy, the Bikini Atoll is a UNESCO World Heritage Site now. A very popular destination for researchers and scuba-divers, it has been recently found out that the coral reefs of the Atoll which had been completely destructed during the war-time are showing signs of re-growth and resurgence.
10. Olenya Bay
Olenya Bay, located on the Kola Peninsula in Russia, is home to the historic Soviet submarine graveyard. As an active military base during the Cold War, the bay witnessed the disposal of the submarines those completed their military duty. The subs that are resting in the Olenya Bay’s cemetery date back to the 1970s, during when the Russian shipyards were struggling to meet the Navy’s requirements and didn’t have resources to recycle the old underwater vessels. However, many submarines disposed of in the Bay were dismantled and recycled later, especially during the 1990s.
Ship graveyards in recent times have come under the scrutiny of environmentalists and preservationists of the oceanic ecosystem and ecology. Organisations like the Greenpeace are taking huge efforts to make people aware of the repercussions of such ship graveyards. In today’s times, it needs to be noted that many shipping companies and government authorities make sure that the dismantling of a ship happens in dry docks. However, those ships which are not disposed of in dry docks still do become a part of the ship graveyard chain. In order to protect the marine ecosystem from degenerating further, it is important and highly imperative that the usage of ship graveyards is restricted and curtailed.
Disclaimer: The authors’ views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Marine Insight. Data and charts, if used, in the article have been sourced from available information and have not been authenticated by any statutory authority. The author and Marine Insight do not claim it to be accurate nor accept any responsibility for the same. The views constitute only the opinions and do not constitute any guidelines or recommendation on any course of action to be followed by the reader.