Not water waves but sand waves – shipwrecks in the once coastal town of Myunak
Deserts are not the places one would associate with shipwrecks. But ghostly remains of once proud schooners, cruise ships or freighters smack in the middle of a desert are not as rare as one might think. Deserts and accompanying dust storms steering unsuspecting ships off course are often the culprits but also advancing deserts and sadly, increasing desertification worldwide. Here’s a look at five places that can boast of some quite bizarre shipwrecks.
Ships seem to turn into whale bones on the Skeleton Coast.
Namibia’s Skeleton Coast, named for the huge whale skeletons and ghostly shipwrecks found on its shores, is one of the earth’s most inhospitable and least visited places. Travelling sand dunes rule the area and make travelling on land hardly advisable.
Even big ships can’t help fall under the Skeleton Coast’s spell.
Even vehicles with four-wheel drive will not go far for fear of getting stuck in the soft sand, their passengers at risk of running out of drinking water before help arrives. Namibian tribes shun the region that they call “the Land God Made in Anger” and Portuguese sailors once referred to as the “Gates of Hell”. Charming!
Sand as far as the eye can see and what’s left of the Eduard Bohlen, shipwrecked in 1909.
Among the roughly 1,000 ships that didn’t manage to navigate past this inhospitable area and now litter the coastline, slowly succumbing to the sand, are famous ones like the Eduard Bohlen, the Otavi, the Dunedin Star, and the Tong Taw.
The Skeleton Coast as seen from space.
The Skeleton Coast’s isolation has given rise to the untouched beauty of the area, which has produced a unique flora and fauna. Cold sea breezes are often accompanied by dense fog that has led many a ship astray, left in desert silence and a barren landscape once the fog has cleared.
An abandoned ship in a now dried up part of the Aral Sea near Aral, Kazakhstan.
The Aral Sea, located between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, was once the fourth-largest inland salt lake. It has been steadily shrinking since the 1960s when its two crucial water sources, the rivers Amu Darya and Syr Darya were diverted for Soviet irrigation projects.
Even the camels seem to be wondering what happened to all the water.
Since the 1960s, the Aral Sea has shrunk to 10% of its original size, leaving behind three separate lakes instead of one, of which two are too salty to support fish. Many former coastal towns find themselves now literally stranded in a desert, deprived of their livelihood and affected by ecological changes. Testimony to this are huge shipwrecks that lie around abandoned like stranded metal whales.
Before and after – the Aral Sea in 1989 (left) and in 2009.
Muynak in western Uzbekistan is one of those once bustling fishing towns that today has problems keeping its few thousand remaining inhabitants. The receding Aral Sea has placed Muynak dozens of miles away from the coast, subjecting it to dust storms and more severe weather conditions than before.
A shipwreck in Western Sahara that looks in quite good shape.
In a list of bizarre shipwrecks, we can’t give the Sahara a miss – just the term Saharan shipwrecks sounds rather strange.
A picturesque shipwreck near Tarfaya, Morocco.
The Sahara, the world’s largest hot desert covers almost all of northern Africa or about the size of the United States or Europe.
A massive dust storm transporting sand westward across the Atlantic Ocean.
The Sahara boasts one of the harshest climates in the world, with north-easterly winds causing severe sandstorms and dust devils that can even be seen from space. No wonder that many a ship, especially in Western Sahara, had to succumb to the elements.
Abu Soma, Egypt
The Red Sea is the Indian Ocean’s seawater inlet wedged between Africa and Asia. As the world’s northernmost tropical sea, the Red Sea climate is governed by two distinct monsoon seasons.
Abu Soma is a Red Sea resort known for its amazing wind- and kite-surfing opportunities. However, as some of the shipwrecks found on its beaches prove, it is not without dangers for ships navigating along these shores.
Stuck on a reef since 1981 – the Loullia.
The Loullia was a Panama freighter, built in Sweden and launched in 1952. On a voyage from Aqaba to Suez, it ran aground at Gordon Reef in the Straits of Tiran in September 1981. The crew got evacuated after four days but the ship’s remains have become a part of the reef ever since.
A dust storm over the Red Sea as seen from space.
Despite being the world’s hottest and saltiest body of seawater, the Red Sea’s efficient water circulation with the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean via the Gulf of Aden reduces the sea’s high salinity and surface temperature. The region’s corals have adapted to these conditions and have in fact – coupled with dust storms – been the end of many a ship’s journey in shallow parts of the sea.
A shipwreck at Navagio a.k.a. Shipwreck Beach in Zakynthos.
Greece is not a place that comes to mind when thinking of advancing deserts but fact is that more than 80% of Greece’s landmass is at risk from desertification and almost 10% already is arid. Most in danger are hilly areas where soil erosion adversely affects the fertility, depth and productivity of the earth. Agricultural machines, a growing population, salination and exploitation of already stressed resources are to blame. Currently, most of the Peloponnese, parts of the Ionian Islands, eastern and central Crete, parts of Thessaly, Macedonia, Thrace and mainland Greece are affected.
A shipwreck’s scenic location in Zakythos, Greece seen from a bird’s eye view.
Though there is a certain charm – and not to forget the surprise effect – to seeing ships in a desert, this is not a sight that we hope to see more of any time soon.