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Mauritania 2004
Destination: Nouadhibou, Mauritania Date: 19th August to 30th September Expedition Members: Berny Sèbe* (Expedition Leader: Keble, 2003), Paul Holland (St. Catherine’s, 2003), Daniel Richelet. *Contact: In August 19th 2004, the Oxford University Expedition to Mauritania embarked on an expedition to create a visual history and oral record of the world’s largest ships’ graveyard. The team aimed to document and record this unique human phenomenon before time and politics reduce it to a memory. The wrecks constitute a hazard to shipping in the shallow channels of Nouadhibou harbour, and represent an ecological threat, which is why the European Union has allocated a sum of $2 million to fund a clearance project. The expedition photographed 104 wrecks above water, and identified two-thirds of them. In addition to photographs, we created a silhouette of each ship, in order to standardize the images, and sketched some of them when necessary. To compile the oral history of the ships’ graveyard, the expedition relied on semi-structured interviews and surveys. We conducted the interviews with influential members of Nouadhibou’s fishing and shipping communities. Through our conversations with these key informants, we determined that the graveyard is relatively young. Most of these shipwrecks are less than 20 years old and nearly all of the wrecks are fishing vessels (apart from a few units seemingly disposed of by the Mauritanian Navy). The survey portion of the oral history was conducted with the individuals who live on the wrecks. These guards are

hired by the ship owners to protect the valuable equipment still installed on the wrecks. These individuals presented unique opinions regarding the current and future status of the graveyard. Despite undertaking a socially sensitive topic, the expedition achieved its goals. Geographic location The ships’ graveyard is located in and around the port city of Nouadhibou in the northeast corner of Mauritania (Fig. 1). Nouadhibou, the capital city of the wilaya (province) of Dakhlet Nouadhibou, is situated 20° 55’ 52” N / 17° 02’ 09” E. The city is built on the eastern side of the Cap Blanc peninsula, protected from the swell and the strong waves of the Atlantic by the cape’s southern tip. Nouadhibou’s population has grown swiftly (5,000 inhabitants in 1960, 21,900 in 1977,
Figure 1. Location of Nouadhibou.

Bulletin of the OUEC, Vol. 1 (2005)

The remaining wrecks are located to the northeast of the city (Baie du Repos) and extend one mile along the shore. Therefore. before departure Martin decided to withdraw from the expedition for personal reasons and Berny recruited Daniel Richelet. The second aspect of our oral research required the use of a survey. they recognized the political and environmental implications of the graveyard. overlooked the reaches of the Bay of Cansado. The methodology allowed the research team to focus on the knowledge of the local community and analyse the specific topic of the ships’ graveyard. to replace him. The team members were quickly integrated into the local research community. The majority of the shipwrecks are found along the southern shore. Further research determined that several European companies were considering the feasibility of dragging the wrecks together to create an artificial reef or removing them entirely.315 in 2000) as a consequence of the export of iron ore and the development of the fishing industry. replacing the rigid research methods of the questionnaire and survey. in the academic environment of the IMROP: the researchers’ flat overlooked the southernmost part of the ships’ graveyard. Daniel’s long-standing interest in both Saharan and maritime questions. southern Background Berny Sèbe and Martin Buckley initiated the Oxford University Expedition to Mauritania. To complete the expedition team. the goal of the expedition was to document the shipwrecks before they disappeared. The survey was conducted with members of the communities that interact with the shipwrecks on a daily basis. Together. The expedition applied the PRA methodology and attempted to eliminate the disadvantages listed above. To achieve accuracy in our findings. These individuals include fishermen and guards Bulletin of the OUEC. Martin and Berny recruited Paul Holland as the third team member. made him an ideal Field work and research methodology The expedition followed the Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) methodology described in the Royal Geographical Society’s Expedition Advisory Centre’s publication. 1 (2005) . Another advantage of our expedition team was the diverse backgrounds of each of the individuals involved. Berny has travelled extensively throughout the Sahara Desert accompanying his parents on their photographic expeditions.17 105. a lifelong friend of his parents. we depended on each team member’s unique academic perspective to crosscheck the results of our oral and literary research. The Expedition’s base. The approach emphasizes involvement with the community. PROJECT REPORTS Institut Mauritanien de Recherches Océanographiques et des Pêches (IMROP). especially as they were accommodated near the Bay of Cansado. consultants to the Mauritanian government. However. PRA is a holistic and flexible approach designed to achieve a more complete understanding of a community. As it seemed urgent to undertake this survey. With specialists in product and graphic design. modern history and geography. an expedition project was swiftly designed for submission to the OU Expeditions Council in November 2003. as well as his knowledge in design. Martin travelled to Nouadhibou in 1999 and viewed the graveyard at that time. each team member brought his unique perspective to the research. also known as the Bay of Cansado. Vol. These informants included the directors of the fishing industry. and academics studying the fishing industry in Mauritania. which was located at the team member. We conducted a series of semistructured interviews with key informants in Nouadhibou’s fishing community. The European Union had offered the Mauritanian government the funds for this project as part of a global package in exchange for fishing rights in Mauritanian waters. People Oriented Research1.

including weather conditions and the sensitive nature of our subject. 10. The photographic results of this study allowed us to document their personal perspective of the shipwrecks. forcing the expedition to shoot most of the photographs from land. The haze resulted in poor light quality and limited visibility. Vol. during the next half century the number of wrecks in the harbour steadily increased. Before being purchased by the Mauritanian . According to Philippe Tous2. In addition to these photographs. No. No. during the 1920s. In addition to the oral record of the ships’ graveyard. The vast majority of these shipwrecks are between 25 and 50 year old. these entrepreneurs failed to understand the mechanics and economics of these ships. The port itself began to work as a harbour thanks to a shipwreck. which starts from the southernmost wreck of Cansado Bay and ranks each boat according to its geographical situation — No. 20. patrol boat made in Spain by the shipyard Bazàn from La Carraca. Middle: Mauritanian Navy Unit. the port of Nouadhibou has long had to deal with the threat of shipwrecks. recording each wreck exactly as it looks above the waterline at low tide (Fig. registration No. MAZAGAN.50m putting the ships’ graveyard in relation with the wider context of the development of Nouadhibou. The sensitive nature of our subjects led to a reluctance in some of our subjects to discuss freely the origins and future of the graveyard. 139t. l 5. ALMAP IX. EL VAIZ. Results and implications Since the Baie du Lévrier is one of the few protected inlets on the west coast of Africa. we created silhouettes of each wreck. 29. Top: Lateral trawler. The silhouettes represented below feature some of the most characteristic units. as it was the only means of Bulletin of the OUEC. However. L 15. registration No. 1 (2005) 18 Figure 2. while others were in poor condition. Our research revealed that the scale of the graveyard changed dramatically in 1984. Bottom right: Middle-size stern trawler. Some failed to yield a profit. This expedition was limited by a number of factors. As a consequence of the nationalization of Mauritania’s fishing industry. two weather obstacles that sometimes hindered our ability to photograph the wrecks. To compile this record. which restrained our ability to put the wrecks in their wider context (especially Nouadhibou city in the background).80m. The ships’ graveyard of Nouadhibou presents a wide variety of wrecks. 104 being northernmost. a French Navy cruiser. L 36m. The expedition encountered wind and haze. L 28m. This evolution led the team to consider that a historical analysis of the phenomenon was compulsory. 94. Originally fitted with a 40 mm anti-aircraft machine gun on the front gun turret and a radar Rayton 1620. We asked these individuals to record their perspective of the shipwrecks through disposable cameras. MABROUKA. While this is the first identifiable wreck.20m. served as floating landing stage. The numbers refer to our own numbering system. Berny Sèbe extensively photographed the graveyard in a variety of light. 5T336. No. Our interviewees conducted the final aspect of our visual record. Bottom left: Small stern trawler: No. the expedition compiled a visual database of the shipwrecks. P 362. inexperienced individuals or small fishing companies purchased fishing vessels. As a result of these poor investments the companies allowed their investments to fall into decay.MAURITANIA living on and around the boats. The wind led to rough seas. 2). the Chasseloup-Laubat. Mauritania’s economic capital. L 36.

The report will deliver the first outline in English of the history of Nouadhibou. Harbour authorities and executives in maritime industry expect a clear improvement following the removal of the wrecks. the guards generally believe that they should be removed. created from scratch in 1909. During our discussions with local fishermen and shipowners. Although our interviewees declined to show us the draft of the report. To compile this history. should other researchers be interested in the subject. We also had a series of interviews with top officials of Nouadhibou harbour authorities and other local fishing associations.19 industry. The sociological aspect of our research revealed an interesting discrepancy between Nouadhibou’s inhabitants and the individuals who live on the ships. like the Mauritanian fishing industry. The visual record of the graveyard that we compiled represents the first visual record of the world’s largest ships’ graveyard. many of these wrecks were under Spanish flags. The wrecks are to be disposed of in the middle of the Baie du Lévrier. 22 submerged wrecks could not be investigated for safety reasons. Most of the unguarded units had been literally plundered. We observed children swimming and playing around them. and other types of boat. It is hoped that the skeletons will create a new habitat that will aid fish reproduction. Chinese. An overall history of the graveyard from its origins has been established. The photographic record allowed us to document the state of most of the wrecks or abandoned boats. Its accuracy could be improved in the future with further research at the archives of the Ministère de la Pêche. A typology has been established. creating slicks in areas that are sheltered from the wind and water flow. These companies then sold them to fledgling fishing ventures. However. It appeared from our conversations that a definitive report was being compiled in order to prepare the official application to tender regarding the clearance programme. lying on the shallows would be removed using grapnels and tow ropes. Russian. we Bulletin of the OUEC. the members of the maritime community expect it to improve navigation and have a profound impact on the ability of cargo ship to dock. it was confirmed that the shipwrecks represent a hazard to the port. 1 (2005) . they mentioned that floating wrecks would be towed away by a tugboat.000). while sunken vessels. where the sea is deep enough to avoid any PROJECT REPORTS Japanese. they were sold to fishing companies in developing nations. Although we were unable to quantitatively study the environmental impact of these shipwrecks. Vol. A number of them stated that the wrecks were an eyesore and should be removed. and where trawling is forbidden. photographed and sketched. in Nouakchott. distinguishing between stern and lateral trawlers. while guarded boats retained some material (radars and radios) on board. The graveyard is an inevitable result of the shipbuilding industry. However. and their portholes were still intact. After ten years of service. due to start at the beginning of 2005. Positions have been recorded on a large-scale map (1:5. these wrecks are not the only environmental threat to the waters near Nouadhibou. The engines and machinery leak oil into the water. Bacterial pollution due to poor treatment of sewage seems a more pressing issue. Achievements The 104 emerged wrecks of Nouadhibou have been inventoried. Although no timetable has been set for this clearance. it is clear that they are polluting the bay. and collision with regular boats. former military units from the Mauritanian Navy. The historical approach shows the economic realities that led to the expansion of the ships’ graveyard. The residents of the city pay little heed to the wrecks. Many of these ships were built for the industry in first world countries.

The Royal Geographic Society (with IBG) for its approval. in order not to impinge on the local community resources. Detailed logistics The Oxford University Expedition to Mauritania departed the United Kingdom in early August. a Canon Powershot G5 digital camera. the expedition drove to Algeciras and crossed the Straits of Gibraltar. wages. This connection should facilitate future research. two Minolta 24 x 36 mm cameras and four lenses. was never considered a viable option as it was time-consuming and would have significantly reduced the team’s efficiency). as it is obviously more convenient. Without their support. We also brought a significant amount of food from Spain. The drive from northern Morocco. The expedition was thus able to safely bring the necessary photographic material (two Hasselblad medium-format cameras and five lenses. Hamada Bakar. our friends and families. Director of the Centre Culturel Maaouya. Our sponsors and supporters We would like to thank all the people who assisted the expedition. where the car was outfitted with an extra fuel tank. A research link between the Oxford University Expedition Club and IMROP was established. Berny Sèbe drove it down to the South of France. Additionally. two laptops. Berny Sèbe’s parents provided a cheaper alternative: they kindly offered to lend to the expedition their Bulletin of the OUEC. through Western Sahara to the border of Mauritania lasted four days. and would comprise at least one experienced desert-driver. one tripod). Professor Raoul Caruba. Provence. should seriously consider the option we adopted. The total distance between Oxford and Nouadhibou is 5. However. Mr. and renting a car locally in order to be self-reliant (although a cheap option. A brief stopover was made in Vidauban. Mr. Mr Bertrand Sciboz. After a brief stop in Spain to secure food and water supplies. The report will include the first sociological study of the Nouadhibou ships’ guards ever made. lifejackets. but it saved a considerable amount of money in car rental and accommodation. other activities. Dr. Any future expedition that could have access to a reliable and sufficiently equipped 4WD. specially fitted for desert expeditions. and their perception of the graveyard have been recorded. Director of CERES. using taxis. The team had initially considered flying to Nouadhibou via Nouakchott. Mohammed Vall. A sociological study of the wrecks’ guards has been successfully undertaken: profile. The photography and electronic equipment were securely loaded into the vehicle. and many other pieces of equipment that helped the team carry out the survey as efficiently as possible. Driving it down to and back from Nouadhibou cost roughly the price of two airplane tickets Marseilles-Nouadhibou (far cheaper than from London). The Trapnell Fund for Environmental Field Research in Africa. Paul Holland joined Berny Sèbe and the expedition departed for Mauritania. this valuable research would have been impossible: Oxford University Expedition Council. two GPS receivers and a compass. the car’s engine was checked and proper maintenance was conducted. Richard Washington.MAURITANIA gained access to previously unpublished archives (private archives of the SIGP). relevant literature on Mauritania. The car being in England when the expedition was due to depart. . The final expedition report will be a valuable source of information for future researchers interested in Nouadhibou’s relationship with the sea and its fishing industry. Vol. spotlights. 1 (2005) 20 Toyota Land Cruiser Amazon station wagon. and gave the expedition a level of autonomy it could not have obtained otherwise. Mr. Diop Mika Samba and the rest of the IMROP team in Nouadhibou.200 km. water containers and storage equipment. time-saving and likely to be cheaper.

L’Industrie des Pêches sur la Côte Occidentale d’Afrique (Paris. Poutignat. Les Pêcheries d’Afrique Occidentale (Paris. London. H. Weigel. the expedition saved a substantial amount of time. 1910). Streiff-Fénart. ‘Port-Étienne et les Pêcheries des Mauritaniennes dans la Première Moitié du Siècle’.21 A wrecked ship on the coast of Mauritania. Y. In order to save time. A. Les Mots de la Ville Africaine. most of which are only available in French. Plan d’Urgence Environnementale Contre les Incidents de Pollution Marine Inejih. the expedition prepared information sheets for each participant and handed these to officers at the checkpoints. Bureau ETASCO. Any future expedition to Mauritania should seek the partnership of local institutions. Appropriate authorisations from the Banc d’Arguin National Park were obtained shortly after our arrival. 1990).O. J. via Algiers and Nouakchott and arrived in Mauritania a few days after Berny and Paul. Caruba (University of Nice-Sophia Antipolis). Prof. and Lyon. Dakar Bulletin of the OUEC. A good command of the French language is also highly advisable in order to communicate more easily and to gain access to scholarly sources.B. Phase du Diagnostic. 1 (2005) . 24-28 juin 2002. Afrique Contemporaine (No. Rivet. Kapila. 1910). P. 77-97. Séminaire international 4-6 décembre 1997. During the drive. J. P. Côtes XXème (Unpublished CNROP report. Daniel arrived in Nouadhibou by air. By preparing these sheets. Stratégie de Développement de la Ville. M.A. Gruvel. 1998). 2. Tous. The logistical and institutional support provided by the IMROP proved instrumental. Before departure. Dia & Cheikh A. which is currently administered by the Moroccan government. Diop. Actes du Symposium International. as we did. ‘Nouveaux territories urbains et recompositions identitaires en Mauritanie’. very kindly supported our endeavour and facilitated us various contacts in Mauritania. Gruvel. (1994. 187. ‘La pêche en Mauritanie : une reconquête difficile’. July-Sept. Ould Hamady. Chairman of the Institut des Relations References 1. 1931). June 2000). These stations were located in Western Sahara. M. Berny Sèbe had been authorised to photograph in the area of Dakhlet Nouadhibou by the Mauritanian Ministry for Communication and Relations with the Parliament. S. pp. 2000) Expedition Field Techniques: People Oriented Research Royal Geographical Society. A. (Senegal). the expedition encountered police checkpoints. C. Vol. PROJECT REPORTS Interuniversitaures avec la Mauritanie. F. Commune de Nouadhibou (Nouakchott. Future expeditions following this route are strongly encouraged to prepare these information sheets before departure. Technical Counselor and Fishing Engineer with IMROP Mémoire sur la Création d’une Station de Pêche à Port-Etienne (Paris. for the mutual benefit of both the local academic community and the Expedition. He flew from Marseille to Nouadhibou. These sheets included the vital information found on the passports.