« Cheonan Speculation | Main | The ArcelorMittal Orbit »

April 03, 2010



There is something so depressing and disquieting about abandoned ships. I just don't understand why but it makes me feel sort of hollow and even frightened.

Tim Worstall

My immediate thought was money actually.....old propellors are worth a lot for the bronze....

Mick H

These pictures of Jan Smith do somehow emphasise that frightening feeling - as though you're alone in a small boat and you suddenly come across this mysterious wreck. And I love the feel he gets with the surface of the water.

Tim - presumably they're there to be salvaged eventually - though I don't know for sure.


Jan Smith seems to think the graveyard's to do with insurance fraud - I don't quite understand how that would work, especially as one investigator with a boat and camera could document pretty much every wreck and sell his portfolio to marine insurers. Why not just scuttle them if you want the money ? And as Tim says, phosphor bronze bearings and props are worth a lot. There's a massive iron ore loading terminal just down the coast, an oil terminal and general purpose harbour at Port Etienne with hundreds of small ships. Why not export scrap steel and bronze as well as iron ore, breaking up the boats as in Bangladesh ?

Most odd, that they're just rotting away there.

Mick H

Yes, it is odd. I wonder how much Jan Smith has spiced the story up, with tales of his being accused of espionage etc.. It's not as if these wrecks are unknown, and he's not the only one to have photographed them.


No evidence that the good stuff's not already been 'liberated'...
Hell, that'd happen in the most cosmopolitan ports!

"... Is there any theft at the marina?
Due to our locked gates, security cameras, and security boat, we are able to keep theft down to a minimum and rare event. Persons which are not recognized by marina staff will be questioned. We do however, recommend that you take precautions to prevent theft.

* Disconnect all electronics and lock up in the boat or take them home.
* Do not leave keys on the boat.
* Install an alarm system - noise will deter thieves and attract attention from security and other boaters.
* Install motor locks on all outboard motors (#1 item for thieves).
* Inform the marina office if any outside (non-Galleon Marine) mechanics will be working on your boat.
* Mark boat name (and home-port marina) on all valuable items (especially on dinghy). Record all serial numbers of valuable items (and take pictures).
* NEVER allow strangers into the marina. If someone is 'hanging' around the gate and asks you to allow them in, ask them to call the marina office."

That's in the heart of Vancouver.

Jan Smith

I came across your blog following the publication of my pictures in GOOD magazine, and appreciated the questions posted here, so I am taking the liberty of explaining what I know about the boats.

There are various hundreds of boats, both above and below the water line. I did not travel with the specific intention of documenting their origin, but ask about their origins once there. The explanation given to me by persons in the fishing and shipping industry in the port is that the boats were left there and then claimed as sunk in order to claim insurance fraud.

Some of the boats were too old or damaged to be of much use. Most of those are actually lying below the surface and are a great hazard to commercial shipping. Of those left above water, I was told that many owners wanted to sell them (as well as claim the insurance). Original owners would paint over the names and registers. The Bay served as a chop-shop and second-hand lot for fishing trawlers.

I took pictures using infra-red and this revealed names painted over with new registries and names. The most evident example of this is the largest ship in my gallery "Malika" originally named "Guadalupe" If you look at the shot, you can just barely see the original name. This is not hard evidence of fraud, but it does lend credibility to what I was told.

You are all correct in assuming that there is high potential value in recycling the boats. Why this wasn't done, is beyond me. I speculate that the lack of available labor and the political tensions in the country up until the mid nineties probably made this too expensive.

Currently there are salvage and recycling efforts going on. The most notorious are the small yet multiple efforts of the illegal immigrants working on the coast around the fisheries. They use the metal for their housing, building rafts, and selling some scrap. Various boats, particularly those on the shore are actually simply inhabited as slums.

I heard, but never confirmed, reports about Indian and Pakistani salvage companies (like in Chittagong) that were looking into buying the metal. Indeed, this was to be my alibi if stopped by the authorities again. The little I know about steel is that this scrap was too old and tired to be of much use and it would seem (to me) that the cost-benefit was tool little.

There are efforts planned by the EU, and confirmed by Spanish diplomats in Nouadhibou, (they are there particularly to help curb illegal immigration to the Canary Islands) to clear the harbor of the wrecks so as to more easily develop the port. It is not clear when this will happen, but it was supposed to start in 2006. The general feeling is that the fisheries will over-fish by the time the EU starts the work and it will ultimately do little good to the port.

As for the comment about embellishment, well I wish it were true. Originally I tried crossing into Mauritania by land but the guards wanted all my money and I refused to give it over. I was sent back to Morocco without a stamp (obviously) in my passport. Between both countries is a 7km deep mine field that extends for miles east to west--a leftover of the Western Sahara war of independence and subsequent struggles. The Moroccan border was closed for the night and I slept in the mine field.

Most of the mines are for tanks or heavy vehicles, so there is likely less danger for pedestrians. Nonetheless the paths in the sand are vague, and you do see exploded cars, some of them a few months old. My biggest fear at the time was bandits, but walking through a mine field, no matter how much you are told it is safe is not fun. I tried the border a second time the next day, hoping for a change of guards, no such luck, and was sent back to Morocco.

At the Moroccan border crossing they asked to see the Mauritanian entry stamp, which of course I did not have. This lead to questions, then to a search of my bags. That lead to finding my photography equipment, my US passport (I entered as a Mexican, precisely to be low profile), and a Google Earth map I had printed to help me locate the ships.

At that point it became like a B movie: "Tell us the truth and we let you go". I was never treated badly, but was put in a patio and detained for a day and a half. Every so often I was invited into the HQ and asked the same question. Fortunately one of the guards returned my Mexican passport and allowed me back into Morocco. I then returned to Casablanca and Rabat and while I waited for my US passport, flew into Nouakchott and then made it north through the help of two strangers I befriended at the airport, one of whom actually had family in Nouadhibou and made sure I was hosted.

Thanks for re-posting the pictures.

Mick H

Well, thank you for taking the trouble to reply in such detail. Very interesting.

The comments to this entry are closed.