Combinations of thick fog, strong winds, heavy swells and shifting sands make the Namibian coastline hazardous for ships. Just how risky is illustrated by the great number of shipwrecks along our coast. Many of the wrecks are clustered in areas more hazardous than others, or in places where ships often congregated. For example, the 45 wrecks known around Ichaboe Island date from the mid-1840s when several hundred ships at any time were loading bird guano – the 'white gold' that was so highly valued. Many other ships came to harvest whales and fish along the Namibian coast.
Nowadays, ships are more robust, navigation systems and information are improved, and merchant vessels normally remain far from the coast. Most wrecks in recent decades are of fishing vessels or ships under tow that break free in bad weather. Tragedy and bravery surrounded each wreck, as in the circumstances told of the Dunedin Star. This cargo ship hit a submerged object in November 1942 near Cape Fria. All 21 passengers and 42 of the 85 crew reached shore; the rest of the crew remained on board. Two overland expeditions, four ships and a Ventura bomber were then sent to rescue them. The 43 crew members still aboard the Dunedin Star were saved by the ships. The Ventura landed on the beach to rescue the others, but it got stuck in the sand. Thirteen long days after the grounding of the Dunedin Star the survivors were eventually evacuated overland using vehicles. A team sent to free the stuck Ventura got the aircraft airborne, but an engine soon seized causing the plane to crash in the surf. Only two lives were lost in this whole sequence of events.
Photo: S Rankl
9.04 Shipwreck sites off the Namibian coast
About 300 ships are known to have sunk off the Namibian coast, while there is evidence that at least another 200 ships might also have been lost in these waters. This map shows the known locations of some wrecks. Many others were simply reported as having gone down somewhere off the coast. Each symbol on the map represents the location of a wreck.
Photo: J Mendelsohn
Photo: JB Dodane
Photo: JB Dodane