Skeleton Coast: A Ship Graveyard in the Desert

The Skeleton Coast in Namibia is one of the most interesting places in the world for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it is a place where the Namib Desert meets the Atlantic Ocean. Secondly, despite being in a desert, it is a graveyard for ships. There are thousands of shipwrecks on the Skeleton Coast some of which are so deep in the sand that they are not even visible.

namib desert and atlantic ocean
Dany Eid

But why is that so? What makes the Skeleton Coast so dangerous that ships end up being shipwrecked and buried? Well, the answer to these questions goes further back than one can imagine. The first mention of the coast goes back to the 17th century. The Portuguese Sailors landed on the shores and called it the Gates of Hell.

skeleton coast lighthouse
Grand Tours & Safaris Namibia

The name of the coast was actually a product of a book by John Henry Marsh. Marsh states that this coast is a mixture of every sailor’s biggest fears. These fears include large waves and currents, strong winds and storms, and occasional thick fog that makes it impossible to see what’s ahead.

shipwreck on the skeleton coast
Adrian Gilani

Throughout history, many ships hit the coast and dragged on the desert for miles. This is one of the most intriguing parts of the Skeleton Coast. Some of the shipwrecks are miles away from the ocean. It is almost like the ships continued to sail even after getting on the shore.

shipwreck buried under sand on skeleton coast

However, this is, of course, not the case. The winds in the desert are so strong that over centuries and decades, they carry the ships further into the desert. These winds are those of the Benguela Current from Antarctica which is one of the coldest and strongest currents.

rusty shipwreck on skeleton coast

The oldest shipwreck on the coast is a ship from the 16th century. However, the most famous one is the German cargo ship Edouard Bolen. The Bolen was carrying equipment for the diamond diggers on Conception Bay. During the voyage, the ship crashed onto the shore in 1909 due to heavy fog.

edouard bolen wreck on skeleton coast
Great Sea Ladies

The crew of the Bolen tried to tow the ship but could not because of the sand surrounding the ship. After giving up on the ship, the crew made their way to the nearest town. They were lucky because by that time the coast had become a busy mining location so there were settlements nearby. Many ship crews were not so lucky as they had to walk for miles with no food or water just to die eventually.

shipwreck on the shores of skeleton coast

Moreover, the Skeleton Coast is not still a safe passage for ships despite technological developments. Many ships during World War 2, in the 50s, 60s, and 70s crashed onto the shore and the sand. The newest shipwreck on the coast is The Zeila which was stranded on the coast in 2008.

the desert shipwrecks

Despite being one of the most dangerous places, the Skeleton Coast has become an exciting tourist attraction. Many tour companies take tourists to the coast to look at the desert, shipwrecks, and animals. The coast is divided into two parts: southern and northern both of which are open to visit with permits and regulations.

warning for tourists on skeleton coast
Pavol Neruda