What is a Ship Graveyard?

Ship graveyard refers to a place where several old vessels, which have gone out-of-service have been dumped.

Technology moves to new heights every day, tremendously altering the way we live. The new developments carried out to make life easier and faster, however, also result in the dumping of a wide variety of waste materials across the world.

In particular, the rapid developments in the transportation and logistics sector have ended the service life of vehicles quickly, allowing transportation companies to adapt to the new scenarios with enhanced and technologically-advanced mediums of transportation. The massive junkyards- of cars, trucks, aeroplanes and ships- around the world show the amount of wreckage that is leaving behind when we tend to move fast.

These graveyards or cemeteries of all kinds of vehicles, at the same time, become a threat to nature, create a recycling industry, and often turns into beautiful landscapes.

Ship graveyard

As the name suggests, a ship graveyard is a place where old ships, which have completed their service life, are abandoned to naturally disintegrate. Also known as ship cemetery, a ship graveyard would generally have a large number of ships, boats, or hulls of scrapped vessels left to decay and rust.

The practice of abandoning ships to rust in a particular area was followed mainly during the ancient time. However, at present, the introduction of various environmental and waste regulations makes it difficult to carelessly dump old or decommissioned vessels. For this reason, today those places where ships are dismantled or scrapped for recycling their metal or removing dangerous material like asbestos are also known as ship graveyards. Places such as the Alang ship-breaking yard and the Chittagong ship-breaking yard are the famous ship graveyards in the world.

Different Types of Ship Graveyards

Several ship graveyards are still present around the world. It is seen that a large number of ships have been abandoned mainly in areas where navigation is difficult or where means to relocate them are not easily available or accessible.

Moreover, those areas where a large number of ships have been sunk during battle and whose remains are still present at the ocean floor are also termed as ship graveyards. Today, many of those ship graveyards, where ruins of ships are laying underwater, serve as an excellent site for scuba diving and sightseeing.

In the earlier times, during which the environmental concerns were relatively less in public discourse, the old ships were dismantled and their hulls were abandoned at the sea or scuttled. Most of the time, several locations were identified for the abandonment of vessels after their service life, leading to the creation of a number of graveyards with abandoned boats and ships together at one place.

The practice of scuttling vessels- forcefully sinking ship after letting the water to flow into the vessel-were so common during those days since it allowed ship owners to avoid liabilities of an old vessel. Usually, the scuttling was carried out by opening the hatches, making holes in the hull, even using explosives. However, while it was mostly used as dumping method earlier, other forms of scuttling have also been practised now, especially to create an artificial reef to strengthen marine life. It is also noted that one of the other reasons of scuttling was to prevent navigation hazard due to the old or decommissioned vessels resting in areas near to harbours and ports.

The Black Sea ship graveyard consisting of 60 wrecks dating back almost 2,500 years and the Aegean Sea ship cemetery featuring about 23 ships are the examples of such graveyards.

A significant number of ship graveyards across the world are outcomes of the naval battles in different periods of time. The abandonment or sinking of vessels both during and after the wars has resulted n the formation of beautiful ship cemeteries and war museums.

The old ships resting in these graveyards were either sunk after the attack of enemies or sunk by its own crews to avoid capture by the other faction. If the ship graveyard of Chuuk Lagoon was a result of World War 2 during which allied forces destroyed and sunk over 60 Japanese warships, the rusting submarines lie in the Soviet Submarine Cemetery on the Kola Peninsula was dumped during Cold War period. However, while some such graveyards post a threat to life due to the presence of radioactive cargo, many of them have turned into a location of splendid marine life.

Also read: 10 Largest Ship Graveyards in the World

Similarly, several naval forces often carry out an activity which would involve abandoning a ship by deliberately sinking it to the ocean floor. Known as sink exercise or Sinkex, the exercise sees the submerging of non-operational vessels as part of training and the weapon testing. A number of ship graveyards have also been formed as a result of this exercise. This naval practice is predominantly active with the United States’ navy and the Northern regions of Hawaii and the Pacific coastline near California are major locations of the exercise. According to reports, the US Navy has sunk over 50 vessels as part of SINKEX since 1999.

As mentioned earlier, the biggest ship graveyards in the world now are the ship-breaking yards. The history of ship breaking yards goes back to centuries ago as the ancient wooden ships were recycled to re-use the timber. Since the arrival of metal as the main component of ships, this form of ship disposal became popular so that the steel can be recycled to produce new products.

Currently, South Asia- predominantly countries such as India, Bangladesh and Pakistan-acts as the centre of global ship breaking theindustry, accounting for up to 80 percent of the ship recycling market. While countries like China and Turkey cover that large portion of the remaining market minus the 5 percent belong to other countries across the world. Thus, a large number of ships destined to be recycled are dumped at the world biggest yards in South Asia, such as Chittagong in Bangladesh, Alang in India as well as Gadani in Pakistan. In these ship breaking yards, the sandy beaches stretching kilometres are filled with hundreds of vessels being dismantled, to be called as the graveyards of ships.

Also read: How Ship Dismantling is Done? 

Some of the ship graveyards in the world are results of marine conservation efforts. A notable number of old and decommissioned ships have been deliberately sunk in different parts of the planet to create artificial reefs. These cemeteries that build purposely improve biodiversity as they offer a surface for invertebrates and algae to settle and also attracts a variety of marine species. These ship graveyards also support local economies as they attract a number of fish varieties and also act as a splendid destination for marine enthusiasts and divers.

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Duane, Royal Thai Navy’s HTMS Sattakut, Cayman Islands’ Kiitiwake and Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior are the notable artificial reefs in the waters around the world.

Despite these types of ship cemeteries, several other ship graveyards have also been formed due to natural reasons such as rocks, reefs, and dangerous waters. There are areas around the world where several ships have sunk because of accidents involving icebergs, storms, rough weather and whirlpool etc. Wrecks of ships sunk due to such reasons are still present on the ocean floor. The shipwrecks in the Outer Banks are examples of such ship graveyards. The notorious water in the area has witnessed the sinking of over 5,000 ships since 1526. The ship graveyard in Namibia’s Skeleton Coast is also an outcome of accidents occurred by natural calamities.

While the oceans and seas across the world feature different forms of ship graveyards, these wrecks have raised discussions over their impact on the environment. Some of them, especially those consist of oil tankers and submarines, are indeed become an environmental hazard due to the chemical and toxic contents belong to them. The shipbreaking yards are alsoa major concern of marine pollution due to the unsafe methods being followed to dismantle the vessels. These yards are filled with toxic wastes, poisonous gases unusable oil and radioactive elements etc., contaminating the oceans and destroying marine food chain.

At the same time, many of those ship graveyards, where ruins of ships are underwater, enriches marine life and serve as an excellent site for scuba diving and sightseeing. Turning into artificial reefs, these wrecks become habitat for a variety of marine species, enriching the marine life.

You may also like to read – The Role Of A Cash Buyer in Ship Recycling

Disclaimer: The authors’ views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Marine Insight. Data and charts, if used, in the article have been sourced from available information and have not been authenticated by any statutory authority. The author and Marine Insight do not claim it to be accurate nor accept any responsibility for the same. The views constitute only the opinions and do not constitute any guidelines or recommendation on any course of action to be followed by the reader.

The article or images cannot be reproduced, copied, shared or used in any form without the permission of the author and Marine Insight. 


  1. Hello, I am a Ship-Breaker in South America,I would like to be kept abreast with all the relevant news on the movement of marine life and possibly where ships grave yards are found. I am really excited about breaking ships and would love to be challenged to do so in far off countries. Should you be in possession of any helpful details, please feel free to mail me.
    Looking forward to reading all your future postings.

  2. I am into scrap business. Kindly send me your honest introduction so we can talk business.

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