The Port Artisanal located in Nouadhibou, originally called Port-Étienne, during the colonial era, was originally the first African stopover of the Aéropostiale.
The explosion of the fishing industry has transformed the face of the city, with the development of the autonomous port for industrial fishing as well as the Port Artisanal for the Mauritanian and Senegalese fishermen with their pirogues.
While most of the fishing and developing areas are monopolized by the large fish industries coming from all parts of the world, Port Artisanal is the place for the "local" fishermen. Boats for coastal fishing come almost exclusively from Senegal, the crew also come from there or from neighboring countries in the Sudan region.
Every year, some 1.2 million tons of tuna, shrimp and other fish are caught in Mauritania's waters. But just 5% of this is processed locally.
Nouakchott to Nouadhibou: 8 hours by minibus
Nouadhibou sits near a convergence zone where cooler waters to the north collide with tropical waters to the south. The precise latitude of this thermal front oscillates a little every year. But as waters have warmed, it has begun fluctuating much further north, even roving as far as the Moroccan city of Casablanca, 1400 km away. The center of gravity of the sardinella stock has moved northward in tandem as the species has sought to maintain an optimal temperature.
The shift is good news for Mauritania's fishmeal factories, because the sardinella are now concentrated closer by. But it's bad news for fishermen to the south in Senegal and Gambia, whose lifeline fish stocks are migrating farther away.
While it appears to be abandoned due to it’s chaotic and “dirty” nature, the uniqueness of this port is in its ability to house hundreds of pirogues in a colourful puzzle-like pattern that is as beautiful as it is random.
Filling the empty spaces of this incredibly evolving structure are the men and women who live and work here, fueling the synergy of arts and crafts in motion due to their constant and continuous movements. There are boat repairs and construction, fishing nets are made and prepared for fishermen, materials are transported in and out and many other activities revolving around pirogues are carried out here. Every bit of space here is used efficiently.
Obviously the real hosts, the goats, cannot be missing.
In 2013, Mauritania's government launched the Free Zone of Nouadhibou to improve the port's competitiveness and to attract fish processing industries such as tuna canning.
The Free Trade Zone in Mauritania has been put in place with the aim to import any product at zero duty and re-export to the rest of Africa and the United States duty-free, with the future perspective to implement tourism and to develop the area.
The fishing town also carries another important reputation.
Nouadhibou is also known for its coast filled with rusting, decommissioned ships. Hundreds of shipwrecks. For decades it has been called as the biggest Ships Graveyard in the world. Back then a corrupted government had taken payments from other countries and allowed them to dump their unwanted derelicts on the Mauritania’s shore. As you can imagine an environmental disaster.
To date the Nouadhibou Ships Graveyard no longer exists. The biggest ships have been completely dismantled by the new government and only a few smaller ones can still be found. Not worth it looking for them.
Photo credits: Giulio Aprin