02-Feb-2003 -- After some vacation I joined again my good old frozen and refrigerated cargo ship together with Chief Officer Valentyn, and this time her charterers decided to load a cargo of frozen mackerel directly ex fishing trawler off the coast of Mauritania, - and, to make it easier to locate the rendez-vous-point, just at 21N 17W. The practice to load not from a warehouse on a quay, but directly from a trawler is called "transshipment".
Nouadhibou (formerly Port Etienne), is situated about 15 km north of Cap Blanc, the southern tip of the Presqu'île de Cap Blanc (Cap Blanc Peninsula). Presqu'île de Cap Blanc is extending about 45 km south. Cap Blanc shows as a white plateau, the end of which falls vertically to the sea. The cape is composed of friable rock, which is gradually being eroded by the sea, consequently its shape is subject to alteration.
The Confluence is located in the Baie de Lévrier, entered between Cap Blanc and Cap Sainte-Anne. It is one of the largest bays on the West coast of Africa. The bay is encumbered by numerous banks and shoals and has to be entered with great caution. The sea in Baie de Lévrier is often uncomfortable even in a slight breeze. It is well stocked with fish, the abundance of sardines being so great that shoals of these fish have sometimes been mistaken for dangers. A small Mauritanian fishing boat was around as well.
What is new on our old ship?
When you have a look at the map, you will realize that we are now using the electronic navigational charts on a trial basis. These charts work with Windows and are very comfortable.
Mauritania's most important resource is iron ore, being digged at three mining centres far inland in the desert in open pits at Kedia d'Idjill, Guelb el-Rheïn, and M'haoudat, and is brought to the ships to the Port of Nouadhibou (Point Central Ore Terminal) by an adventurous rail track:
For rail track enthusiasts:
Its standard gauge is 1435 mm. It is a single track and 700 km long, featuring nine passing points and six maintenance bases spread along the railway, each base servicing an approximate one hundred kilometre block. Both the weather conditions and the train load (an average of 22,000 tonnes per train (!!!), with an axle load of 25 tonnes) pose specific maintenance problems such as the tracks being buried in sand, premature rail wear, or difficulty in maintaining good track geometry... The ore trains are pulled by three or four 3300 HP General Motors tank engines and pulling up to 210 cars per train. The total train length can reach up to 2.5 kilometres (1.5 miles). Usually three loaded ore trains circulate simultaneously with three empty ones.
Travelling on the ore train is an adventure. The fare is ridiculously low (about 1,000 Ouguiya = 4 US-$ for the full distance) in 2nd class. Once a day, two passenger cars towed by the ore train run the line between Nouadhibou and Zouérate, stopping over at various spots along the track, mainly at Choum, 460 km east of Nouadhibou. From Choum on, one can reach the centre of the country by road and, more specifically, Atar, which is the capital of the Adrar province. It is one of the highlights of Mauritanian tourism, in close proximity to the ancient sites of Chinguetti and Ouadane, which are scheduled as international heritage by UNESCO. From Choum, one can also reach the capital Nouakchott through Akjoujt, Mauritania's second mining city (gold and copper).
Upon their arrival at Nouadhibou's Point Central harbour, the railroad cars are unloaded with a rotary tipple and subsequently the ore is stockpiled. Point Central shiploading terminal allows the loading of ships up to 150,000 tons deadweight. It can also harbour ships of an even greater deadweight if only partially loaded. It is located in a bay well sheltered from the trade wind, thus making it possible for the ore carriers to gain full access to the loading facilities without the help of tug boats, all year round and in all weathers. Here we see mountains of iron ore ready to be shipped to customers all over the world.
A little more about the Islamic Republic of Mauritania:
Portendick, a former settlement on the coast, was ceded to the French in 1717. During the nineteenth century, the French explored the territory generally and made numerous treaties with the local chiefs. A French protectorate was proclaimed in 1903, and it became a colony in 1921. Mauritania became an autonomous republic in the French Community in 1958, and attained full independence in November 1960. In 1964 it became a one party state, and there was a military coup in 1978.
The surface of Mauritania consists of a central massif, surrounded by a series of plains and low plateaux more or less cloaked by parallel rows of sand dunes running NE and SW. The greater part is desert. The climate is dry, hot and wind-swept. The country is comparatively healthy with very little disease. Dusts storms are common and a nuisance.
As before said, fish is plentiful in Mauritanian waters (mackerel, horsemackerel, sardina, hake, octopus...), and an important export commodity. On Mauritania's 1,000-Ouguiya bill the fish is therefore duly honoured.