Shipwrecks Along South Africa's Coast

Last updated: Sep 08, 2014

South Africa has a coastline of some 2500 km. A coastline which is dangerous in parts, and which has claimed thousands of vessels over the centuries. The most famous wrecks include the Grosvenor, the Arniston, the Waratah, the Birkenhead, the Sacramento, The SS Thomas T Tucker and the Oceanos.

More than 2500 shipwrecks have occurred along the South African coast since 1500, all from a diverse range of cultures and countries and include ships of Portuguese explorers, Dutch, English and French East India Companies, the British Royal Many and more. Some of the ships that sailed our treacherous seas simply disappeared without a trace.

In an attempt to reduce the number of wrecks, many lighthouses were erected along our beautiful coast. The Cape of Good Hope particularly is infamously known as the "graveyard of ships" and is also called the "Cape of Storms."

The Wild Coast (Eastern Cape) is well known for its numerous shipwrecks. The Jacaranda wreck in particular involved a 2000 ton Greek owned coaster which ran aground on the night of September 18th 1971. The engines failed and could not compete against the windy seas, eventually the vessel ran aground on the beach. The Captain, his wife and 14 other crew members abandoned the ship - all of whom survived. Today only the rusted bow remains. The wreck is located about a 1.5 hour walk along the beach from Qolora and is a fascinating sight to explore.

The Waratah (1908 - 29 July 1909), sometimes referred to as Australia's Titanic, was a 500 ft Steamer en route from Durban to Cape Town. It disappeared with 211 passengers and crew aboard. The disappearance of this ship still remains a complete mystery as no trace of it has ever been found.

The Grosvenor (1782) is said to have carried an extraordinary treasure of diamonds, ruby's, gold and silver. A huge effort has been made to try and locate these wonderful treasures but all that has been found are a few cannon and some gold and silver coins. The Grosvenor struck the rocks of Lambasi Bay (Eastern Cape) on it's final voyage back from India en route to Britain on the 4th of August 1782.

The Arniston - a British East Indiaman wrecked near Waenhuiskrans (now Arniston, Western Cape) in 1815. The community actually changed its name in honour of the wreck and to remember those who died that fateful night. A hurricane enveloped the ship, forcing it's Captain to head for land. The vessel then struck a reef and began to break up. There were 378 passengers and crew on board, and only a few survived.

The Meisho Maru 38 Shipwreck is at Cape Agulhas (Western Cape) where the Indian and Atlantic Ocean meet. This Japanese Ship ran aground in 1982 and is just a stone's throw away from the beautiful Cape Agulhas Lighthouse.

There are many shipwreck dive sites along our coast, including one at Smitswinkel Bay on the Southern Peninsula in Cape Town. This is one of South Africa's deepest dive sites and contains a wealth of shipwreck discoveries. Other shipwreck dive sites located along the Cape Peninsula includes the Maori wreck, the Oakburn, the Boss, the Katzmaru and lots more.

There is also an exciting shipwreck dive off Knyna's coast. Here you'll find The Paquita - a German iron barque which sank in 1903.

The Thomas T. Tucker shipwreck can be seen from Oliphantsbos (Cape Point Reserve, Western Cape). This American Liberty Ship struck the rocks while avoiding torpedoes in a night attack in 1942. There are also two other wrecks here, namely the Nolloth, which wrecked in 1965 and Le Napoleon, which wrecked in 1805.

The Kakapo Wreck(Noordhoek Beach, Cape Town) was a 665 ton, schooner rigged steel steamship, built in Scotland in 1898. On 25th May 1900 the Kapapo left Cape Town harbour for it's voyage to Australia but was met by treacherous seas and heavy rain. The Captain had extremely poor visibility and mistook Chapmans Peak for Cape Point and ordered 'hard to port full steam ahead'. This unfortunately resulted in the boat smacking straight into the beach. Many attempts were made to pull the Kakapo back into the water but it would not budge.

Along the Diamond Coast in the Northern Cape, there is an 4X4 shipwreck route to explore. Namaqualand in itself is a natural wonder and offers many routes, one being the 4X4 shipwreck route near Kleinsee. On this journey you'll discover the SS Piratiny - a 5000 ton Brazilian Steamship driven against the rocks by the forceful winds. You'll also come across the Surveyor which wrecked in 1994.

The Maritime Services Museum in Cape Town, Shipwreck Museum in Bredasdorp, and East London Museum all have some interesting shipwreck treasures and wonders to discover.

And don't forget, that while you are exploring the shipwrecks along our coast you can also enjoy the endless number of fantastic beaches and interesting sea-side towns.