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What Is a Ship Graveyard?

Lori Kilchermann
Lori Kilchermann

A ship graveyard is a location where ships are left to rust away and disintegrate. There are a number of reasons that a ship graveyard may be instituted. Whether it be from a scrapping and dismantling process, a common wreck area where several ships have perished or a wartime battlefield where a number of ships were sunk, a ship graveyard is commonly home for several ships in a certain proximity to each other. Many of these locations play host to underwater sightseers, scuba explorers and researchers attempting to document historic sinking of ships.

Unlike modern ecology laws, early ships were dismantled by scrappers and the empty hulls were simply towed out to sea and scuttled in an attempt to dispose of them. This created large ship graveyard sites where several ships of different types and sizes were sunk together and allowed to rust away. Modern law prohibits such behavior and the ships are no longer allowed to sit on the bottom of the ocean wasting away to nothing. Ships are dismantled in dry-dock and completely cut into scrap and disposed of instead of creating new ship graveyard sites on the ocean's floor.

Shipwrecks can create a ship graveyard.
Shipwrecks can create a ship graveyard.

In the case of a wartime ship graveyard, the area is often declared off-limits to divers as unexploded munitions are seen as dangerous threats. Occasionally, an unmanned submarine is allowed to investigate these ship graveyard sites to monitor the rate of decomposition and document the condition of the wrecks below the water's surface. In some cases, military dive teams will enter the wrecks to inspect the munitions and cargo remaining within the ships. In some instances, explosives may be planted within the cargo holds of these ships and detonated to release the explosive power of the decaying munitions.

Ship graveyards are where wrecked ships are left to rust away.
Ship graveyards are where wrecked ships are left to rust away.

In some areas of the world, dangerous waters and rocky shorelines are littered with the rotting hulls of ships that have perished due to natural disaster and storm activity. Remnants of ships dating back hundreds of years line the dangerous coast and ocean bottom, warning any ships entering the area to use caution. It is important to note that not all ships found in a ship graveyard are wrecked. In some cases, such as decommissioned warships, the ships are stripped of many major components and placed in storage. The ships found in this type of ship graveyard are subject to recommission in the event the ships are once again needed to provide safety for their country and enter into a naval conflict.

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Discussion Comments


I grew up about a block away from a ship graveyard. It was a great place to be a kid because it was kind of like a massive playground that held all kinds of secrets. The place had a fence around it but we knew a spot where we could sneak underneath and pretty much have the run of the place.

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    • Shipwrecks can create a ship graveyard.
      By: savolainenk
      Shipwrecks can create a ship graveyard.
    • Ship graveyards are where wrecked ships are left to rust away.
      By: Cozyta
      Ship graveyards are where wrecked ships are left to rust away.