Port Nolloth

Port Nolloth

Port Nolloth is a town and domestic seaport in the Namaqualand region on the northwestern coast of South Africa, 89 miles northwest of Springbok.

The port was previously a transshipment point for copper from the Okiep mines, and diamonds from the Namaqua coast. Since the 1970s the principal seagoing activities have been fishing and small-vessel tourism.


The bay upon which the port sits was known by the indigenous Namaqua people as "Aukwatowa" ("Where the water took away the old man").cite web| title =Port Nolloth:History | publisher = Routes Travel Information | year =2005 | url =http://www.routes.co.za/nc/portnolloth/index.html | accessdate =2008-02-10] Its location was marked by Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias on his epic voyage around the Cape of Good Hope in 1487. It was the last landfall he sighted before a wild storm blew his ship off course and out to sea for thirteen days. [cite encyclopedia| title =Bartolomeu Dias | encyclopedia = The Catholic Encyclopedia | volume = IV | publisher = Robert Appleton Company, New York | year =1908| url=http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04775b.htm | accessdate =2008-02-12]

The land surrounding the bay remained virtually uninhabited until James Alexander's discovery in 1852 of copper at Okiep, a hundred miles inland from the bay. The Cape Colony administration immediately commenced a survey of the coastline to locate a suitable harbour from which to ship the copper ore. Aukwatowa bay was surveyed in 1854 and selected for a future port based largely on its sheltered aspect from offshore winds.

Copper shipments

A rudimentary quay was built in 1855, wide enough to accommodate the horse-drawn wagons that carried the copper ore from Okiep to the port. A small service town rapidly developed and was named Port Nolloth by Cape Colony Governor Sir George Grey, in honour of its surveyor, Captain M.S. Nolloth. [cite web| title =Port Nolloth | publisher = South Africa Travel | year =2007 | url =http://www.southafrica-travel.net/namaqua/e5_portn.htm | accessdate =2008-02-11]

In 1874 the wagons were replaced by a 96-mile long narrow gauge railway between the mine and the portcite web| title =South Africa Hotel - Harbours:Port Nolloth | publisher = Discover Online Asia Co. Ltd | year =2006 | url =http://www.mysouthafricahotels.com/place-educational.php | accessdate =2008-02-11] and the quay was lengthened to 220 feet. However, while the railway significantly improved overland transport to the port, the increasing size of ore carriers began to create navigational difficulties in the bay. By the early 1900s the sheltered aspect that had attracted surveyors fifty years before was proving too difficult for larger vessels, several of which ran aground on a coastal reef extending across the channel. The difficulties of the harbour and expensive ship repairs encouraged the development of an alternative transport route and by 1910 most Okiep ore was being carried by truck to the railhead at Bitterfontein in preference to shipments direct from the port.

Diamond mining

With ore shipments declining, the Port was revived in 1926 with the discovery of alluvial diamonds along the coast to the north and south of the town. A rush of prospectors and investment re-established Port Nolloth as a substantial service centre, even as copper shipments ceased altogether in 1944.

The inability of larger vessels to enter the port led to a series of disasters as ships attempted to anchor offshore rather than seek shelter in poor weather. In April 1947 the 205-ton South African freighter "Border" ran aground to the south of the port while attempting to ride out a storm. In December 1950 the 400-ton freighter "Bechuana" suffered a similar fate.cite web| title = John H Marsh Maritime Collection| publisher =John H Marsh Maritime Research Centre | year =2007 | url =http://rapidttp.com/museum/jmmc/jmmcb.html | accessdate =2008-02-12]

In the years following these wrecks, efforts were made to improve port access with the underwater blasting of the coastal reef.cite web| title =Port Nolloth | publisher = Ports and Ships: Shipping News from the harbours of South and southern Africa | year =2003 | url =http://www.ports.co.za/port-nolloth.php | accessdate =2008-02-11] The attempt was partially successful but the bay remained a challenging prospect. Demand for port access also declined in the 1970s as the volume of diamond exports decreased.

Closure of the Port

After 1976 large-scale shipping at Port Nolloth was reduced to a single tanker, the "Oranjemund", which visited the port fortnightly to exchange supplies for fish and diamonds. 61 metres long but with a draft of only 4.4 metres, the "Oranjemund" was well-suited or the navigational dififculties of the bay. However, the gradual reduction in diamond discoveries made the long voyage from Cape Town uneconomic, and the "Oranjemund" was withdrawn from service in 2006.. Port activity now consists of minor fishing vessels and recreational boating. Silting of the harbour floor has further reduced the draft, and only the smallest vessels can access the quay.


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