Cemetery of Ships – The Aral Sea Disaster in Uzbekistan

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When it comes to man-made fu*k-ups – it’s difficult to top the Aral Sea disaster.

And to rub that fact in your face: the cemetery of stranded ships at Moynaq, once a fishing port, is now located 170 km from the actual shores of the Aral Sea!

The problem began in the 1940s when the Soviet Union decided to grow cotton in deserts.

The project was successful.

lone ship wreck aral sea moynaq

Cotton was grown in huge amounts and Uzbekistan (then part of the USSR) was a major exporter, for a time.

But the irrigation canals had diverted water from two major rivers. And in doing so, they sapped the replenishing waters of the Aral Sea.

The result was a disaster.

Since the 1960s, the world’s 4th largest inland body of water has shrunk to 10% of its original size. And has split into smaller lakes.

The stranded ships at the fishing port of Moynaq are now 170 km from the actual shores of the Aral Sea.

moynaq ships aral sea uzbekistan

In the Aral Sea that remains, fish stocks are very low (due to increased salinity in water).

This has crushed industry in Moynaq.

And there’s been no fishing, canning or ship-building industries since the 1980s. So thousands of men have left for Russia and other regions to look for work.


The once mild climate has also changed. Shorter, hotter summers meet longer, colder winters.

And respiratory problems are common because of increased sand and dust storms.


The day I visited it was freezing. Lashed by biting Siberian winds. Deserted, dusty blowing streets, teasing sleet, overcast skies. Only occasional glimpses of the sun around sunset.

It was the perfect brutish weather for this made-man hell-spot. Big blue, sunny skies wouldn’t seem right.

To enhance the mood, I drank a bottle of red wine (and later a 1.5 liter of 7% beer) to counter the chill.

MRP adds his own spin on the disaster at the Aral Sea.

There I wandered amazed amid rusty, wrecked ships in bleak sand and scrub.

During the afternoon, a couple of young lads joined me. They saw the ships as am amazing playground.

Later a local wedding party turned up to pose at the vista point where the coast once was. Some group photos for a few freezing minutes.

They invited me for several vodka toasts. I accepted.

From that point, my memory deserted me. Evaporating away into space like the emptying sea that I’d come to contemplate.

It was very difficult getting public transport out of Moynaq. Here I squeezed into a minivan driven by a doctor who also moonlighted as a taxi driver. He spoke some English and told me how as a boy, he used to go swimming in the Aral Sea when it was next to Moynaq.

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