There are many shipwreck sites visible on Google Earth/Google Maps, but few of them pop up out of lagoons and desolate coves of the world quite as vividly as the World Discoverer does. You can see from the azure blue waters and palm trees that this is a tropical location. It’s a pretty far flung one: this wreck lies in Roderick Bay, in the Nggela Islands, which are part of the nation of the Solomon Islands (the most famous of the islands in this country is Guadalcanal, which owes its fame to World War II). The wreck is quite unusual in that most of it is intact, at least structurally. Very few windows are left and the rusting hulk was long-ago stripped of anything valuable, but its superstructure remains largely intact. Most shipwrecks, left untended, crumble into unrecognizable bits of metal before too long, especially in tropical environments. For instance, nothing is left above the water level of the once-spectacular American Star wreck, which I did a blog about years ago.

World Discoverer had an interesting—if ultimately doomed–career. Built in Germany in the early 1970s, the ship, first known as the BEWA Discoverer (BEWA was a company name), had a very brief career under Danish operation before being moved to the south seas in 1976. From that year on the World Discoverer, as she was now known, blazed trails in the relatively new industry of eco-tourism, taking curious Westerners on cruises through little-known tropical and icy locales to observe wildlife, icebergs and the occasional penguin. The Falkland Islands, Antarctica, Chile and Argentina were the ship’s usual destinations.

On the afternoon of April 30, 2000, World Discoverer was cruising around the Solomons when she struck an underwater rock and severe flooding resulted. The captain evacuated his passengers without incident or injury, and then quickly high-tailed it to the nearest shallow spot, so the ship would settle on a shallow bottom and be relatively easy to raise and repair. It didn’t turn out that way. Once scuttled here in Roderick Bay, which was where the captain had decided to take her, it proved too expensive to mount a salvage operation in these far-flung, remote islands. Thus it was ultimately money–rather than marine hazards or disaster–that resulted in the World Discoverer remaining stranded here. She has been on this spot for the last 17 years, slowly turning into a palace of rust and an artificial reef below the waterline.

Though not as dramatic as various other shipwrecks I’ve profiled on this blog before, at least World Discoverer makes an interesting picture, even from space.

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