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Aliwal Shoal

It was in the year 1849, just 7 years after the establishment of a British fort at Port Natal later to be renamed Durban and become the largest container port in Africa. A British brig, 'the Aliwal', under the command of Captain James Anderson, very nearly struck an unknown reef.

There were, at this time, no accurate maritime charts of this area. Captain Anderson, therefore, wrote to the colony's fledgling newspaper ‘The Natal Witness' on 14 January 1850 saying-

‘I presume that you will be interested to be informed that 30 miles south of Port Natal and 2 miles offshore, I observed a huge rock or dangerous reef from the deck of my brigantine, the ‘Aliwal' .

I cannot locate this reef on any Admiralty chart or almanac. I would be obliged if you would notify all Captains of coastal vessels of the dangers which this reef presents.'

Since that time, the reef has been known as the ‘Aliwal Shoal'.

In geological terms, the reef is very young. 80,000 years ago the reef consisted of sand dunes. Heavy rains dissolved calcium carbonate out of sea shells which eventually cemented the sand dunes into sandstone. Movement of the continental shelf, slowly lowered the area beneath the waves. The deposition of sand and shells has continued resulting in a tortured topography full of gullies, overhangs, caves and swimthoughs. Coral poyps have formed huge colonies which attract 1,200 species of fish, turtles, rays, sharks and whales.

Despite Capitain Anderson's efforts, the reef has taken it's toll of vessels!

On the 20 May 1884, the steamship ‘Nebo' of 2,000 tons, on her maiden voyage out of Sunderland destined for Durban, and carrying a prefabricated bridge intended to carry the new railway line over the Amanzimtoti river, struck the reef and sank in 28 metres of water.

Later on 11 August 1974, the Norwegian bulk tanker ‘Produce' of 15,000 tons and carrying a cargo of mollases struck the ‘Northern Pinnacle'. The impact ripped the hull of the vessel open. Fortuneately, the 'Produce's' distress call was picked up at the local ski boat club. The local sportfishermen launched immediately and safely brought ashore the entire crew of the stricken vessel with no loss of life or serious injury.

To descend below the waves and see such a complete vessel which looks almost as though it needs only some air pumping in it to refloat it, is a sureal and eeirie experience. An unforgettable dive.

Aliwal Shoal is justifiably popular for it's wrecks and soft corals but worldwide for divers, it means Sharks !!

Sharks to see:-

Ragged Tooth From June to November, the Raggies are at Aliwal in big numbers. Since stricter rules against divers entering the Raggies hiding places - caves and overhangs where they feel safe against attack by Tigers - we have had Raggies right through the year. Our dives in February 2015 resulted in sightings of dozens of Ragged Tooth sharks.

Scalloped Hammerhead  For many years we did not see Hammerheads at Aliwal but since 2001, they are back. These are juveniles around 1.5 metres in length which swim just beneath the surface, sometimes with fins breaking the surface to impress the non divers !!

Tiger Shark  Discovering Africa Safaris offer full day at Aliwal Shoal.

Zambezi or Bull Shark  Again only found at one site that we know of.

Stephane Harge's Manta video at Aliwal

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