Port Nolloth was established in the 1850's to facilitate the export of copper, which was brought to the coast along a 96-mile long narrow gauge railway from the mines near O'Kiep.
It continued to serve this purpose until well into the 20th century, but was never called on to handle any significant volume of cargo. The harbour's narrow, shallow entrance was tricky and eventually, with the improvement of the road systems, Cape Town became a more practical alternative.
In more recent years Port Nolloth emerged as a centre of small-scale diamond recovery mining, while the town is the only holiday resort along the Diamond Coast. Visitors can stroll down the pier at sunrise to watch diamond dredging boats and fishing trawlers pulling out of harbour, but the days of watching coastal ships arriving or sailing are now a thing of the past, following the silting up of the harbour entrance and waterways.
Although the harbour entrance was improved by underwater blasting during the 1950s, the approach is still described as 'careful' and requires acute manoeuvring, especially in fog, with a 90º turn to starboard across a reef that once blocked the entrance. Even berthing on the single quay wall comes with its own challenges. Chains off the ill-fated Lincoln Star act as a torsion wire on which the vessel will secure cables to hold the ship slightly away from the quay wall, as an offset against the effect of the heavy swell.
Fish and diamonds
The Unicorn tanker Oranjemund previously called regularly at Port Nolloth to handle fish, diamonds and provide supplies of oil for the sea diamond industry. Oranjemund was withdrawn early in 2006 and subsequently sold, was the last of the coastal ships to service the port.
She was a unique little ship (61m long with a 12m beam, 1,251gt, and a draught of a mere 4.4m) designed as a combined tanker/dry goods vessel especially for the West Coast trade. She was built in Durban in 1976 and because of the many sharp manoeuvres necessary at Port Nolloth and elsewhere on the west coast the little vessel was fitted with a bow thruster.
Other ships to ply this trade before Oranjemund included the Unicorn coaster Swazi and chartered vessels Torshammer and Karen Svarrer. Swazi was also designed for such difficult work, having two engines, twin screws and bow thruster but she nevertheless managed to go aground on an inner reef at Port Nolloth in 1972. It took about two weeks to refloat her on a high spring tide, after which she was taken in tow behind another Unicorn vessel Rampart and taken to Cape Town for repairs.
Facilities: The port consists of a single quay of 67m length. The inner anchorage is suitable for small craft only. There are no tugs or pilot available.
Over the years the harbour at Port Nolloth became badly silted meaning that only the smallest of vessels could enter harbour. These consisted of fishing and pleasure craft and small vessels employed by the diamond mining industry. As of 2016 however, Transnet National ports Authority has undertaken to improve facilities at the port for the benefit of the local community and this is now a project underway.