This small port on the Iranian island of Qeshm was buzzing for a long time with a restless movement in the marine workshops specialized in the maintenance and repair of wooden ships, but the number of workers in it this morning did not exceed twenty.
The sturdy wooden ships that were made in southern Iran have been plying the waters of the Gulf for centuries, but today they no longer enjoy the same status, as cheaper and faster ships have taken their place.
From the Omani capital, Muscat, to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, passing through Dubai, wooden “wheels” are part of the maritime landscape in the Middle East, just as dhows are in the Arabian Peninsula.
But the number of these ships is decreasing, and there are “fewer and fewer” of them, as noted by Captain Hassan Rostom, who has commanded ships for 40 years in the Strait of Hormuz between Iran in the east and the United Arab Emirates in the west.
And this 62-year-old points out that the best evidence of this decline is the calmness that prevails in the long beach of Koran, where about 30 “langa” anchor at low tide.
“intangible cultural heritage”
This small port on the Iranian island of Qeshm was buzzing for a long time with restless movement in the marine workshops specialized in maintaining and repairing wooden ships, but the number of workers in it this morning did not exceed twenty.
The “Ling” structure is still under construction, placed on beams, but the work on it will not be completed, as its owner preferred to dismantle it and use its wooden panels in other projects, due to his lack of the necessary financial capabilities to complete it.
Twelve years ago, in 2011, UNESCO included the “Ling” industry on the list of “Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding” and considered that “the philosophy of navigation in the Gulf, its ritual context and traditional skills are gradually fading” with the disappearance of the wooden ship industry.
Open air museum
In their golden age, these sturdy ships were used to transport grain, dates, dried fish, spices, wood and fabrics between the countries bordering the Gulf and to the coasts of East Africa, India and Pakistan. They were also used for very profitable fishing and pearl diving.
And if pearl search voyages have almost disappeared, commercial sea voyages are now based on ships made of fiberglass or steel, crossing the turquoise waters of the Gulf of all sizes at high speed, avoiding the huge oil tankers that transport their cargo to the Indian Ocean.
The supervisor of the Goran website, Ali Bozan, explains that the price of the new “Leng” today is “exorbitant”, because “the wood used in it is imported” and because “it is completely handmade”, and it is carried out on the beach.
Each boat has its own character, because it is not made according to one ready-made scheme, but rather based on the “experience” of craftsmen that “is passed down from generation to generation,” similar to Yunus, the 42-year-old, who has been working for more than 20 years in repairing “wheels” in his village. Curran, and he was busy implementing the ancient “calvat kopi” technique of waterproofing the structure with cotton strips soaked in sesame or coconut oil.
This profession is “difficult”, according to Yunus, who was working under the scorching sun, while Ali Bozan admits that the future of Goran is no longer in shipbuilding, relying on the promising tourism sector that attracts an increasing number of visitors. He notes that “a large number of boats have been restored to adapt them to the requirements of tourist cruises.”
“Open Air Museum”
Among the projects is also the transformation of the port of Goran into an open-air museum, which constitutes a suitable framework for taking wonderful pictures, as the colorful hulls of ships are scattered on the sand.
And in the middle of the beach, an old “ling” is being rehabilitated to convert it into a cafe, which is supposed to start receiving visitors on board during the fall, when the scorching temperatures moderate in summer.
In the large mangrove forests near the beach, Ali Bozan wants to provide tourists with a number of bungalows whose architecture is inspired by the “Leng”, each bearing the name of the most famous destinations of these ships, such as Zanzibar, Mombasa and Calcutta …