The Million Dollar Point of Vanuatu

Nov 29, 2016 2 comments

Located off the coast of Espírito Santo, an island belonging to the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu, is a vast undersea junkyard of military trucks, jeeps, bulldozers, tractors, unopened boxes of clothing and cases of Coca-Cola create. It’s called the Million Dollar Point, so named for the millions of dollars’ worth of US military equipment that was dumped in the ocean at the end of the second world war.

The island of Espirutu Santo was used by the Americans during WWII as their primary military supply and support base, and the headquarters for major navy and army units operating in the Pacific. It was the second largest US base in the Pacific after Hawaii and had over 40,000 troops stationed permanently on base. There were two bomber and two fighter airbases and massive aircraft and ship repair facilities. Being a supply base meant that it had everything that was required to sustain troops fighting the war including furniture, clothing, plenty of good food and warm beer.


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Once the war ended, the Americans were faced with the problem with what to do with all the military equipment that had accumulated on the island. The high cost of shipping made it too expensive to send these back to the United States. Above all, there was the pressure to bring the troops back home as quickly as possible. So the Americans offered to sell much of the equipment to the French and British who held joint sovereignty over the island. But the colonial authorities thought that if they refused to buy, the Americans would have to leave everything behind, and then the British and French would get everything for free.

The Americans saw through the bluff, and in retaliation decided to dump everything into the ocean. The locals watched in disbelief as hundreds of vehicles were rolled off the barges into the water. While the military had dumped leftover equipment and some ammunition in the past, but nothing on the scale of Million Dollar Point.

Travel writer Thurston Clarke describes the scene:

The Seabees built a ramp running into the sea and every day Americans drove trucks, jeeps, ambulances, bulldozers, and tractors into the channel, locking the wheels and jumping free at the last second. Engine blocks cracked and hissed. Some Seabees wept. Ni-Vanuatu witnessing the destruction of wealth their island would never see again, at least in their lifetimes, thought the Americans had gone mad.

Ironically, the islanders held the British colonial government, and not the American military, accountable for this destruction. According to witness testimonies, the Americans tried to leave behind civilian items such as pots, pans, as well as guns, and timber to the locals, but the booty was confiscated by the British and were either burnt or thrown into the sea. Islanders who took anything, even scrap slated for destruction, were severely punished.

“We used to hide and wait for them to throw away this food—like new tins of bacon and sausage. New ones, new clothes. Then his police would report us. Sometimes the Americans would just put things outside their tents meaning for us to take them,” told one islander.

Million Dollar Point is now Espirutu Santo’s biggest attraction offering opportunities to dive or snorkel among the rusted and coral-encrusted vehicles.


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Sources: Cabinet Magazine / BBC / Santo Today


  1. The cost of shipping the material back wasn't the issue. Contractually, any unused material of any kind at the end of the war had to be destroyed or otherwise disposed of outside of the US.

  2. Any value in recycling the materials today?


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