Ship-board air samples collected between The Netherlands and South Africa in January–February 2001 were analysed for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and polychlorinated naphthalenes (PCNs). The highest PAH concentrations occurred in the European samples, and in samples close to West Africa and South Africa. Consistently low PAH concentrations were measured in the southern hemisphere open ocean samples (190–680 pg/m3). The highest PCN concentrations occurred in the European samples, but high values were also detected off the West African coast, and in the sample taken closest to South Africa. Data are presented for diurnal cycles taken in the remote South Atlantic. The day:night ratios of phenanthrene, 1-methylphenanthrene and fluoranthene were typically 1.5–2.5:1. The mechanism(s) causing this observation is/are not understood at present, but dynamic environmental process(es) is/are implicated.