Twenty three years after running aground on a reef in Alaska and causing one of the largest spills in U.S. history, the tanker Exxon Valdez is back in the news—this time to keep it from being intentionally grounded on a beach in India.
The Indian Supreme Court has ruled that the Exxon Valdez (now called the Oriental Nicety) cannot be grounded and cut apart on the shores of Gujarat until it can be cleaned of residual oils and other contaminants.
What’s known as “ship breaking” is a dirty business, and many of the world’s tired and obsolete vessels end up being grounded on beaches in India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan and cut apart for scrap steel.
In recent years the business of ship scrapping has become a major health and environmental concern. Many ship breaking yards in these developing countries have little or no safety equipment or environmental protections, and toxic materials from these ships, including oils, heavy metals, and asbestos, escape into the environment.
Obsolete vessels and ship scrapping can also be a problem here in the U.S. Last year, the 431-foot S/S Davy Crockett made the news down on the Columbia River near Vancouver, Wash.
Mysterious oil sheens on the river were traced upriver to the former Navy Liberty ship that had begun leaking oil due to improper and unpermitted salvage operations.
Next week I will be at the Clean Pacific Conference in Long Beach, Calif., and presenting information on the challenges of dealing with abandoned and derelict vessels in the U.S. I know that the Davy Crockett and the issues it raised will come up.
Vessels are abandoned for all sorts of reasons, including storms (particularly hurricanes/typhoons which may damage large numbers of boats), community-wide economic stress or change (e.g., declining commercial fishing industries), and financial or legal issues of individual owners. The high cost of proper vessel disposal can lead some folks to just walk away.
Hopefully we can help improve how we respond to these vessels and increase prevention programs to prevent abandonment. If you are interested in this issue, there is more information on NOAA’s Abandoned Vessel Program.