The 17th of May 2006, the US Navy will sink 27,000 tons of metal valued at 9.7 million US dollars* with the force of 24 charges of explosives. The Oriskany’s immersion constitutes the first stage of a program, created by the American administration in 2004, specifically designed for the underwater re-usage of surface ships as artificial reefs. This initial venture will take place in the Gulf of Mexico whose waters have been historically contaminated by hydrocarbons, heavy metals, and PCBs and more recently plagued by the effluents of Hurricane Katrina’s natural and industrial disaster in 2005. The hull of the ex-Oriskany contains more than 350 kg of residual PCBs as well as asbestos and toxic paint. Regional dive clubs welcome this ecological disaster. In the long run, the fish attracted by this new trash heap will be subjected to a toxicological follow-up determining whether or not they are harmless in the event of consumption by divers.
This operation, intended to mitigate the insufficiences of the shipbreaking program for the old ships of the world’s premier naval military, was endorsed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a final compromise. It is the first of many. It is absolutely contrary to international legislation. The London Convention relating to the prevention of marine pollution resulting from the immersion of wastes states an obligation to reduce the immersion of ships. The protocol relative to the prevention and elimination of pollution in the Mediterranean Sea forbids the sinking of all ships and aircraft. The OSPAR Convention on the protection of the environment in the Northeast Atlantic has forbidden the immersion of ships since 2004. The International Maritime Organization, to which the US belongs, will adopt in 2007, after 5 years of preparation, a new convention for the recovery of wrecks that endanger the environment and maritime security, the Wreck Removal Convention.
The American initiative clearly opposes the considerable progress made in international law during the last few years regarding the reduction of pollution to the world marine environment and the squandering of recyclable resources.
Robin des Bois is writing to the American government, Florida authorities, and the EPA demanding the suspension and reconsideration of the artificial reef program’s usage of old ships, such as the ex-Oriskany.
*according to the average price of metal at the ship demolition sites.