By Josefa Babitu
Suva (IDN | Wansolwara) — Instead of a safe haven for ships, the famous Suva Bay has become a graveyard for derelict vessels, which pose a major risk to shipping and marine habitat. And there are growing concerns over the impact of derelict vessels on the environment and the safety of ships that sail in.
According to the Clear Seas Centre, a research centre in marine shipping in Canada, abandoned ships can harm tourism and fisheries, damage infrastructure, interfere with navigation and pose safety risks to people.
Oil and other toxic chemicals in the wrecks become a source of marine debris which endanger marine life.
Before his untimely death recently, Captain John Smith, a local environment advocate and professional diver who has scaled the extent of the pollution at the Suva harbour, said there were about 30 shipwrecks at the bottom of Suva harbour/bay. “Unfortunately, the owners have just abandoned them and left it for the Ports Authority to clean up,” he had said.
A few have been removed but it’s a slow process because it is an expensive, technical exercise and money is the problem.
While sunken vessels have become a fish haven and act as an artificial reef, Capt Smith had said they were a hazard to navigation.
The Fiji Ports Corporation Limited (FPCL) is responsible for keeping the harbour clean. The corporation’s communications officer, Sarah Chung, said derelict vessels were a long-standing problem that needed to be resolved.
She also said their enforcement teams had implemented a procedure for ongoing assessment and monthly reporting of wrecks and derelict vessels for the port boundaries in Suva. “FPCL has taken proactive measures to respond to oil spills or other pollution incidents such as illegal dumping of garbage from ships and have ensured that all vessels in port boundaries are adhering to Sea Port Management Act 2005 and relevant other laws of Fiji,” she said.
FPCL has issued a significant number of removal orders and is currently pursuing legal action on known owners of derelict vessels.
During Parliament’s June sitting, Attorney-General and Minister for Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said the corporation would serve removal orders to Sea Quest Fiji Limited, Pacific Building Solutions and Cruz Holdings Limited, whose vessels were left idle at the habour.
A total of 11 vessels are expected to be removed from the harbour.
“In the past number of years, there has been not much work in respect to the derelict ship removal and there has been a huge focus on that,” Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said. He revealed that derelict vessels were crowding the harbour and had killed fragile reefs and sensitive marine ecosystems that people depended on for food.
Sea Quest Ltd owns eight of the 11 derelict vessels in the harbour. “It is unfortunate that our vessels have been labelled with the term derelict. We have always placed a value on our vessels and continue to do so,” the company’s general manager, Wahid Ali, said. “We did determine one vessel to be beyond economic repair and we did get permission from Maritime Safety Authority of Fiji (MSAF) to scuttle one vessel this was done in 2019”.
“Overall risk mitigation is being continuously addressed and we have engineers visiting the vessels regularly to upkeep and run required machinery which is all part of our contingency planning,” added Ali. He said the company was pursuing interest from parties in the region to repurpose some vessels in the cargo industry, however, the COVID-19 pandemic put plans on hold
Between 2015 and 2016, FPCL spent more than F$305,000 (USD 144,000) in removing two derelict vessels from the Suva harbour, the MV Tovuto and the MV Sea Love.
Most companies are expected to be insured, and the insurance companies are expected to meet the cost, yet the Suva harbour area remains littered with sunken vessels, with slow progress to clear them.
Permanent Secretary for the Environment Ministry Joshua Wycliffe said the ministry would take action if companies failed to co-operate. “We also work with the infrastructure industry and are able to provide support to the companies that have actually had a mishap or the accident, and, and we ensure that those spillages are cleaned by the company that is responsible,” he said in an interview with Wansolwara. [IDN-InDepthNews – 05 December 2021]
* Josefa Babitu is a final year journalism student at the University of the South Pacific (USP) in Suva, Fiji Islands. This article was moved in association with the USP’s students newspaper Wansolwara.
Photo: A ‘derelict’ vessel in Suva Bay. Credit: Josefa Babitu