Report: WWII ships may pollute US waters

2013-05-21 16:35
Environmental activists have slammed new offshore drilling rules meant to prevent a similar incident to the Deepwater Horizon tragedy from occurring. (Eric Gay, AP)

Environmental activists have slammed new offshore drilling rules meant to prevent a similar incident to the Deepwater Horizon tragedy from occurring. (Eric Gay, AP)

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Washington - A new US government report details 87 shipwrecks - most sunk during World War II decades ago - that could pollute US waters with tens of millions of litres of oil.

Even so, the potential for pollution is less than scientists had expected. The report released on Monday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration concludes "the scope of the problem is much more manageable than initially feared. Our coastlines are not littered with 'ticking time bombs'."

Agency officials estimate that far less oil will leak into the ocean than the BP oil spill of 2010, which spewed roughly 800 million litres into the Gulf of Mexico alone. It was the country's worst offshore environmental disaster.

"That's not a bad number in comparison to what we first thought it would be," said NOAA's Lisa Symons, who wrote the study.

There are 20 000 shipwrecked vessels that lie off the nation's coastline. Most finished leaking long ago, ran on coal instead of oil, are too small or aren't near vulnerable land.

Potential polluters

"There are only six that really keep me up at night, but we don't know where they all really are," Symons said. Those six have the biggest potential to foul coastal areas because even if they spill only 10% of their oil, they could cause a local-scale disaster, she said.

Of those six, Symons said NOAA doesn't know the exact location of three of them. Three of the six worst potential problems are off Florida. One is near Georgia, one is near South Carolina and one is near New York. Some are as close as 24km from shore.

Of the 87 ships identified as potential polluters, 52 were lost in World War II, mostly up and down the Atlantic coastline.

The agency has identified 17 ships that have a known location and that need to be investigated further to see if the oil could be removed. Removing oil in advance, before it leaks, is far easier than waiting till after it spills into the water, Symons said
Read more on:    environment

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