In this monthly statement, I wanted to talk about our oceans and while most of the world are discussing plastics pollution – and quite rightly so, I wanted also to focus on another aspect of pollution in our oceans.
It’s a little known subject that I’ve not seen anyone talking about, but something we should also be aware of while we’re discussing other ocean environmental impacts!
So do ships pollute the ocean? Here’s exactly what sunken ships are doing to our oceans – first as a quick answer and then with more details…
Do Sunken Ships Pollute The Ocean? Wrecked ships pollute the ocean through the release of oil, fuel, acidic components, asbestos, plastic, and radioactive materials, some of these are based on ship cargo contents. Some materials aboard sunken ships such as stainless steel or wood do not pollute the ocean.
Of course, all pollution should be addressed. But it’s common to hear of many sunken ships …or “shipwrecks” occurring.
From the many ships sunk during the second world war, to many more that have happened since.
In fact, often ships these days are intentionally sunk too. Many ships are sunk intentionally simply to provide for “great diving spots”. Because divers enjoy diving into and around sunken ships!
However, aside from human enjoyment at the cost of the planet, shipwrecks and sunken ships are a great potential pollution source.
So, with that, let’s focus the details around sunken ships polluting the ocean, how, and much more.
Do sunken ships pollute the ocean?
When taking the sunken ships in isolation, based on what they’re made out of, most ships are either made out of steel or wood historically, and more modern materials like plastics and carbon fibers in recent times.
So the effects of these materials when the ships are sunk beneath the water, both steel and wood tend to have minimal effects in terms of potential water pollution.
Most ships are made of steel, and the concentration of rusting steel doesn’t yet have as great an impact as say plastics, where stainless steel is concerned, stainless steel is 100% recyclable and has minimal effects on the environment or water too.
From its protective chromium oxide layer to the self-healing effects it seems to have, stainless steel is resistant to corrosion.
Stainless steel loses only a tenth of a millimeter of thickness each year. Even when considering its decomposing process, stainless steel is not coated or mixed with any toxic components.
So ships made of steel will decompose over time, but there will be minimal toxic runoff mixed or released into the water.
This shows that sunken ships that are mostly made of steel have little potential pollution to the ocean based on what it’s made out of. And many smaller vessels are made from carbon fiber, plastics and even kevlar.
Wood, actually decays relatively quickly. Usually, the only wooden part that remains are those that have been buried in silt or sand.
Similarly, other parts of ships like propellers, doors and hinges, engines, and portholes also remain for a long period and corrode slowly.
Some parts are often made from brass and phosphor bronze. Which are all similar to stainless steel and therefore also have a lower non-toxic release into the ocean.
However, the minimal pollution effects from the materials that sunken ships are made of may vary depending on several factors. Mainly the quality, thickness, and the mixture or additives to the materials may affect the low toxic release into the ocean.
Ways that sunken ships (shipwrecks) pollute the ocean
A ship, of course, carries many goods than just its structure, because of this, when a ship sinks, contents can be released into the ocean – causing potential pollution.
Below are some of the main ways through which a sunken ship can pollute the ocean.
The release of oil, fuel, and acidic components
One of the many things that all ships carry is fuel and large oil tankers are naturally often filled with oil.
So when a ship wrecks and sinks into the ocean, however secure it may seem, it’s common to expect these vessels to gradually release their oil and fuel into the ocean.
Oil and fuel, of course, pollute the ocean and especially cause several harming effects to the environment of aquatic life.
This results in incidents such as the abnormal birth of aquatic animals like turtles with two heads – which are believed to have come precisely because of the oil and fuels that are continuously being released to the ocean and polluting it.
Similarly, some ships carry a range of chemicals and chemical components in tankers. So what happens when these ships sink is that they again release their acidic and chemical components into the ocean, once again introducing sometimes large quantities of polluting substances into our ocean.
Sometimes, when a ship is about to sink, the crew will often empty these tankers of acids and chemicals in an attempt to prevent the ship from sinking. One famous such incident was on the river Rhine in Germany, where 1895 tons of nitric acids were emptied into the river in an attempt to avoid the ship from sinking.
However, the comparison between oil to acidic release into the ocean as a result of sunken ships makes oil pollution from sunken ships a less harmful factor.
It’s estimated that around 22 billion litters of fuels and more than 8,500 at-risk vessels could be found under the ocean. Among these the ones that release these components end up polluting the ocean as a result of the sunken ship.
The release of asbestos
The term ‘asbestos’ is used to describe any form of the naturally occurring fibrous silicate minerals of the amphibole or serpentine groups.
Asbestos was banned in the construction of ships because of its bad health effects. Asbestos is now known to create and promote diseases like pleural and even certain types of cancer.
But despite the ban, several sunken ships have been found containing these dangerous substances, if these toxic substances are released into the ocean, they will pollute it.
The release of plastic
It’s a well-known fact that many plastics are disposed into the ocean.
But it’s important to mention here that some plastics disposed to the ocean are actually because of sunken ships.
As we already know, plastic disposal into the ocean pollutes the ocean in deadly ways. Mainly because sea creatures either eat or get entangled in the plastics.
It’s estimated that plastics result in the death of around one million seabirds and around 100,000 or more death of seals, whales, and dolphins every year.
The release of radioactive materials
This type of pollution is mainly a result of the release of radioactive waste and radioactive substances from sunken nuclear submarines, especially in the Russian waters.
According to water tests, it’s shown that in the waters where radioactive concentrations are high, diseases related to cancer, blood, and skin to sea creatures are high.
So not only does this release of radioactive materials pollute the ocean …but also contaminates the environment and is harmful to marine life.
I hope you can see why I wanted to address this in this month’s statement. I’m absolutely an advocate for heavily reporting pollutants like plastic and industrial waste, but sometimes we also need to see beyond the hype of the moment and remind ourselves that there are still so many areas to tackle in terms of pollutants from a wider scale.
If you want to help fight pollution and promote worthwhile projects for the environment, then you too can donate to the Rutakirwa Foundation. Our combined input helps – in our own way – to provide a better future for us all.
Till next month,
I remain truly yours,
Serving since 28th December 2008.