Chief Environmental Officer considers wreck removals

vlcsnap-2013-05-22-20h37m45s36In 2005, the 225-foot commercial cargo vessel M/V Transfer slammed into Lighthouse Reef after its autopilot stopped working as it exited Belize for Alabama, U.S.A. south of Sand Bore island. 7 years later, its hulk sits atop the reef.. Reports to PLUS News are that operators are scrapping the ship for metal to be sold, but formal plans to remove the wreck have not been forthcoming. Today Chief Environmental Officer Martin Alegria, whose office has been kept busy in the last few years dealing with grounding after grounding vessel, told us that the Transfer marked new ground for the Department.

Martin Alegria – Chief Environmental Officer:
vlcsnap-2013-05-22-20h36m33s50Well, MV transfer was a critical point in our journey, in environmental management in Belize, especially the marine environment. When that incident occurred, we didn’t have the legislation that we have now, we didn’t have the capacity for damage assessment, etc. etc. So unfortunately that vessel has been there like you rightly said, for years now. Notwithstanding, recently there has been interest, because of the scrap metal market I think you are familiar that for the past five-seven years, the hole scrap metal business market in China for example, has began to open up aggressively, so there are these plans around the world, not only in Belize, to look at every scrap metal you can find, and try to bring it to the market.

The owners of the vessel escaped punishment because, according to Alegria, Belize did not have appropriate regulations concerning damage to the reef caused by ocean-going vessels. Westerhaven, the Dutch cargo ship that ran aground several years later was slated to pay nearly $12 million Belize dollars for destroying 6,000 square miles of pristine reef. The Transfer’s fate may be somewhat different, as Mr Alegria explains.

Martin Alegria – Chief Environmental Officer:
We have had some approaches by various entities to try to just like what they have been doing for years in Belize, looking at derelict vehicles and the scrap metal business and scrap them, get the valuable metals and carry it for be it Guatemala or Mexico, or for Asia market and they are now beginning to venture in the Marine Environment, so that’s a possibility that we will have to look into. However, again, it has to be done in a very environmentally conscious manner and safe manner, so that ta the end of the day, the damage that is already done that it is doing to hurricanes or with swaying and movement damaging the corals; if we can look at that and try to avoid it in the near future by completely removing it environmentally conscious wise, removing it and making some funds out of it rather than it just being there, not only an environmental hazard, but also an eyesore for tourism and other stuff. 

According to Mr Alegria, any formal removal of the wreck for scrap metal will be done to environmental standard.

Martin Alegria – Chief Environmental Officer:
The value of the metal there, I wouldn’t be able to tell you that.  When the proposals come in we’ll look ay [them].
Whatever is done on those vessels, ’cause it’s not only one you know, you have about three or so, whatever initiative to remove those vessels would have to be with environmental consciousness, and the details of the mechanisms, the metal for example, the precautions, is case specific.  In the case Transfer, as you mentioned,an assessment would have to be done on what’s the best way of moving it, with causing the minimal damage to what is in it’s surroundings.  Needless to say, any activity would have some negative impact. [We have] to minimize it as much as possible, and then remove the bigger risk which is happening as we speak.

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