May 23, 2019
Pacific Ocean World War II Shipwrecks Prompt Fears of Environmental Devastation From Oil Leaks
News Source: ABC News
Author(s): Cameron Gooley
More than 3,000 warships lie scattered around the Pacific Ocean, remnants of a world war that ended more than 70 years ago.
Some of these wreckages are war graves, and others are sites of cultural significance — but many are also ticking environmental time bombs.
The ships are rusting and beginning to leak massive amounts of oil into the ocean.
The Major Projects Foundation, founded by Newcastle couple Paul and Wilma Adams, undertakes research into projects dealing with the oil content of shipwrecks and explosive remnants of war in the Pacific.
This week, the Foundation, the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP) and the University of Newcastle launched a project to tackle the issue of shipwreck pollution.
Under the program scientists, engineers, and marine archaeologists will work with Pacific communities to protect at risk ecosystems.
They will look at ways of preventing spills such as pumping out the oil, reinforcing the hulls of ships to prevent further rusting, and using bacteria to break down the oil.
It is work that needs urgent attention — of the 3,000 identified war wrecks in the Pacific about 300 are oil tankers.
"I've been diving on shipwrecks for the last 30 years and a couple of years ago something changed, we started to notice oil coming out," said Paul Adams, a co-founder of the not-for-profit Major Projects Foundation.
"Potentially we're talking about millions of litres (of oil) out of any of these ships," he said.
A looming threat
"We've taken 3,000 shipwrecks down to about 50 critical wrecks that we must look at pretty urgently.
"They got on that list because they're near very diverse ecosystems, coral reefs, fish breeding grounds in mangroves, local communities," Mr Adams said.
Last year Paul and Wilma Adams took a major step forward in their work — in a "dash of craziness" they bought a de-commissioned New Zealand warship to support their dive projects, and it will be used in the program.
They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the newly named MV Ocean Recovery rather than buying a house.
"Don't mention it," joked Ms Adams.
"That is a bit of a sore point," laughed Paul. "Wilma's over it now, we now rent a house but at least we've got ship we can put to great use."
The program also deals with geopolitical issues caused by the remediation efforts such as compensation and liability, and how to deal with war graves and cultural sites.
"It's an issue that's politically sensitive, we're talking about sunken warships that belong to other sovereign nations (primarily the United States and Japan)," said Kosi Latu, SPREP's Director General.
For the SPREP, which is comprised of 26 countries including 21 Pacific nations, this is an opportunity to solve an ongoing problem that could affect the economic and cultural well-being of the region.
"For the last 20 years we've been talking about sunken World War II ships as a problem … we have an opportunity to change the narrative or add to the narrative," Mr Latu said.
"We think we have a solution from a scientific perspective."