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Environmental crisis resurfaces after accident in Guanabara Bay

Monday, November 28th 2022 - 21:51 UTC
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The Brazilian Navy may intervene if an abandoned ship poses a threat to navigation or a water pollution risk. Photo: EFE The Brazilian Navy may intervene if an abandoned ship poses a threat to navigation or a water pollution risk. Photo: EFE

The latest in Guanabara Bay off Rio de Janeiro has brought back under the spotlight a decades-long environmental crisis in the area stemming from the abandonment of ships.

The clash involving the bulk carrier São Luiz, which crashed into the Rio Niterói Bridge earlier this month, threw light on a worrisome issue: the number of abandoned vessels in the Guanabara Bay region, a problem that has drawn constant warnings from environmental defenders who have nicknamed the place a “cemetery”.

Co-founder of the Live Bay Movement, Sérgio Ricardo Potiguara says that the problem has been dragging on for almost three decades and that there is no current survey of how many units are abandoned. The Coastal Management Plan for Guanabara Bay, prepared in 2002, indicated the existence of up to 250 abandoned and sunken ships in several stretches of Guanabara Bay.

Another problem pointed out by the ecologist is not knowing what is inside those ships. After the accident with the bulk carrier, which had been abandoned for six years, it was reported that there were 50,000 liters of oil inside, which, in case of leakage, could cause great environmental damage.

“Nobody can say, today, what degree of risk these vessels represent,” Portiguara said. It is estimated that up to 40 boats are in the “graveyard”, mainly in the São Lourenço canal in Niterói. These vessels are made of wood and, therefore, are sunk with tons of mud and sediments. Because they have been there for 30 years, they continue to leak pollutants into the environment.

The president of the NGO Guardians of the Sea and coordinator of the crab preservation Uçá Project Pedro Belga said that the permanence of abandoned boats and ships in Guanabara Bay impacts the mangroves in the region. Belga explained that the vessels were in the direction of the dredged canal created by the Navy to facilitate the entry of large vessels. The canal also allows colder currents with nutrients coming from afar to enter Guanabara Bay.

“The impact is not even direct because the mangroves are in the recôncavo, right at the bottom of Guanabara Bay and the boats are in the middle. The big problem is that they are in a line of passage of the canal dredged by the Navy, which allows the renewal of 50% of the water of Guanabara Bay every 12 days. In the long run, day after day, somehow these waters will pass through and circulate with various contaminants to the bottom of the Bay until near Paquetá. We are not only talking about rust, but other substances that can be carried by the current that enters the Navy channel to the bottom of the Bay,” the expert told Agência Brasil.

“There are a number of islands that are private, there are a number of military spaces, and there is also a ship graveyard, so the fishing area in Guanabara Bay is increasingly damaged and then we talk about the impact on the socio-economy of hundreds and thousands of families who live off small-scale fishing,” he added. “It's not just a technical issue. It has to be discussed on several fronts,” he also pointed out.

In order to reduce the impact on artisanal fishing, Project Uçá develops with crab pickers the Operação Limpa Oca (Clean Hollow Operation) in an agreement with Petrobras to guarantee an income to the workers during the species' closed season. According to the biologist, the action was strengthened because it is joining another project called From the Mangrove to the Sea, with Transpetro.

“The Clean Hollow Operation of Project Uçá is now taking place in the seventh phase of the closed season. Until last year, we had already removed 44 tons of solid waste from 36 hectares of mangroves. In this ban, we should exceed 50 tons and, starting in February, with the From the Mangrove to the Sea Project, we will attack an area that is more or less in the middle of the Guanabara Bay, between the Estrela river, in Magé, and the Iguaçu river, in Caxias, and we intend to clean a 20-hectare area with the possibility of reaching 25 tons of waste removed,” he elaborated.

The biologist highlighted that, historically, the Bay has suffered a lot of silting up due to landfills, including the “Flamengo embankment, Ilha do Fundão, Santos Dumont Airport,” he pointed out.

According to the State's Environmental Institute (Inea), the competence to inspect the anchoring and traffic of vessels in Guanabara Bay belongs to the Port Authority of Rio de Janeiro, as defined by the Navy itself, which indicates the agency as a “Military Organization responsible for the safety of waterway traffic and subordinated to the 1st Naval District Command.”

Inea intervenes when summoned by the Brazilian Navy to check the risk of environmental accidents involving a vessel in Guanabara Bay. The agency also monitors Guanabara Bay regularly through the Sea Eye Program, to identify and investigate the release of harmful substances in the bay's waterways.

Although the Port Authority of Rio de Janeiro is responsible for the regular inspection and regulation of water traffic in the area, the Navy said that abandoned hulls in Guanabara Bay, as well as vessels that are anchored or moored in a port or shipyard, are the responsibility of their owner, or agent, regardless of their state of conservation.

The Navy said that it can interfere if a vessel poses a danger to navigation or a water pollution risk.

If the owner or owner-operator (or their agents) fail to comply with the Maritime Authority's determinations, the Maritime Authority may seize the vessel and initiate its forfeiture process and provide for the structure’s ultimate destination.

(Source: Agencia Brasil)

Categories: Environment, Brazil.

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