For more than a week, the Maltese-flagged freighter, Bahamas, dumped sulfuric acid into the Patos estuary in southern Brazil. According to Anglican Bishop Dom Luiz Prado the long-term livelihood of fishers in the Anglican Diocese of Pelotas is threatened by the dumping which has severely damaged or destroyed the ecosystem. He says that they have been coping with pollution for over 10 years now and that because of the acid “for 10 more years life will be almost impossible.”
Greenpeace, the international environmental organization, agrees. “This ecological disaster may very well leave 6,500 fishermen without work,” said Greenpeace spokesperson Marcelo Furtado. “The environmental damage on this sensitive ecosystem is being aggravated by the sequence of incompetence, greed and secrecy from local authorities, the owners and the operators of the ship.”
MV Bahamas ran aground in late August causing water to leak into the storage tanks. The resulting chemical reaction released great heat and hydrogen into the hold. The ship’s fireman and captain claimed that the only way to prevent an enormous explosion was to dump the acid into the canal. The government allowed this to begin. The dumping continued until local fishers and environmental groups managed to get a court to ban the dumping and order ventilation and the orderly removal of the acid instead. By then more than 6,000 tonnes of acid had been dumped.
There is concern that the acid will not only destroy the fishing, but enter irrigation and drinking water systems.
Bishop Prado is concerned about the long-term effects and with seeing justice done. He is also very concerned about the short term survival of the community. He has made a request to the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund. “People knowing our diocese and its history of outreach, (asking for assistance, but) the only alternative we have now, because of the disaster with the acid’s dumping, is to ask for emergency help.”
Rev. Bill Prentice, program director for the diocese of Ottawa, Pelotas’ partner says that they are waiting to hear what Bishop Prado wants them do. He also expressed some of the anger that many are feeling over this incident. “There’s going to be litigation over this incident. This isn’t just about our fishermen, this is about the destruction of a whole ecosystem.”
The ship is owned by ChemOil, a Swiss company, and has had five names, several owners, and four flags in its 28-year existence. The Bahamas is one of many ships that operate under a “flag of convenience” which means that they are bound by few rules. These ships are often abandoned for their insurance value as soon as there is a problem, leaving crews unpaid and local governments holding a mess.
A criminal investigation has begun because of suspicion that the incident was precipitated to claim insurance on the ship which should have been scrapped years ago.
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