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Moves to get derelicts out of T&T waters
Minister of Transport Steven Cadiz has said the owner of 13 derelict vessels anchored off the coast at Chaguaramas will visit Trinidad this week to tell the Maritime Services Division (MSD) which of them can be scrapped. The remaining vessels will be removed from T&T waters and taken to another country and jurisdiction, according to Commodore Garnet Best, who is employed by the MSD to monitor and oversee an ongoing operation to deal with 51 abandoned and derelict boats in T&T waters.
In December, the T&T Guardian reported that two of the ships off Chaguaramas had capsized. Eyewitness Steven Valdez, a member of the T&T Game Fishing Association, had spotted substances leaking out of them into the sea. Nguyen Hai Chau, owner of Trinidad Vina Ltd, brought the ageing ships (manufactured and registered in Brazil in 1983) to a layup area close to the Five Islands two years ago and paid for their ongoing mooring costs. Meaning they are technically not abandoned.
Public concern grew an, on December 18 Cadiz and Ganga Singh, Minister of the Environment and Water Resources, issued a joint statement after a meeting with the MSD, EMA and the Ministry of Energy. The statement said 51 ships had been put on the inventory of abandoned or monitored ships and Best had been contracted to oversee their removal. It also said the process of serving notice to owners and removing vessels would be made more efficient.
Valdez, however, is concerned that between December and March little appeared to have been done. Cadiz was quoted on March 28 as saying there would be movement of the boats within a week. There are conflicting reports as to whether this has actually happened. Best told the T&T Guardian one of the vessels was moved on either Monday or Tuesday, but Valdez said yesterday that as of Monday afternoon, he had seen no movement and the situation remained the same.
Valdez said yesterday: “These vessels are of major concern. They are almost on their way down. They are on their last legs. If someone doesn't act now they will sink in 20-25 feet of water and become more difficult to remove. “Once submerged, they may break apart when you attempt to move them. The EMA says chemicals will leak out and the cost of removal will become a hundred times more expensive.”
Valdez added that a group of independent senators was preparing to raise the issue in the Senate.
Where they are
Chaguaramas area: Seven.
Port of Port-of-Spain/Sea Lots: 32.
Claxton Bay: Seven.
San Fernando: Three.
Source: MSD report
Minister: Tighter law coming
Cadiz was contacted on Tuesday in Tobago, where he was on ministry business. He said the ships had been given permission to moor temporarily in a “legitimate layup” by the MSD two years ago and the MSD and Best were working to get the ships removed. He added that the ministry was working to tighten up the Shipping Act which he described as “old and archaic.”
He said Trinidad is used as a convenient layup for overseas shipowners who wanted to leave their ships here temporarily while they decided what to do with them. Once they paid the fees, he explained, it was not illegal and there was no maximum period. “But,” he added, “under current law we don't have to accept a vessel. The MSD can refuse them. “We don't want ships here that are about to be abandoned and up until now policing of the Shipping Act has not been what it should be.”
He said the MSD had been doing its best to reduce the number of wrecks and had brought the figure down from 100 a few years ago to 51 today. Boats that have sunk in the Port-of-Spain harbour were in the process of being identified and owners notified, he said. Where names are still legible on the wrecks they are printed in the press and for ships whose names have been washed away, their co-ordinate locations are published instead. Owners are given a period of time in which to come forward and claim them.
Over 50 wrecks in local waters
Last year a party cruise boat, the Harbour Master, ran aground off Port-of-Spain on submerged vessels which are seen as a hazard by the Coast Guard as they are not lit.
In a letter to the T&T Guardian, Valdez, who led a team of environmentalists, fishermen, media and yachties to survey the capsized boats off Chaguaramas in December, said some of the abandoned vessels in the Gulf of Paria were used for drug and gun-smuggling and that Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine had revealed they were also used for the illegal sale of diesel.
Unclaimed ships in the Port of Port-of-Spain were being resurfaced, salvaged and taken to the Maritime Preservation Ltd dockyard to be scrapped and sold as scrap metal to China, Best told the T&T Guardian, under an agreement between the shipyard, the scrapyard and the wreckage recovery company, Sea Neptunus Marine Services Ltd. The MSD is close to completing a vessel traffic management system to monitor all vessels in T&T waters.