With dozens of abandoned and wrecked ships lying in the Gulf of Elefsina in Greece, Greek authorities have begun the process of Elefsina ship clearance.
Of the cargo and passenger ships sunken and half-sunken in the gulf, an industrial area of shipyards and factories near the major port of Piraeus, the Elefsina Port Authority has identified a number of wrecks to be targeted by the Elefsina ship clearance as they could pose hazards to local shipping. Several more represent a significant environmental risk, with a number of abandoned ships still leaking fuel into the water.
Dimosthenis Bakopoulos, head of the Greek Public Ports Authority, said the Elefsina ship clearance scheme had identified 52 wrecks which needed to be removed from the gulf, adding: “You don’t have to be a scientist to understand that the shipwrecks are an environmental bomb that degrades the environment of the nearby municipalities.”
In theory wrecked and abandoned vessels should be the responsibility of their owners; but many of the original owners of the sunken Elefsina ships – many of them based in countries outside Greece – have since gone bankrupt, stopped operating as a business or are untraceable by local authorities. In order to begin Elefsina ship clearance, port authorities have had to implement regulations allowing the state to appropriate abandoned ships.
Meanwhile authorities must make provision for what can be done with the wrecks once they have been removed from the water. There may be insufficient ship-breaking yards in the region to fully account for wrecks retrieved in the Elefsina ship clearance process, while local residents have expressed concern about the environmental impact of large-scale ship destruction taking place in the area.
Charalampos Gargaretas, the chief executive officer of Elefsina Port Authority, said: “It is the sins of many years which we now have come to solve. We are trying in a very short period of time and with huge bureaucratic and legal hurdles to remove all these ships from the area.”