Nigeria

In Nigeria, Toxic Ship Cemetery Poses Grave Environmental Threat

Off the Nigerian coast, near the country's largest city of Lagos, is a "graveyard" of some 100 grounded and rusted vessels that pose an environmental and security challenge to the oil-producing African country.

(smagdali)
(smagdali)

Just off the coast of Lagos, Nigeria's largest city, is what many consider the world's biggest ship graveyard. It's not a claim to fame Nigeria is proud off, particularly as the stranded vessels pose an environmental challenge the oil-producing African country can ill afford.

According to the Maritime Academy of Nigeria, there are 77 shipwrecks off the coast of Lagos alone. The exact number of wrecks off Nigeria's coast is not known but accepted figures run to over 100.

Corroded by rust and salt water, stripped of anything anybody could possibly sell, these ships are poisoning the waters and damaging coastlines by interfering with the natural flow of the sea. Navigating around the wrecks can also pose problems, not least because criminals tend to use them as places to escape to.

Undisturbed for decades, the wrecks are like a memorial to a dark chapter in Nigerian history. In the early 1970s, Yakubu "Jack" Gowon, who headed the Federal Military Government of Nigeria from 1966 to 1975, had huge quantities of concrete shipped in, but the ships had to wait for clearance for months outside Lagos harbor causing much of the cement to harden and the ships to sink.

Nowadays, the illegal oil trade contributes its share of wrecks -- local entrepreneurs buy up vessels well past their prime to ship what, according to Royal Dutch Shell PLC, are 150,000 barrels of stolen Nigerian oil per day. Four of these ships sank off Lagos last year alone.

Environmental ‘time bomb"

None of this fits the image of an up-and-coming economic powerhouse set to out-perform South Africa that Nigeria has been trying to create these past few years. Not only do the wrecks keep many investors away, they also increase risks for other ships trying to navigate the waters -- and their cargoes.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan did order the removal of the wrecks 11 months ago, at a cost of up to 1.3 million euros per wreck, but little has actually happened – probably due to the country's recent economic slowdown.

But doing nothing is a time bomb, as Philip Asiodu, president of NCF, a Nigerian environmental foundation, told the Leadership Sunday paper: "If we don't act now, the sea will destroy the lagoon which would be a disaster for Lagos and the Nigerian economy as a whole."

In public statements, President Jonathan has said the situation is under control. His lack of action, however, shows that the issue is not a real priority for the Nigerian leader, who has his hands full fighting against the Boko Haram terrorist organization.

There are other ship graveyards along the west African coast, notably that of Mauritania, but none as large as the one off Lagos.

Read the full article in German by Christian Putsch

Photo - smagdali

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