‘Ghost ships’ pose risk for public health and environment

‘Ghost ships’ pose risk for public health and environment

İdris Emen - İSTANBUL
‘Ghost ships’ pose risk for public health and environment

An expert has warned that 81 of the 114 abandoned ships in Turkey’s territorial areas in the Marmara, the Aegean and Black Seas pose an environmental and public health risk. After a recent legislation, authorities have been tackling 30 of the “ghost ships,” as they are called by fishermen.

“Usually, there is no one aboard these ships. Thus, in the event of a storm, it would be impossible to control the ship. These ships might cause shipwrecks and the consequences would be terrible,” assistant professor Ahsen Yücel from Istanbul University’s Institute of Marine Sciences and Management told daily Hürriyet on Feb. 20.

If any of the ships hit a tanker or a freighter, chemicals and other hazardous substances could spread to the sea causing a horrible environmental problem and long-term damage to the marine habitat, explained Yücel.

The Turkish Transport, Maritime Affairs and Communications Ministry took action to save the seas from the abandoned ships at the end of last year. The amendment to the Harbors Law, which proposes to scrap or sell “ghost ships,” was announced in The Official Gazette on Dec. 5, 2017. Proceedings for about 30 ships have been ongoing since then.

Until that date, proceedings to scrap or sell the ships have been carried out in accordance with the Turkish Commercial Code, which has a lengthy legal procedure. Only a small portion of them have been dealt with under the Harbor Law. There is no legal regulation regarding abandoned ships unless they are sunken or stranded.

Owner goes bankrupt, abandons ship

One of the most recently abandoned ships in Marmara is “Tallas,” a freighter that used to sail under the Cambodian flag. While it had been anchored off the shores of Istanbul’s Zeytinburnu district in 2015, the owner of the company went bankrupt. When supplies were depleted, the crew members hung a “help” sign on the ship in October 2015 and were sent home after being rescued. The ship was left in limbo, until it was laid-up on Feb. 3.

Fishermen have said many of the abandoned ships had been waiting to pass through Istanbul’s Bosphorus before they became trapped.