This morning’s news carried a strange but revelatory twist in the tragic tale of the ill-fated Airbus A330 lost somewhere over the Atlantic. The searchers had found debris and an oil slick. However, they have now announced that these did not come from the Airbus; ‘a large slick spotted in the area most likely spilled from a ship rather than from a downed plane’. So what exactly was a ship doing spilling a large slick in the middle of the Atlantic? If you do a Google on ‘ships dumping oil at sea’, you’ll find your answer. Here are some choice quototations from one of those reports that give you an idea of the sheer scale of what is going on out on the open seas where normally nobody is watching…
‘According to Poux, the amount of oil illegally dumped by oceangoing ships has a far greater impact on the environment than accidental spills. Some estimates, he said, put shipboard waste-dumping at more than 88 million gallons a year — some eight times the amount of crude oil spilled when the Exxon Valdez hit a reef in Alaska’s Prince William Sound 20 years ago.
‘Sludge filtered out from the low-grade fuel burned by many ships is particularly bad for the environment. It is supposed to be incinerated or off-loaded in port.
“It’s almost like tar; that’s what they are putting in the ocean,” the federal prosecutor said.
The oil dumping doesn’t have the immediate impact of an Exxon Valdez disaster, in which the thick toxic goo released from the ruptured hull of the grounded tanker suffocated or poisoned hundreds of thousands of seabirds and marine animals. But it is by no means benign, said Michael Kennish, a marine scientist at the Institute of Marine & Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University.
‘Salt marsh sediments can retain oil wastes “for years and years and years.” Emulsified oil solids sink to the bottom, where they affect bottom-feeding marine life.
“Oil is picked up by plants and animals everywhere,” Kennish said. “Dump it into the Continental Shelf, and that’s where our fisheries are. So the oil gets into the food chain.”
‘One study has estimated 300,000 seabirds are killed annually along Canada’s Atlantic coast from the type of routine discharge of oily waste, federal officials said. A chemical “oil fingerprint” analysis conducted by the Coast Guard found the bilge waste from one ship charged with environmental crimes was consistent with oil found on nearby beaches. ‘