Nature reserve or scrap yard?

Feature story - 10 April, 2003
The little known west African state of Guinea Bissau, sandwiched between Senegal and Guinea, includes the Bijagos Archipelagos. The islands are home to a huge range of wildlife and are an internationally recognised wildlife reserve and important local fisheries. Sounds like a fabulous place to dump toxic ships, doesn't it?

Ship breaking yard in India. The problem of ships containing toxic waste is exported to poor countries.

The archipelago has been protected as a UNESCO biosphere reserve since 1993. It is known for a diverse range of wildlife, including sea cows, hippopotamus, otters, six species of sea turtles and two species of salt-water crocodiles. There are 700,000 migratory birds and numerous local bird species living in and around the archipelago. Fishing is the major source of income for locals in Guinea Bissau. Despite this ecological heritage Spanish shipping companies want to develop the island of Bolama as a scrap yard for obsolete ships.

The company DDY De Comercio Exterior SA has a preliminary agreement with the Guinea-Bissau government to build the scrap yard alongside the two national parks on the island.

Our toxic campaigner, Marietta Harjono has seen first hand what happens at scrap yards in Asia: "A shipbreaking yard will bring some of the most dangerous substances known to science to Guinea Bissau, and put the lives and environment of local people at serious risk. We know from experience in India, Pakistan and other developing countries that scrap ships contain hazardous materials and oil residues. The shipping industry must not be allowed to send hazardous waste to developing countries, and especially to a site of such environmental importance."

While the companies involved claim the development will be 'sustainable', local groups say the companies chose Guinea Bissau because it has not signed an international treaty to control the export of hazardous waste to developing countries. Hardly bodes well for the companies promises when they chose somewhere where rules can be evaded.

If these companies are serious about a sustainable solution for scrapping ships then they should be supporting regulations under discussion at the International Maritime Organisation to ensure ship owners clean and decontaminate ships before scrapping. That's a lot more sustainable than looking to exploit developing countries and pollute the environment.


Email UNESCO now to tell it to protect the islands against the threat of the scrap yard.

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Find out about the problems of shipbreaking and the solutions. Also in Francias, Nederlands