We have all read or heard the story of the man without a country who is sentenced to remain at sea for his entire life, aimlessly wandering the world. Of courses that is just fiction. In the real life, however, there is a barge load of garbage that aimlessly wanders the globe looking for a country that will accept it in its landfills.
Orange rinds, beer bottles newspapers, and chicken bones – it was trash, like all trash taken to an incinerator in Philadelphia for incineration. The ashes, like all ashes, were to be taken away to a landfill somewhere in Philadelphia Joseph Paolino & Sons had a $ 6 million contract to remove the ash but kept having doors slammed in its face.
Paolino hired Amalgamated Shipping –operator of the Khian Sea, a 17 year old 466 foot rust bucket registered in Liberia – to dump the ash in the Bahamas where Amalgamated was based. The Bahamian government rejected the ash, and the Khian sea began its 16 year journey as the Flying Dutchman of debris.
Briefly returning to the US it took off for Puerto Rico, Bermuda, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Guinea Bissau, and the Netherlands Antilles where it was turned away again and again. To make the cargo more appealing the ash was described as topsoil fertilizer and the Haitian government agreed to accept the ash. About two thirds of the ash (4,000 tons) had been unloaded when Greenpeace and local activists protested. The Haitian government then ordered the crew to reload the ash, but the ship departed leaving the ash.
The ship returned to Philadelphia hoping to find a place for the remaining ash but to no avail. It left again seeking a resting place. It sailed to Senegal and Cape Verde, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the Philippines arriving in Singapore empty. Years later, the ship’s captain admitted in court that the remaining ash, on third of the original load had been dumped in the Atlantic and Indian oceans
Meanwhile, in Haiti, where the 4,000 tons of ash had been left on the beach, Greenpeace found that only 2,500 tons of the original 4,000 remained. Most had been carried off by wind and water and Haitians said goats were dying.
Enter an unlikely hero: New York City. In 1996 to end mob involvement in the city’s waste industry, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani established a trade Waste commission to oversee the awarding of trash removal. When Eastern Environmental Services applied to do business in New York, the Trade Waste Commission issued an ultimatum: If Eastern wanted to haul trash in New York it had to deal with the Khian Sea ash.
Eastern agreed to find a place in its landfills and what was left of the ash, 2,500 tons was loaded on the Khian Sea and departed Haiti. Finally, after a 16 year odyssey, Philadelphia agreed to give the ash a final resting place.
The saga of the Khian Sea is not an isolated case of wandering toxic waste, albeit the longest journey. In 1999 the MV Ulla was loaded with 2,000 tins of ash from coal fired power stations in Spain bound for Algeria here the ash was to be incorporated into the construction of a dam. The cargo was refused by Algeria and thus it began a journey that ended in 2004 with the ship sinking off the Turkish coast where it lay rusting until 2005, when Spain agreed to remove the toxic waste and the ship.
Unfortunately, one of the by products of economic and technological growth is toxic waste and, as countries such as China and India industrialize toxic waste disposal will only becomes worse there has to be a better solution than wandering ships.