The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is unhappy with the growing number of abandoned vessels along Ghana’s coast.
A number of cargo, tanker and fishing vessels have been abandoned on the shores of Prampram, close to the Tema Habour.
Though this development poses a threat to the environment and health of the people who live in the communities along the sea, some young men, who call themselves scavengers, rip the ships into pieces and sell them as scrap.
With sharp objects such as hack saw and other implements, they break up the vessels for scrap.
The scavengers sell the scrap materials including steel plate, electrical wiring, non-ferrous valves and fittings, piping, wire rope, various electric motors and machinery parts to steel companies who use them to manufacture products such as iron rods, among others.
In addition to steel and other useful materials, however ships, particularly old vessels can contain many dangerous substances that have banned in developed countries.
Asbestos was used heavily in the construction of ships until it was finally banned in most developed countries in the mid 1980s.
But several old vessels have been abandoned illegally in Ghana.
Experts have argued that the asbestos poses a danger to people.
The danger is even more serious in a developing country like Ghana where the old abandoned vessels are being dismantled at sea or along the seashore instead of the dry dock yard.
Many of the young men in the community seem to be unaware of the high health risks since they do not use protective gears and protective equipment.
Dangerous gas and fumes from burning materials can be inhaled and dusty asbestos-laden areas are commonplace.
A team from EPA that toured Prampram where another vessel, MT Navgator was recently spotted was astonished by the level of the illegal activities along the shore.
MT Navgator was seen along the coast close to Prampram late November.
The EPA ordered them to stop work after the issue was highlighted by the media.
Moses Adams, a scavenger working on the vessel, told journalists that he was contracted by Integral Marine, a local scarp company which bought the vessel suspected to have been abandoned on the high seas for five years.
He said it was formally at the Dry Dock at the Tema Habour but was moved to Prampram after securing approval of the traditional authority.
DSP Abraham Kwawu, Prampram District Commander, who is ensuring that the EPA order is carried out, disclosed in an interview that but for two of the vessels all the others were there accidentally as a result of shipwreck.
Journalists were showed a vessel believed to have conveyed Tata buses to Ghana some 25 years ago.
Hudu Issak, who cut and sold almost half of another tanker vessel, MT Biera, said they would need another month to dismantle the whole vessel estimated to generate over GH¢40,000.
A letter dated August 11, 2011 and signed by Captain James Owusu-Koranteng, Habour Master on behalf of the Director of the Tema Port and copied to the Port Security Coordinator, Naval Base Commander and the Ghana Maritime Authority, gave permission to remove the vessels from the Tema anchorage to Prampram.
Irene Heathcote, Director at EPA Accra East Regional office, told BUSINESS GUIDE that the presence of the vessels threatens the security of the area.
“They are supposed to be at the dry dock. There are social and environmental hazards associated with these activities.”
She said apart from degrading the shores, the scavengers use gas and there is the possibility of the outbreak of fire while at times dynamites are used to blast the vessel.
Lambert Faabeluon, Director of Manufacturing and Industry Department of the EPA, explained that the sea could be contaminated with alien species.
“If this activity is not stopped we will be opening our doors for others and gradually our shores would be turned into something else…”
Key stakeholders including the Navy, Ghana Maritime Authourity, Ghana Ports and Habour Authority, National Security, EPA held a meeting to discuss the issue.
Managing Director of Luxem Energy Limited, Jonathan Irafor said that Nigerian ship owners have preference for Ghanaian dockyard because of the modern equipment Ghanaians use in carrying out repair works on vessels.
Irafor added that it could take as much as three to four months to carry out repair works on a vessel in Nigeria, while it takes between two and four weeks in Ghana.
He decried the obsolete ship repair equipment in most Nigerian ship repair yards which has made most of them (indigenous shipowners) stay away from these ship repair yards in Nigeria. He also stated that the ship repair facilities in Nigeria are not enough and expressed the need to increase the number.
“One other area the government can come in is the area of establishing new dockyards across the country, in addition to creating a platform for local players to acquire vessels.
“Most of our vessels in Nigeria go to Ghana for repairs and dry docking, the Naval dockyard, Nigerdock and the Starz dock yards are not enough to meet the needs of Nigerian shipowners.
“At the Naval dockyard, if you go there, you spend three to four months for you to leave that dock, the equipment are not up to date so most of the vessel owners go to Ghana to dock their vessel and that is another area of capital flight.”
By Emelia Ennin Abbey