As the wrecked Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia is towed to its home port of Genoa, Greenpeace Italy and the Italian environmental group Legambiente will monitor for pollution and spills. We’re particularly concerned about impacts on the Pelagos sanctuary, which protects whales and other marine life in the area.
The Costa Concordia struck a reef off the Italian island of Giglio in January 2012 and capsized, killing 32 people. Latest reports suggest that towing the ship to Genoa – 160 nautical miles (300km) away – is expected to begin on 21 July and take about five days.
In a joint operation, Costa, We are Watching You, Greenpeace Italy and Legambiente will follow the stricken ship in a chartered boat, Maria Teresa.
We have repeatedly asked the government to consider alternative, nearer ports, and to provide details on the safety measures being taken. We have asked how possible pollution will be monitored and water quality assured. But Special Commissary Franco Gabrielli, responsible for the operation, never agreed to meet us, and our requests for information have gone unmet.
The wreck still contains around 263,000 cubic metres of polluted water. Analysis by the Regional Environmental Agency (ARPAT) shows the presence of hydrocarbons (mainly fuel), heavy metals and organic material.
As Costa Concordia will pass through Europe’s biggest marine protected area, the Pelagos Sanctuary, there is a considerable risk that part of these dangerous substances will leak into the sea during the transfer.
The worst-case scenario is that the wreck could break apart and sink. Environmental impacts could be significant, as the wreck will transit a very sensitive area rich in marine biodiversity and specifically important for cetaceans.
Pelagos extends over 87,500 square kilometres of sea surface in a portion of the north-western Mediterranean Sea comprising areas between south-eastern France, Monaco, north-western Italy and northern Sardinia, and encompassing Corsica and the Tuscan Archipelago.
It is home to dolphins and sperm whales, as well as fin whales which bring their young there at this time of year to feed in the rich waters off Genoa.
Spills and debris from the wreckage could be harmful to marine life, with even the smallest of flotsam such as cables, varnished furniture or electrical appliances releasing substances such as phthalates and alkylphenols, which can harm the reproductive system in mammals.
The sanctuary ecosystem is preserved by an international agreement ratified in 1994 by Italy, France, and Monaco. It is also protected under the Barcelona Convention, but so far no specific regulations have been adopted to protect the areas marine biodiversity, and the tragic disaster of the Costa Concordia is an example of its failure.
The only safety restriction in the sanctuary is a decree that limits transport of hazardous substances “to prevent accidental losses”. It was established by Italy’s Ministry of Transport after the Concordia disaster.
We are also concerned that the hull of the damaged ship may not withstand the stress of the journey, potentially rupturing and spilling a noxious brew of heavy metals, oils, plastics, sewage, and chemicals into the sea.
What is more likely is that it will remain intact but shed debris and leak some of the estimated 263,000 cubic metres of polluted water inside it, or the 100 tonnes or so of fuel left behind when the tanks were emptied.
We can only hope that the transit proceeds without incident. But we wish the government were doing more to ensure that. We will play our part by monitoring the transit’s impact on the environment, and by continuing the fight for greater respect and protection for the sea and its living inhabitants.
Giorgia Monti is an Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace Italy.
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