The bay that bathes Rio de Janeiro, a cemetery of boats

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Carlos A. Moreno |

Rio de Janeiro (EFE)

Abandoned ships and the metal spikes of the hulls of already sunken ships can be seen in different areas of this 412 square kilometer bay, world famous for Sugar Loaf Mountain at one end.

But the seriousness of the situation only became known two weeks ago, when one of these large ships, which was adrift, collided with one of the pillars of the 13 kilometer bridge which connects the cities of Rio and Niteroi.

Traffic on the bridge had to be immediately interrupted when it was verified that no serious damage had occurred to this infrastructure, crossed by 15,000 people a day, which has pillars 72 meters high.

Guanabara Bay, Brazil. EFE/André Coelho

Since then, different government bodies have blamed each other for the situation and some even claim to ignore the problem, which the non-governmental organization Baia Viva (Living Bay) has been denouncing for at least three decades.

“It is a general irresponsibility, because various public bodies are responsible for this responsibility and, unfortunately, they are omitted,” Baia Viva director Sérgio Ricardo Verde Potiguara told EFE in an interview.

Abandoned or Sunken Boats

None of these agencies know the number of abandoned or partially sunken vessels in the bay or the materials still inside, nor the safety risk they pose, nor any plans to remove these vessels, the complaint alleges.

rio janeiro ships
Guanabara Bay, Brazil. EFE/André Coelho

“It was only after the collision with the bridge that we learned that this bulk carrier still had 50,000 liters of fuel in its tanks despite the fact that it had been at anchor for six years,” said the ecologist, who said it was a “tragedy foretold”. “because Baia Viva inspected the boat in 2020 and the same year alerted the authorities to the risk of it detaching from its moorings.

According to Baia Viva, the only partial inventory dates from 2002, when a coastal management plan for the bay was carried out and the Regional Institute for the Environment (INEA) identified between 200 and 250 abandoned boats, of which 30% wood, a material more vulnerable to spills and accidents.

Most of these ships are in the so-called Sao Lorenzo channel, in Niteroi, but there are also dozens in the port of Rio de Janeiro and around Ilha do Governador, the largest island in the bay. and where is Rio international airport.

rio janeiro ships
Guanabara Bay, Brazil. EFE/André Coelho

According to Sergio Ricardo, many ships have been dumping toxic materials for decades that affect already endangered species, such as the coastal dolphin (symbol of Rio), the sea turtle and the seahorse, and which threaten the quality of the fish.

Damage to shipping and industry

It is also a socio-economic threat since it impoverishes fishing communities and harms navigation and the fishing and oil industry.

“The abandonment of the Niteroi public fishing terminal is a scandal. It is an infrastructure long requested by fishermen and which was inaugurated in 2013 after investments of 10 million reais (about 2 million dollars) but which has never worked because boats cannot access to the Sao Lorenzo channel by the cemetery of ships”, he denounced.

According to Baia Viva, the removal of old ships is provided for by an international treaty and by Brazilian law and is a responsibility shared by the Port Authority, an organ of the Navy; the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and INEA.

rio janeiro ships
Guanabara Bay, Brazil. EFE/André Coelho

“The three of them should act together but they don’t because they consider the responsibility to lie with the other,” he said.
According to Sergio Ricardo, the owners are also responsible but in most cases it is impossible to identify them because they are companies or shipyards that have gone bankrupt.

He added that, in the face of so many omissions, Baia Viva will present, together with the Public Ministry, a lawsuit in court demanding that the three responsible bodies adopt immediate measures; Take inventory and develop a concrete plan, with goals, to dismantle the cemetery.

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