I was down on the north mole this evening when a massive ship slipped through the water past me. I live in a port town, so quite often I see the vast steel architecture of these structures float accross the top of Fremantle’s streetscape.
Ninety per cent of all trade between countries is carried by ships. There is something romantic about seeing a huge ship glide past you a few metres away and off on the four and a half day trip north to the tropics and to Singapore. On the other hand, there is nothing romantic about the fact that that ship will have its hull painted in a paint mixed with organotins – highly toxic chemicals which kill anything that attaches to the ship and which leach from the paint into sea water, and are absorbed by marine organisms and humans who eat them. There is nothing romantic about the fact that if cargo levels are low the ship will load up on local sea water, and then release the water when they pick up new cargo at the next port, introducing stowaway organisms that can become invasive, and potentially ruin entire ecosystems. Then, you all know about the spectre of the big oil spill, but did you know that many ships illegally discharge bilge oil before they enter port to save the money they’d have to spend on legally getting rid of the stuff?
Despite the efforts of the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service, we have the known marine pests the European Fan Worm and the Asian Date Mussel around Fremantle thanks to ship’s ballast. And although they are planned to be phased out by 2008, organotin-based anti-fouling paints can still be found in plenty of the hulls of the ships in Fremantle. Actions are being taken to deal with these problems by national and international agencies. These actions are happening about as quick as the response time of a mighty but stupid behometh of the sea. The night is gathering, but now I’m seeing more clearly.