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Bassel Convection and Khian case: Ship of Death

Actualizado: 27 oct 2023

2 de mayo de 2017 -

One of most the most terrifying cases of environmental disaster in human history.

On August 31 1986, the cargo ship Khian Sea with 14,000 tons of toxic incinerator ash from Philadelphia (USA) was part of one of the biggest incident regarding environmental catastrophes.


This case leads to the creation of the Basel Convention.


In 1970, Philadelphia burned most of its garbage and sent the ash to a landfill in New Jersey (incinerating facility).


In 1984, New Jersey realized that the ash was highly toxic containing arsenic, cadmium, mercury, dioxin, and other toxins to be classified as very hazardous waste, and therefore refused to accept any more. When six other states also rejected incinerator ash shipments, Philadelphia was in trouble.


What to do with 180,000 tons of garbage every year that nobody wanted?

The answer was easy, to send it offshore to countries with less sensitive environmental regulation.


The Khian Sea was to be the first of those shipments but when the Khian Sea tried to unload its cargo in the Bahamas, however, it was turned away.


For more than one year the ships was on the sea tried to entry at so many ports;  the ship was refused to download in the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Panama, Bermuda, Guinea Bissau (in West Africa), and the Netherlands Antilles.


Finally 1987 the Haitian government issued a permit for "fertilizer" import, and the ship download 4000 tons of ash on the beach.


Alerted by Greenpeace, that the ash was not fertilizer at all, Haitian officials canceled the permit and ordered everything returned to the ship, but the Khian Sea slipped away in the night, leaving behind a large pile of lash. Some of the waste has been moved inland and buried, but much of it remains on the beach, slowly being scattered by the wind and washed into the sea.


After it left Haiti, the Khian Sea was in Senegal, Morocco, Yugoslavia, Sri Lanka, and Singapore looking for a place to get ride of its toxic cargo.


As it was not possible to get in any port, the ship decided to change its name from Khian Sea to Felicia and later to Pelacano.


Its registration was changed as well from Liberia to the Bahamas and to Honduras with the intention to hide its rel identity, but nobody wanted it or its contents.


Two years, three names, four continents, and 11 countries later, the toxic cargo was still on board! Then, suddenly in the Indian Ocean between Singapore and Sri Lanka all the ash disappeared! The ship was enty!This is not an isolated incident. More than 3 million tons of hazardous and toxic waste goes to sea every year in 1998 the United Nations listed the United States as a major exporter of toxic waste.


That' s way USA is not part of the Basel either Rotterdam Convention.

In 1989-at least in part due to the misadventures of the Khian Sea-33 countries met in Basel, Switzerland, and agreed to limit international shipment of toxic waste, especially from the richer countries of the world to the poorer ones.


In 1995, the United States announced it would ratify the Convention but reserved the right to ship "recyclable" materials to whomever will take them. They are not yet part of the Bassel Convention.


The latest development in the saga of the Khian Sea, is that Haiti has asked Philadelphia to help pay for cleanup of the ash still sitting on the beach.

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