Toxic Spill Source a Mystery

Monday, August 15, 2005
An investigation to find the ship that spilled a toxic fumigant near the Poor Knights Islands in April has uncovered a gap in international fumigation standards, but has been unable to identify the offending ship. The Magnesium Phosphide cargo fumigant, which was packaged in about 50 cardboard tubes, was active and a danger to the public so a major recovery operation was carried out. During its investigation into the incident, Maritime New Zealand identified a gap in international legislation surrounding a lack of standards that prohibit Magnesium Phosphide being discharged at sea. Maritime NZ has bought this to the attention of the International Maritime Organization, so other incidents such as this can be prevented. Maritime NZ Deputy Director Bruce Maroc says it’s frustrating not to have been able to prove what ship discharged the fumigant, given the extensive investigation that followed the incident. “Although this substance isn’t harmful to the marine environment, it’s a danger to people if they come in contact with it. That’s why ports have special provisions for disposing fumigants like this. “While we’re disappointed that the crew of a ship acted recklessly by deliberately dumping this material, it’s reassuring that this is the first time an incident like this has been known to happen, as ships do use disposal facilities at ports. It should also be the last this happens, as we’re working with international authorities to amend regulations,” he said. The investigation included inspections of cargo ships that passed through the area, and perusal of the manufacturers and suppliers of the fumigant.

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