Taxpayers Left with Huge Bill and Lost Jobs From Government Ship Disposal Programs

Explosives detonating to sink the HMNZS Wellington (F69) in 2005
Report Calls for Halt to Sinking in Favor of Recycling Obsolete Naval Vessels SEATTLE— In a new report released today that examines the economic cost of the federal government’s practice of using ships as artificial reefs and for Naval target practice, the Basel Action Network reports that taxpayers are paying more for environmentally damaging practices in our ship disposal program than they would for proper recycling in US ship dismantling yards.

The BAN report entitled “Jobs and Dollars Overboard: The Economic Case against Dumping U.S. Naval Vessels at Sea,” finds that the U.S. government habitually underestimates the costs of ship dumping and fails to properly account for the economic advantages of recycling, which includes jobs, the avoidance of externalized costs of pollution, damage to the environment and our climate, as well as the conservation of critical metals resources. The report notes that the failure to recycle the last 73 ships that were scuttled at sea in the past decade alone equates to the loss of 20,000 U.S. jobs, and 560,000 tons of recyclable steel, copper and aluminum, worth around half a billion dollars.

In a time of tight budgets, the report reveals that the U.S. government spent a total of $25.35 million, or $253 per ton on the artificial reefing of four ships in the past eight years. In contrast, the cost of recycling retired vessels for metals recovery in these same years was an average $67 per ton, which would have meant a savings to the U.S. taxpayer of $21.5 million had the vessels been recycled.

Meanwhile the government’s pretext for the sinking of the ships was found to be flawed. Using ships for target practice is unnecessary as the use of artificial targets such as giant balloons has been perfected, and there is no evidence that using old ships as artificial reefs improve fisheries and in fact may actually cause overfishing by concentrating fish populations for rapid harvest. The government policy promoting ship dumping flies in the face of recent initiatives by the Obama Administration to promote recycling and clean oceans.

“The Obama Administration has recently gone out of its way to promote recycling and initiatives for healthy seas,” said Colby Self, BAN’s Green Ship Recycling Campaign Director. “Meanwhile entrenched policies continue to promote every excuse to throw our old ships containing many tons of critical metals and toxic pollutants directly into the sea. It’s time for a more rational policy.”

The report by BAN precedes an annual meeting at the Pentagon on Dec. 15, where Navy brass will decide how to dispose of the next generation of retired vessels. The list of vessels to be imminently disposed of includes the ex-USS Forrestal, the aircraft carrier on which Senator John McCain served, which is slated to be dumped in deep water somewhere off of the East Coast next year. The USS Arthur Radford, a 563 foot navy destroyer, was scheduled to be sunk off the coasts of Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey in October, but has now been delayed until April, 2011, due to the fact that the clean-up effort has still left far too many toxic substances on board. However, the EPA and the Navy admit they will not be able to remove all of the toxic polluting substances without dismantling the ship. Also of concern, BAN has learned that the preparation of the Radford for sinking is being done by a contractor, American Marine Group, which is under investigation by the EPA for suspected failure to remediate toxic PCBs from vessels sunk in Delaware waters in 2007 and in January 2010. If the Radford, currently in Philadelphia, were recycled rather than sunk, $6 million worth of recyclable metals would be saved that otherwise will be lost at the bottom of the sea, and a conservatively estimated 133 jobs would be created. Further, all of the pollutants would be remediated as part of the recycling process.

“The Radford is just the next, very bad example of the government blindly following a discredited policy of ocean dumping of old ships. For too long economics was used as an excuse for doing this. Now we have proved that the recycling of these ships is not only obviously better for the environment but it’s vastly better for the American economy,” said Colby Self. “It’s time to stop dumping and start recycling.”

BAN Report: “Jobs and Dollars Overboard: The Economic Case against Dumping U.S. Naval Vessels at Sea

The Basel Action Network (BAN) is the world’s only organization focused on confronting the global environmental injustice and economic inefficiency of toxic trade. Known for its investigations on ‘digital dumps’ of e-waste in China, they work to prevent unsustainable dumping of the world’s toxic waste on our global village’s poorest residents, while at the same time actively promoting sustainable solutions to the waste crisis. Learn more at