Greek authorities have begun removing dozens of abandoned cargo and passenger ships that have been lying semi-submerged or completely sunken – many for decades – in the Gulf of Elefsina, an industrial area of shipyards and factories near Greece's major port of Piraeus.

Boats, recovered after spending years as shipwrecks are photographed at a dock in Elefsina, west of Athens. Now authorities are beginning to remove the dilapidated ships. (AP Photo/ Thanassis Stavrakis)

The sea from the port of Piraeus to the island of Salamina that lies off of Elefsina is littered with 52 shipwrecks. "It is a tragic situation that has become a threat to trade and the environment," explains Charalampos Gargaretas, CEO of Elefsina Port Authority. “Some of them have been there for decades, leaking hazards like oil into the environment and creating a danger to modern shipping. You don't have to be a marine scientist to understand that these shipwrecks are an environmental time-bomb,” he adds.

The operation has though been wrought with difficulties.

Primarily, the ships tend to owned by individuals or companies registered in other countries, including the Marshall Islands, Britain and Honduras. The authorities have therefore passed a law that allows the abandoned ships to be appropriated by the state. Salvage companies are now removing the remains for free of charge in return for being able to sell the metal for scrap.

Another problem the Greek authorities have faced, is a lack of licensed ship-breaking yards in the area, and opposition from locals who fear the environmental impact of large ships being demolished in their area. "We are trying to do it in a very short period of time, with huge bureaucratic and legal hurdles to overcome," Gargaretas says.

Source: The National Herald, Associated Press, 4/1/2019 - ISCO 668 Newsletter 21/1/2019