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The Straits of Malacca – A Global Maritime Crossroads / Garbage Dump

Rob Almeida
Total Views: 23
January 30, 2012

I made my first trip to Singapore back in 2000 as a Division Officer on board USS Paul F. Foster.  As we were making our way up around the northern side of the island to Sembawang, I was absolutely astounded by the virtual garbage dump our bow wave pushed aside as we motored along through the channel.

It was unbelievable how little regard the Malaysians and Singaporeans had for their ocean environment… quite a stark contrast indeed from the relatively pristine streets of Singapore.

The Volvo Ocean Race fleet is currently experiencing the same level of frustration and disbelief as they make their way through this global maritime crossroads.

Ken Read, skipper of Puma Ocean Racing remarks,

“It’s an incredible place to sail but the sad part is how much stuff is in the water, how much junk there is in the water,” he said. “How people in the world can’t treat the ocean with more respect is just fully beyond me.”

The United Nations Environment Program has reported that more than 15,000 vessels pass through the strait every day, each disposing of operational discharge, bilge water and trash. Fishing vessels, aquaculture development, coastal urbanisation and reclamation are also adding to the pollution.

The debris is demanding the constant attention of the sailors, who are spending their time on deck scanning the water for anything that could snag or hit the boat and potentially result in race ending damage.

Earlier this week PUMA’s MAR Mostro hit a tree and took a chunk out of their dagger board.  Bowman Casey Smith said it was both frightening and bizarre sailing through the strait.

“The night time is scary because it’s all still there, but you can’t see any of it,” he said. “We saw a sea kayak poking out of the water today. That was pretty strange. Then we saw a flip-flop and it had three crabs on it. What sort of a conversation are three crabs having on a flip flop in the middle of the Malacca Strait?”

CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand Media Crew Member Hamish Hooper said one curious piece of rubbish caused the crew to begin to wonder if they were approaching an iceberg earlier this week.

“Disappointingly there is a huge amount of rubbish in the water here now — we have seen signs of it approaching here over the last couple of days with the odd shoe, cigarette lighter, rope, plastic etc. floating past,” he said.

“But this morning’s sighting took the cake. We saw what looked like a small iceberg, which in fact was a massive chunk of polystyrene, the size of a small car lazily floating on by.

“Unfortunately there is almost a continual stream of rubbish flowing past the boat and I am pretty certain it’s only going to increase the further down the strait we go.”

The Volvo Ocean Race together with artist collective Skeleton Sea have mounted a global campaign called Keep the Oceans Clean! that aims at raising awareness of the increasing volume of pollution in the world’s oceans.

Skeleton Sea’s sculptures, which are created from flotsam, beach rubbish and weathered materials are exhibited at the Keep the Oceans Clean! Dome at the race village at each host port. Beach cleans are also held at each host port, to help raise awareness and keep the oceans clean. To find out more click HERE.

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