According to the University of Newcastle in Australia, there are 3,700 World War II wrecks registered globally, but the most vulnerable locations are those in the Pacific region, with Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of the Marshall Islands and Solomon Islands identified as being areas at high risk of oil leakage from sunken vessels.

The partners will be using the MV Ocean Recovery, a refurbished ex-New Zealand Navy vessel provided by Major Projects Foundation to explore priority shipwrecks.

In general, marine pollution is considered to be one of the four most crucial threats to the oceans, following climate change, habitat destruction and over-exploitation of living marine resources. Therefore, spills of oil and other chemicals into the marine environment, both from ships and land-based sources, is a significant source of pollution.

Mr Kosi Latu, the Director General of SPREP, who was at the launch to sign a memorandum of understanding for the partnership commented

This partnership represents an important step towards meeting regional targets outlined by our Pacific island members in the Cleaner Pacific 2025, our 10-year plan for a pollution-free Pacific.

In addition, oil pollution not only has severe effects on ecosystems, fauna and flora, it can also result to loss of amenities such as sandy beaches and markets for fisheries and tourism, as well as causing damage to boats, fishing gear, boat ramps and jetties.

Concerning oil spills and oil licking, Paul Adams, Director of Major Projects Foundation highlighted

A few years ago, on a diving trip, we noticed oil leaking slowly from a number of wrecks. Nearby communities are deeply worried about large amounts of oil spilling out when the wrecks collapse completely. There are only a few years left before rust takes its toll.

The partners will base their research on expertise and knowledge from marine archaeologists and historians, in order to identify wrecks posing the biggest risk of an oil spill. When they identify the 'threat', sub-sea engineers and bioremediation experts will look at a number of possible techniques to prevent oil spills.

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The techniques will include hot-tapping to pump out the oil directly from the tanks; cathodic protection of the ship’s hull to prevent it from rusting further and to stimulate marine growth on the wreck, making it structurally stronger; and using bacteria known to eat and breakdown oil, a process known as bioremediation.

In light of the collaboration, the University funded a PhD student, Awei Bainivalu, to develop novel bioremediation technology for oil remediation based on microorganisms able to simultaneously increase oil bio-availability and degrade oil.

MV Ocean Recovery will remain in Newcastle Harbour for the next month and then conduct training and research work off the Australian coast. She will then be berthed at the Maritime Museum in Sydney for a few weeks of publicity work, before being assigned to priority wrecks in the Pacific.