15,000 ships with “dangerous or polluting” cargoes pass Portugal every year

A marine source has warned this week that at least 15,000 ships carrying dangerous or polluting cargoes travel through Portuguese waters, and alongside national territory, every year.

In the week following the beaching of a Japanese fuel tanker in Cascais during a weekend of storms, concerns over Portugal’s safety from passing ships have increased.

Hélder Almeida, a former Merchant Navy commander, has been telling Diário de Notícias that Portugal’s system for controlling maritime navigation is “considered effective” – though the main problem is “lack of security of foreign vessels that pass alongside the coast”.

Every year, around 75,000 ships travel either up or down the coast, of which “approximately 20% (15,000) transport dangerous or polluting cargoes” which can range from toxic refuse to fuel.

For safety reasons, these boats are made to travel in specially mapped ‘corridors’, a bit like maritime versions of motorways, he explained.

If they stray out of the corridors, there can be an “intervention” by authorities – but the system is designed to “minimise damage in the event of an accident”, and as Almeida affirms, in principle it works.

The problem, as outlined by João Branco of Quercus, is that it doesn’t account for the multiplicity of waterborne “scrapheaps” that travel through our waters.

“There is a latent danger as we do not know how many vessels are passing through at the end of their life or without the proper conditions for navigation.”

These latter could be from “countries with less security demands”, he explained.

Almeida agreed, telling DN that in his 13 years of service, he had to inspect some ships that were “falling to bits”.

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