The remains of the 900ft-long tanker, which is one of the largest shipwrecks in the world, attracts divers from all over Europe who come to see the vast array of marine life which has made it their home.
British scrap dealer Shaun Kent, who bought the wreck for £1, three weeks after she hit rocks off West Cork, is understood to be planning to finally salvage the ship and recover its very valuable cargo of Iron ore, estimated now to be worth millions of euros.
Mr Kent has always maintained that he would be able to salvage the ship and also recycle its giant steel hull. It is believed his plan is to cut up the wreck, raise it in sections and suction up the iron ore from the sea floor.
Jerry Smith and his wife Rianne are coordinating the petition along with local environmentalists. The Smith’s, who own the Baltimore Aquaventures dive centre, said yesterday that the wreck is still discharging heavy fuel oil.
“This only occurs just at the change of the ebb and with certain wind patterns, but I have pictures and samples and corroboration from other divers, some of whom have had kit permanently marked by the discharge which is foul smelling. There is still fuel oil coming ashore on the beaches around Toe Head. This discharge is gradual and normal with wrecks where it is very difficult to remove all bunkered fuel during the initial attempts. Nature tends to cope with these spills. However when salvaging the wreck all fuel oil still in the wreck will be allowed to disperse all at once, creating another environmental problem,” Mr Smith claimed.
Locals point out that there is a large seal colony on the Stag’s Rock which will certainly be displaced or possibly killed if an oil slick was to hit the area. Displacement may also apply to the bird population. Similarly, they claim that a large proportion of local marine life will be affected when salvage work is carried out.
Mr Smith said he is fully aware the owner of the wreck can exercise their rights to salvage the wreck.
“However, I expect there to be consultation at both national and local level and with relevant Government departments. The original clean-up by Cork County Council was reported as costing £500,000. The owner of the wreck has never had to reimburse this money. If he suddenly is able to make the wreck affordable to salvage, because of the change in metal markets, then he should be made to reimburse the clean-up cost,” he added.
The Irish Examiner was unable to make contact with Shaun Kent.