Mystery boat graveyards swell as hundreds of abandoned vessels dumped on beaches

Boats are piling up in British ship ‘graveyards’ – and the coastal dumping grounds have grown so big they can be seen from space.

Hundreds of defunct old vessels have been cast aside on the coast, and a huge rise in the maritime fly-tipping is expected over the coming years.

Many of the boats are made from plastic and fibreglass, and some are slathered in toxic paint.

They pose a huge environmental problem, leaking damaging chemicals into the sea that can have a dramatic impact on wildlife.

One chemical from boat paint is even changing the sex of molluscs.

In most cases, the last owners of the discarded boats remains a mystery – and it is difficult to track down the culprits.

A shocking BBC report explores the problem – saying there is no registration system for boats as there is for cars, and landowners and harbour authorities are often left with the burden of dealing with the waste.

Phil Horton, of the Royal Yachting Association, said: “There was a vast increase in the manufacturing of boats in the 1960s and 1970s and those will start coming to the end of life soon so now is the time to start looking at solutions before we start getting significant numbers.

“The real problem with end of life boats is that the person that last owns the boat is the person least likely to be able to afford to dispose of the boat properly.”

One of the biggest boat graveyards is in Plymouth’s Hooe Lake. Ships are thought to have been left there for centuries, and, as PlymouthLive reports, dozens of rotting hulks lay on the waterbed.

Dr Andrew Turner, a marine scientist from the University of Plymouth, said that one boat in Hooe Lake, The Dignity, was shedding Tributyltin, an anti-fouling paint that is now banned due to its toxicity.

“One of the key things it was doing was causing molluscs to change sex in the marine environment on exposure to extremely small concentrations,” he said.

One of the main worries is plastic and fibreglass boats, which take much longer to decompose than their wooden counterparts.

A European Commission report estimates up to 130,000 recreational boats come to the end of their life in Europe each year.

There are notorious ship graveyards all around the world – including vast ‘cruise ship graveyards’ in Alang in India, Chittagong in Bangladesh and the Aliaga ship breaking yard in Turkey.

Though the work can be completed in the UK or the EU, more than two thirds of the world’s ships end up on the beaches of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Workers face terrible conditions and risk their lives as they take apart the old ships.

A photographer who visited a ship graveyard in Bangladesh said: “Old ships are imported without pre-cleaning or removal of toxic gases and dangerous materials.

“Sometimes gases explode and kill workers. It also happens that workers are crushed by tumbling or falling steel parts. Sometimes workers fall from the high sides of ships on which they are working without safety harnesses.”