10 April 2013: Chemical Weapons Convention continues at The Hague with further discussion and involvement by Green Cross and Global Green members in the Plenary Session. Only one of the fourteen presentations discussed sea-dumped chemical weapons, an issue that Global Green is directly involved in. Below are the remarks made by Green Cross member, Finn Longinotto, on the subject:
Finn Torgrimsen Longinotto
Senior Fellow, Security and Sustainability Program
Green Cross International / Global Green USA
Sea-Dumped Chemical Weapons: past, present, and future
Mr. Chairman, Mr. Director-General, Distinguished Delegates, NGO Colleagues
I would like to give some contextual background on sea-dumped Chemical Weapons (CW). All the major powers have disposed of excess munitions and whole ships by dumping them into the world’s oceans, and their militaries have engaged in loose dumping, scattering munitions and containers of weapons in practically every major ocean and lake since World War I. More than 300,000 metric tons of CW alone have been dumped at sea, particularly in the Baltic, the North Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Pacific. While this was long the accepted, and indeed recommended, way of disposing of CW, Mikhail Gorbachev, founder of Green Cross, was among the first to label this “a major mistake” and today we recognize the threat of sea-dumped CW both to the environment and public health, as the weapons deteriorate or are disturbed by human activity, seeping toxins into the surrounding sea bed, sediment and waters. The number of reported incidents, and accidents, resulting from unexpected contact with CW from fishermen, bathers and divers, both recreational and professional, has grown around the world.
While the disposal of chemical and biological warfare agents at sea was first prohibited internationally by the London Convention in 1972, and implemented in Canada by the Ocean Dumping Control Act in 1975, the Chemical Weapons Convention, which entered into force in April 1997, does not cover CW dumped before 1985; it bans production, acquisition, stockpiling, transfer and use of chemical weapons, and compels its signatories to get rid of their arsenals, but sea-dumped munitions are exempt under Article 1 and 2 of the convention.
In December 2010 the United Nations (UN) General Assembly passed a Resolution sponsored by the government of Lithuania and the European Union: “Cooperative measures to assess and increase awareness of environmental effects related to waste originating from chemical munitions dumped at sea.” This resolution notes the concerns about the potential long-term environmental effects of sea-dumped munitions, including their potential impacts on human health, and invites States Parties and international and regional organizations to keep the issue under observation, and to cooperate and voluntarily share relevant information on the issue. I would also draw your attention to Tuesday’s statement by H.E. the Ambassador of Lithuania.
Many countries have detailed data of their forces’ past dumping, but there is no fully reliable and coordinated global database. This situation is exacerbated by the inaccuracy of some recordings taken at the time, drifting of weapons or their containers from the original dump sites, as well as the simple inconsistency of metric and non-metric statistics. Even when the particular toxins are identified, and the responsible state parties are identified, the actual recovery of the CW for safe destruction has been complicated by less than foolproof technology, safety concerns, and lack of funding and/or political will, given the often open-ended financial liability involved.
Our challenge today is to combine our resources, at the international and national levels, with the continuing support of civil society, to increase awareness of the long-lasting and damaging effect of the huge quantities of sea-dumped munitions, including CW, to the ecology of our planet and thus to ourselves.
We need to develop a reliable global database, with the locations, types of munitions, and quantities of weapons dumped. We need to improve the training of individuals likely to come into contact with sea-dumped weapons, to develop protocols and procedures, and to accurately assess the threats to the marine and human environment. Finally, we need to gain a better understanding and evaluation of possible remediation options, something that we at Green Cross are involved with in a small way with our project on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico, where we are implementing a disease registry, food intake study and munitions registry, to evaluate any causal relationships that might exist, between the toxins resulting from many years of military activity, and the documented poor health of the inhabitants of the island.
Thank you for your attention.