BNT Statement on Sunken Vessel Onego Traveller Off South Abaco

Photo of sunken vessel Onego Traveller off the southern coast of Abaco. Photo provided by a concerned citizen.

The Bahamas National Trust (BNT) wishes to express its concerns about the cargo ship that recently sank off the southern coast of Abaco.

The Department of Environmental Planning and Protection (DEPP) has been in communication with the BNT to provide updates on the situation. We know that the Onego Traveller vessel was transporting Kemira Ferix-3, an industrial granulated solid used in wastewater treatment, odor control, and fertilizer. This chemical along with fuel from the vessel has been observed in the surrounding sea since the vessel’s sinking.

The BNT is reaching out to experts in environmental chemistry and toxicology to better understand the spill’s environmental impact. The primary concern around the Ferix is how it will affect water quality in the short and long term. It is currently impacting the pH of the
water surrounding the sunken vessel, creating highly acidic conditions. If the Ferix acts as a fertilizer in the seawater, this could also lead to harmful algal blooms which negatively impact marine life and have health impacts on people exposed in and around the water.

The scale and extent of such impacts will depend on the amount of the chemical ultimately released into the environment and other nutrient levels in the seawater. The BNT is especially concerned about the location of this vessel. It is currently within the Cross Harbour Protected Area. This marine protected area was declared in 2015 to protect important terrestrial and coastal ecosystems and was expanded in 2021 to include significantly more marine areas. This area is particularly important for bonefish, as it serves as a pre-spawning aggregation site which supports a vibrant flyfishing industry of local and national economic significance. The vessel is also approximately seven miles south of the shoreline of The Abaco National Park managed by the BNT.

BNT Executive Director Lakeshia Anderson-Rolle said, ”The BNT’s key concern at this time is the impact of the ship on the seabed and the potential impact of the vessel’s spilt chemical contents on coastal and marine organisms and habitats in the area, especially given that the vessel is currently within the boundaries of a marine protected area, not yet assigned to any protected area management agency. If the chemicals are not quickly and properly contained they can potentially spread to other areas.

“The BNT is prepared to support any remediation or monitoring efforts, including the creation of long-term policies to prevent or respond more quickly to such incidences in the future. We have been in constant communication with the Director of DEPP, who has requested
assistance to conduct ecological assessments; and our park wardens and scientists are on standby and ready to help with these efforts as soon as it is safe to do so.”

The BNT is pleased that the government has already responded to this incident by deploying measures to contain any spillage and initiating a meeting of the National Oil Spill Contingency Advisory Committee (NOSCAC), according to a recent article published by The Tribune.

We urge the government to continue moving swiftly to fully assess the situation and utilize all available resources in remediation efforts; and to pursue action in accordance with The Environmental Planning and Protection Act (2019). The Act has mechanisms under articles 34 to 36 that allow DEPP to order assessments and make the person(s) responsible pay for those assessments and any remediation to the site, including for any damage to the “environment, property, or livelihood” of an affected person.