photo: Tim van Dijk

PHILIPSBURG – Along the shores of Sint Maarten, partially sticking out of the ocean or completely submerged, 83 shipwrecks await salvage by their owners since hurricane Irma ravaged the island. They are a hazard to people and the environment.

The leaking diesel tanks and oil reservoirs pollute the water and kill fish and plants. And people are also in danger: on June 30th 2019, two underage teenagers lost their lives when they collided with a shipwreck in the middle of the night, whilst out on a jet ski which had no lights.

Salvaging the shipwrecks is taking so long because of the drawn out procedures. Despite the state of the shipwrecks, they are still considered property. According to procedure, the government had to track down the owners and notify them of their responsibility for the removal of their property.

When the owners didn’t show up, the government had to commence expropriation procedures which is the reason why the government only became the owner of the wrecks in June. In cooperation with the National Recovery Program Bureau (NRPB) and the World Bank, a major clean-up effort can start now. The government of Sint Maarten expects to have all the wrecks removed by the end of April 2021.

Report by Tim van Dijk