C Marshall Fabrication Machinery, Inc.

A Zillion Pounds of Floating Metal

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Not a well-known fact but nonetheless a true one: the car industry recycles more materials than any other industry on the planet. This is because metal is an excellent resource to recycle, and extremely cost-effective to do so as well. If it didn’t make sense financially to recycle all the metal in old cars, the auto industry wouldn’t be doing it.

Not so, it appears, with the shipbuilding industry. In spite of the fact that there are many old steel ships and boats containing thousands and thousands of tons of recyclable steel and other materials, no one seems to be doing anything with them. This may have something to do with the cost of transporting old ships to ports and salvage yards where the recycling can actually occur. After all, loading an old ship onto the back of a truck isn’t exactly feasible. I don’t know where they keep the ship recycling facilities, but they don’t appear to be anywhere near where they would need to be in order to take care of the steel wrecks that sit in the water. At least not around where I am right now, which is in a lagoon on a Caribbean island.

And sit in the water they do. Here in the Caribbean,these wrecked steel ships and boats are all over the place. Destroyed by hurricanes, age or some other calamity, they sit and they sit for years in the same spot that they washed up in. Old oil tankers, fishing boats and other industrial hulks dot the waterscape in every direction. Some of them get taken over by humans, who live on them illegally. You can tell which ones harbor human life, because they will have a small dinghy tied up next to them. The humans try to stay low-key about living there, since it is technically illegal, but no one really seems to care. These boats are beyond salvageable, and aside from hosting abundant sea life beneath them for crabbers and fishermen, they no longer have any use.

I didn’t do any internet research to write this article, for two reasons: one, I have no internet connection from where I am right now, which is in somewhere in the Caribbean; and two, everything I’ve written about here comes from what I’ve been observing with my own eyes. If you don’t believe me, go to any major port, anchorage or lagoon in the Caribbean or elsewhere in the non-US world, and you will be able to observe exactly what I am writing about. It’s amazing to me that from where I sit at this moment, I can see literally a million tons of recyclable steel and metal, simply rotting away in the water. These boats, which cost millions to build, are simply beyond dead.

I’d be curious to know what can be done with them, or who they can be of use to, or what can be done to get them out of the water and give them new life somehow, even if it’s by melting them down and starting from scratch, which I believe is the only realistic way to get any use out of them at this point. Unfortunately, that information would require an internet connection to find out. If any of you metal industry people have any ideas, let me know. And if for any of you, these old ships are a potential commodity, you can find them in abundance in St. Martin. The rule of the high seas is this: if you find it and it’s not anchored, it’s yours to take. If no one claims it after 90 days in your possession, it’s yours to keep. Any my hot tip for the day is this: not all of these big boats appear to be anchored.

-Anja Wulf

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C Marshall Fabrication Machinery, Inc.